Sunday, April 15, 2007

Primo Levi Discussion

Last week The New York Public Library had organized a program to commemorate the 20th death anniversary of Primo Levi. The audio of the entire event is available here. Ruth Franklin, Joan Acocella, Adam Kirsch, all three wonderful reviewers and essayists, among others, discuss his life, work and legacy. I have only read his Survival in Auschwitz (elsewhere known as "If This is a Man"). This talk has now inspired me to look out for his other works. The program is quite long, almost two hours, but it is quite good, specially towards the end. Adam Kirsch makes some interesting comments in the conversation. He says that his works represent "a negation of the negation." He also mentions that Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain was one of his favourite books and that he identified himself with the figure of Settembrini in the struggle of the ideas of western civilisation that Mann portrayed in the book. The Slate also has a review of his story collection which has just come out in English.

5 comments:

Antonia said...

interesting, haven't read 'If this is a Man' always meant to and then never got round to. Then I have read the Periodic Table ages ago and I liked it. But somehow my favourite re Holocaust literature is Jean Amery. I remember once there was a controversy Amery/Levi, but have forgotten what this was about. 'negation of the negation' is classical Hegelian terminology http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/n/e.htm

Alok said...

My knowledge of Amery is limited to what WG Sebald wrote about him in On the Natural History of Destruction. Will see if i can get his books here. though i don't think a lot has been translated or is easily available.

And I had no clue about the Hegel connection. It is a really wonderful phrase, isn't it... it is not really affirmation, but achieves the same goal without this feeling of "selling out" which affirmation generally carries with itself, specially in these horrific contexts...

Antonia said...

what I like about Amery is that he is just going straight into what does torture do to a person, he doesn't wrap it in a story - tho he also has written stories - but he is a really good analyst. Unsentimental yet also human and you can't cheat him for he sees you through and he doesn't cheat you either. It's 'At the mind's limits' I refer to. Also he wrote very interesting essays on literature and film and a book on suicide....some of the stuff should be translated, am sure...

I am not sure myself how far one really can connect Levi with hegel,after all in the first place it is a phrase here and one has to look how he is using it...but yes it is a nice phrace....you should go read Hegel, you get dizzy from all those dialects turning you round and round. That's the idea really that it is not just simply afformation, but dialectic.

Alok said...

I just checked. His books are available in the English. Both Mind at limits and the one on suicide. Will check sometime.

It was not Levi but actually the critic Adam Kirsch who used the phrase to characterise Levi's humanism, a humanism which is not based on denial and evasion but rather acknowledgement and struggle and confrontation. that's what he meant by negation of the negation.

Haha... I am already a little worried about my mental health. Can't afford to read Hegel :)

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