Summer 2005

HUMS 643
Memory and Science, Poetry and Genocide: Primo Levi and the Legacy of the Holocaust


07/05/2005 - 08/09/2005
Tuesday & Thursday 06:00 PM - 09:00 PM

Fisk Hall 305

Detained for his activities in the Italian Resistance in 1943, Primo Levi, a young chemist, was transported to Auschwitz. Following his safe return to his native Italy, he wrote what was to become one of the best-known texts documenting the Nazi genocide, If This Is a Man (known in the U.S. market as Survival in Auschwitz). In the decades that followed, Levi--who continued working as a chemist--went on to write varied "responses" to the Holocaust. These responses range from scientific, to "science writing," from poetry to plays, from short fiction to novels. He remained, until his death in 1987, one of the most respected cultural figures involved in documenting the Shoah and reflecting upon it.

How do we "remember" the Holocaust? What are the limits of memory? What are the limits of a survivor's responsibility to "remember?" This course explores representing the memory of the Holocaust and its "unspeakability," through the lens of Levi's work. Working chronologically through Levi's texts, from Survival in Auschwitz to The Drowned and the Saved, we encounter the following themes: the ethical uses of science, the reliability of memory, and the burden of "remembering." We will compare Levi's concerns to those of some filmmakers interested in "representing" the Holocaust (Lumet, Benigni, Spielberg, and others).

Levi wrote many different sorts of texts, and a reading of them reveals that the chemist-writer also pursued other interests. Thus, his writings do not always explicitly treat the Shoah but are often somehow inspired by it (especially, perhaps, his science fiction). It is in this way that we, as readers and students, allow him and his work to live outside and beyond Auschwitz.

Primary texts include Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, The Truce, At an Uncertain Hour (poems), The Drowned and the Saved, If not Now, When?, The Monkey's Wrench, Other People's Trades, The Periodic Table. Films will include Sidney Lumet, The Pawnbroker; Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful; Steven Spielberg, Schindler's List; Gillo Pontecorvo, Kapo; Liliana Cavani, The Night Porter.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

Ellen Nerenberg (B.A. Stanford University; M.A., Ph.D. University of Chicago) is associate professor of Romance languages and women's studies at Wesleyan University. She recently published Prison Terms: Representing Confinement During and After Italian Fascism (University of Toronto Press, 2001; winner of the Modern Language Association's Howard R. Marraro Prize for best publication in English on an Italian subject, 2000-01) and edited, with C. Gallucci, Writing Beyond Fascism: Cultural Resistance in the Life and Works of Alba de Cespedes (Fairleigh-Dickinson University Press, 2000). Her research focuses on 20th-century Italian narrative, Italian theater, Italian cultural studies, Italian cinema, women's studies, and gender studies.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Primo Levi, SURVIVAL IN AUSCHWITZ (Touchstone), Paperback

Primo Levi, THE REAWAKENING (Touchstone), Paperback

Primo Levi, THE PERIODIC TABLE (Shocken), Paperback

Primo Levi, COLLECTED POEMS (Faber & Faber), Paperback

Primo Levi, IF NOT NOW, WHEN? (Penguin), Paperback

Primo Levi, MOMENTS OF REPRIEVE (Penguin), Paperback

Primo Levi, DROWNED AND THE SAVED (Vintage), Paperback


PLEASE NOTE: A course packet is available for purchase at Minuteman Press, 512 Main Street, Middletown, CT, (860) 347-5700.

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