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Primo Levi

The Austere Humanist

Joseph Farrell

Primo Levi has been identified in the public mind as the supreme witness to the barbarism that was the Nazi Holocaust but he was ambivalent about having that role thrust upon him. He also wished to be judged as a writer who, in addition to the autobiographical works on his experiences in the death camps, wrote poetry, produced volumes of sci-fi stories, authored novels and contributed critical essays to newspapers on a range of topics and writers. No one has the right to ignore or downplay the ‘testimony’ Primo Levi offered, but it is time to examine the wider vision inherent in his work and to explore the tradition in which he operated.
Levi was one of the great wisdom writers of his age, whose ethical authority, somewhat to his own embarrassment, was accepted in many fields. Several contributors to this collection of essays see him as a proponent of Enlightenment values, or as heir to a longer Humanist tradition. Even after enduring Auschwitz, he held fast to a notion of the dignity of the human person, and no man did more to re-establish, however quizzically, the secular basis for such beliefs. His overall standing as writer is the subject of this book.
Contents: Joseph Farrell: Introduction – Mirna Cicioni: ‘Do Not Call Us Teachers’: Primo Levi and the Next Generations – Robert Gordon: ‘How Much Home Does a Person Need?’ Primo Levi and the Ethics of Home – Massimo Lollini: Primo Levi and the Idea of Autobiography – Jonathan Usher: ‘Libertinage’ Programmatic and Promiscuous Quotation in Primo Levi – Joseph Farrell: From Darkness to Light: Primo Levi, Man of Letters – Ian Thomson: Writing If this is a Man – Giovanni Tesio: At an Uncertain Hour: Preliminary Observations on the Poetry of Primo Levi – Pietro Frassica: Changing and Unchanging Truths: Primo Levi versus Francesco Rosi – Paolo Puppa: The Hidden Theatre of Primo Levi – Nancy Harrowitz: Primo Levi and Holocaust Tourism.