Chapter

“The Circle of Chalk”: Narrative Voice in Primo Levi's

Frederick J. Ruf

in Entangled Voices

Published in print March 1997 | ISBN: 9780195102635
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199853458 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195102635.003.0005
“The Circle of Chalk”: Narrative Voice in Primo Levi's

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In an essay, the psychologist Jerome Bruner explores the ways in which narrative constructs reality. For Bruner, it is narrative that is most useful in “constructing and representing the rich and messy domain of human interaction.” This chapter examines the ambiguous relationship between narrative and that “rich and messy domain” mentioned by Bruner. It focuses on a narrative autobiography, Primo Levi's remarkable book The Periodic Table. This is a narrative that reveals the aspiration to narrative for the mastery of richness and messiness (or evil) that it promises, and at the same time Levi's book shows the tenuousness of that magisterial stance: the richness and messiness of narrative itself. The Periodic Table is one of three volumes of autobiography that Levi wrote, starting with his account of life during the Holocaust, Survival in Auschwitz, and continuing with The Reawakening. This is a narrative that gives cohesion and intelligibility to Auschwitz. Levi's voice walks the line between narrative and lyric throughout this autobiography, which simply seems to be one of the characteristics of first-person narrative.

Keywords: Jerome Bruner; Primo Levi; The Periodic Table; Holocaust; narrative; lyric; voice autobiography; reality; intelligibility

Chapter.  4211 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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