The Lessons of Primo Levi #4


My preceding three posts have contained entries from my philosophical journal addressing Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved.  Below are entries in my journal for two days, with the original dates of writing, addressing Levi’s earlier book, Survival in Auschwitz.  This post completes the series of entries from my journal devoted to Levi’s work. 


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, translated by Stuart Woolin (New York:  Simon and Schuster, Touchstone edition, 1996) p. 44:  “. . . it is in the normal order of things that the privileged oppress the unprivileged:  the social structure of the camp is based on this human law.”  (Cf. The Drowned and the Saved, p. 41.)

P. 60:  recurrent dream he and other prisoners have is of being freed and trying to tell one’s story, but not being heard:  “. . . my listeners do not follow me.  In fact they are completely indifferent:  they speak confusedly of other things among themselves, as if I was not there.  My sister looks at me, gets up and goes away without a word.”


Ch. 9 is called “The Drowned and the Saved,” the title of Levi’s last book.  On p. 88, he offers the following characterization of “the drowned,” after remarking that, outside the camps, it is rare to encounter any “drowned”:  to be drowned is to experience a complete exhaustion of all one’s resources, and to come to complete “shipwreck, of total inadequacy in the face of life.”


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Levi, Auschwitz, pp. 129-130, tells of fellow prisoner Kuhn, who prays thanks to God after a “selection” that has not selected him.  P. 130:  “Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, nothing at all  in the power of man can ever clean again?”  (Levi adds:  “If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.”)

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