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Simone de Beauvoir and the Politics of Ambiguity$
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Sonia Kruks

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195381443

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195381443.001.0001

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“An Eye for an Eye”: The Question of Revenge

“An Eye for an Eye”: The Question of Revenge

(p.151) 5 “An Eye for an Eye”: The Question of Revenge
Simone de Beauvoir and the Politics of Ambiguity

Sonia Kruks

Oxford University Press

This chapter engages with an essay that Beauvoir wrote in 1946, at time of the trial and execution of Robert Brasillach, a French intellectual who had collaborated with the Nazis. Beauvoir’s phenomenological account of the desire for revenge that she and others experienced at the time challenges the widely held assumption that wanting revenge after atrocity is a “natural” response. Beauvoir shows revenge instead to be a complex social emotion, but one that is almost always doomed to failure. This is so regardless of whether revenge involves a direct exchange of positions between victim and perpetrator or whether it is pursued on behalf of others or through formal, judicial processes. Turning to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid, the chapter then explores whether more recent projects of forgiveness or reconciliation after political atrocity may be preferable to vengefulness.

Keywords:   atrocity, Beauvoir, Brasillach, failure, forgiveness, reconciliation, revenge, truth and reconciliation, South Africa

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