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A Dante Of Our Time

Primo Levi and Auschwitz


Risa B. Sodi

This original and timely volume details the influence of Dante's Inferno on Primo Levi's classic Holocaust narrative, Se questo è uomo, and his last book of essays, I sommersi e i salvatie. Such key concepts as memory, justice, and the realm of the neutral sinners - «la zona grigia» for Levi - are given particular emphasis. Three questions form the backbone of the book: Can memory be overcome? Where is justice for the Holocaust survivor? and, Is there a middle ground between victim and oppressors, and how does Levi define it? Ample use of interviews with the author reveal how Levi relates these three questions to such contemporary figures as Sigmund Freud, Franz Stangl, Rudolf Höss, Jean Améry, Liliana Cavani, and Kurt Waldheim.


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Notes 91


NOTES INTRODUCTION 1For a discussion of Dante's place in contemporary Italian arts and letters, see Zygmunt G. Baranski, "The Power of Influence: Aspects of Dante's Presence in Twentieth-Century Italian Culture" in Strumenti criticiln.s., a. I, (settembre 1986), 343-376. 2Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati (Turin: Einaudi, 1986), 21; Risa Sodi, "An Interview with Primo Levi," Partisan Review L/V, (Summer 1987): 363. 3Levi, La ricerca delle radici {Turin: Einaudi,1981), x. 4Levi, I sommersi e i salvati, 11. Chapter I: AL Dl QUA DEL BENE E DEL MALE: JUSTICE IN DANTE'S INFERNO AND IN PRIMO LEVI'S FIRST AND LAST BOOKS 1Philippe Delhaye, "Giustizia," in Enciclopedia dantesca (Rome: Is- tituto della enciclopedia italiana, 1971), 233. 2See I sommersi e i salvati, chapters 1 and 5. 3Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati, 14 (the original, of which my quote is a paraphrase, reads, " ... i due so no nella stcssa trappola, rna e l'oppressore, e solo lui, che l'ha approntata e che I'ha fatta scattare, e se ne soffre, e giusto che ne soffra.") 92 Notes 4Deut., 6:4-7. 5The biblical Sh'ma concludes with the verses, "And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates." (Deut., 6:8-9). Later in the same chapter, God's jealousy and divine wrath are manifested through his warning against the sin of idolatry: "You shall not go after other gods, of...

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