Primo Levi, Dante, and Language in Auschwitz

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Abstract

This article examines Primo Levi’s engagement with the work of Dante, focusing on Levi’s meditation on language in describing his confinement at Auschwitz and its later representation. Firstly, it establishes the importance of Dante as an ‘infernal’ model for Levi. It then identifies some suggestive parallels between the linguistic and auditory dimensions of Levi’s Se questo è un uomo and Dante’s Inferno, and the degradation of language associated with these two infernal realms. The essay then highlights each writer’s concern with the limitations of human language in describing a place that it is understood as sub-linguistic. The article contends, by highlighting a number of precise textual parallels, that Levi’s reflections on this sub-linguistic essence of the Lager are substantially informed by the closing cantos of the Inferno. The essay concludes by considering how Dante represents a productive communicative model for Levi as well as carrying associations with unattainable notions of justice, salvation, and plenitude.
Original languageEnglish
JournalModern Language Review
Volume117
Issue number1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Primo Levi
  • Dante
  • Auschwitz
  • Holocaust representation
  • testimony
  • communication

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