The entry below from my philosophical journal is the second one concerning Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved, with the date I originally wrote it.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Levi, p. 159, on rebellions throughout history: “There were a few victorious rebellions, many were defeated. . . .” But as Dori Laub suggests (see my entry for 8/15/08 [and that I recently posted]), it depends on the criteria one uses for “victory” and “defeat.” Levi’s sentence ends: “. . . innumerable others were stifled at the start, so early as not to have left any trace in the chronicles.” Well, it is precisely because they are “victorious,” perhaps, that they must be stripped from the chronicles whenever possible. History is written by those in power, for the most part-history as chronicles, at least. Whether they are the “victors” is, however, debatable.
P. 160: “The image so often repeated in monuments of the slave who breaks his heavy chains is rhetorical; his chains are broken by comrades whose shackles are lighter and loser.” Yet his own book recounts how it was the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz who rebelled. Their chains were indeed “lighter and loser” [than other inmates, and least in one obvious way], but they were themselves still slaves, as his own analysis rightly emphasizes. He even refers back to this later on this same page. So his point is really that revolt occurs, as many Marxists taught, not when things are at their very worst, but when a bit of relief comes along: the pressure-cooker phenomenon, one could say.