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At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities

4.1 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 088-4414848140
ISBN-10: 0253211735
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Because Auschwitz was among the most brutal of the concentration camps, ruled by capricious, pure force and not by any discernable political or social structure, the intellectual there "was alone with his intellect ... and there was no social reality that could support and confirm it." In other words, there was no place for the intellect to act, outside of the confines of a person's own skull. Jean Amery's At The Mind's Limits is a focused meditation on the position of the intellectual placed in "a borderline situation, where he has to confirm the reality and effectiveness of his intellect, or to declare its impotence: in Auschwitz." In the camp, Amery writes, "The intellect very abruptly lost its basic quality: its transcendence." Considering this loss, Amery describes his own experience of torture, his reactions of resentment, anger, and bitterness, his loss of any vital sense of metaphysical questions, and his search for some way to maintain moral character and Jewish identity in the absence of such consciousness. --Michael Joseph Gross

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (March 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253211735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253211736
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
To the world at large, none of the death camps is better known than is Auschwitz. There is now in existence a very large volume of literature regarding the atrocities committed in that infamous place, much of it written by its survivors. This literature is often reflective as well as descriptive as it recounts, not only the day-to-day horror of life and death but the destructive effects of relentless and senseless violence on human understanding. In this respect, the books of both Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi must stand as premier examples of intellectual and spiritual revelation as well as personal witness.
Jean Amery's At the Mind's Limit: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities must join the works of Wiesel and Levi as indispensable reading for anyone seeking to grasp the deepest range of emotions and implications the name Auschwitz should evoke. In this book Amery stresses the negative and shows on virtually every page how futile it would be to scrutinize the experience of a Holocaust survivor for anything even remotely redemptive. Auschwitz was destruction without deliverance, a place of inexplicable and implacable hostility against the very definition of humanity. As a consequence, a mind that searches Auschwitz, or any of the other camps, for reasonable and rational explanations will only be confronted with its own impotence. As Amery puts it, "In the camp the intellect in its totality declared itself to be incompetent...Beauty: that was an illusion. Knowledge: that turned out to be a game with ideas." The intellect, Amery tells us, was robbed of its transcendence, rendering the intellectual the most vulnerable of victims.
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Format: Paperback
I really can't say much about this book, except that it is the most worn in my library of over 1,000 volumes compiled from a lifetime of literature. This translation is amazing as well. This book is an intellectual's journey through, and life after, hell.
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Format: Paperback
Ever since writing a term paper on Amery's "At the Mind's Limits", I have continuously come back to this work. There is a lifetime's worth of contemplation to survey here, not that this is an autobiography or even a complete memoir, but the years of his life on which he writes and the experiences dissected provoke a lifetime's worth of questions, mostly unanswered.

I think of this work as a distinct and great existential accomplishment. It provokes the reader to empathize while simultaneously making him question or even feel guilty for such empathy. How can an intellect, in the modern west at least, empathize with one who has experienced dehumanization to such an unimaginable degree? The short answer is that to try to do so is impossible and even probably detestable, morally speaking.

But isn't the motivation of Amery's expression the prevention of such dehumanization in future? And isn't such prevention dependent on empathetic attempts at least (among other things)?

These are unanswerable contradictions for the reader. But the introspective applications make this a necessary book to read over and over again.
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Format: Paperback
In these extremely painful reflections on his fate during the Third Reich, Jean Améry paints a very disturbing picture of man, civilization and
society. His text is a forceful plea for a total condemnation of all kinds of torture and its devastating effects.

Torture, human beings, the world
Faced with unlimited evil power in the hands of a torturer man becomes pure flesh. A tortured man broken by violence, who cannot expect any help and who has lost all rights of self-defense, is nothing more than a body.
From the first lash he receives, man is deprived of what is called his `confidence in the world'. This confidence constitutes the certainty that the other will spare him according to social contracts, that he will respect his physical existence. Torture as a physical rape becomes an act of existential annihilation, since there is no hope to be helped. A tortured person becomes a stranger in the world.

Society
What overwhelmed Jean Améry really was the society of man. For him, it is the society of men and it alone which robbed him of his confidence in the world.
A specific society was the Third Reich: Germany killed Jews and political opponents, because it believed that this was the only way to realize itself. Torture was its essence. But, for Jean Améry, one should not forget that the Greek civilization was built on slavery and that an Athenian army butchered the population of the island of Melos as the SS did in Ukraine.
For Jean Améry, every society thinks only about its own safety and has nothing to do with damaged lives; it only looks forward and, in the best case, it tries to prevent that the same things will happen again.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Of all the Holocaust books, this book stands above the rest, with the content focused not on the gory details of Nazi atrocities (which are by themselves worth reading if you want to validate the experiences of those who suffered), but rather on the psychological implications of being a victim. Only books by Primo Levi contain this degree of depth of thought and introspection.
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