Vengefulness and Punishment in Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘An Eye for an Eye.’A/Prof. Marguerite La Caze (University of Queensland)
Room G16 (Jim Potter Room)
Old Physics Building
Abstract: Written just after the liberation of France and during the trials of collaborators, Beauvoir’s little-discussed essay ‘An Eye for an Eye’ (1946) describes the worst of crimes as those that reduce the human being to a thing. She suggests that we can only truly understand reactions of outrage to these crimes, such as vengefulness, in these extreme situations when we feel them in their ‘true concreteness’. Beauvoir sets out to understand why what she sees as the need for revenge and a restored reciprocity in the light of these crimes usually cannot be satisfied. According to her, both private revenge and state punishment generally fail to bring about the perpetrator’s recognition of what they have done, their own ambiguous existence, or an acknowledgement of the perspective of the victim. I argue that the essay works to undermine Beauvoir’s defence of her refusal to sign the petition for clemency for Robert Brasillach, an anti-Semitic writer tried, convicted and executed for treason. Her apparent support for capital punishment in that case is in tension with the account of vengefulness and punishment in the essay and with her developed existential ethics.
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