Chapter

Primo Levi and the Concept of History

Johan Åhr

in Answering Auschwitz

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780823233588
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241811 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fordham/9780823233588.003.0004
Primo Levi and the Concept of History

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After World War II, which wreaked havoc on a Europe still in shock and bleeding from the great war before it, a distrust and rejection of “historicism”—skepticism toward any abstract, imposing generalization about the character and trajectory of society and history except in defense of individual liberty and personal responsibility. The resistance to historicism was understandably tough and livid among Jewish European intellectuals, wherever the fates of war had pushed them. An abhorrence of this sort, though nobody has yet looked for it there, certainly agitates the writings of an Italian, Primo Levi. Because he was a man of science raised to value education and achievement, he knew how to craft articulate, purposeful prose. His writing is never just a list of facts, a mere catalogue of events. When he wants to, he shapes narratives that move gracefully through a beginning, middle, and end.

Keywords: World War II; individual liberty; personal responsibility; Jewish European intellectuals; facts; events

Chapter.  6263 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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