Oppressed by shame
from Auschwitz to a politics of revolt
As part of its rejection of the mind-body split, phenomenology rejects the idea that thought and affect are severed from each other. As lived bodies we are affective thinkers, emotionally attuned to and engaged with the world and others. Pursuing this phenomenological attention to affect, this chapter identifies shame as the affect through which the self confronts its vulnerable intersubjectivity. It examines the ways the vulnerability expressed in shame is woven into the structures of our cultural, social, political and moral lives. It distinguishes the ways that shame may become a force that critiques prevailing meanings and norms, from the ways it can be used to enforce structures of oppression. Auschwitz is not only the most extreme example of the oppressive violence of shame, it was, according to Giorgio Agamben, the experiment in violence that in creating a new type of human being, the Musselman, put the very meaning of the human into question. The testimonies of the Auschwitz survivors Primo Levy and Jean Améry link the fate of the Musselman to the violence that, in destroying their capacity for shame, condemned them to an unbearable isolation. Between the Musselman and Levi and Améry shame may be seen as a pharmakon that can be used to poison a person's humanity or affirm it.
Bergoffen, D. (2019)., Oppressed by shame: from Auschwitz to a politics of revolt, in L. Lauwaert, L. K. Smith & C. Sternad (eds.), Violence and meaning, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 217-238.
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