The Humanity and Humanism of Primo Levi

Joseph Farrell

in Answering Auschwitz

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780823233588
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241811 | DOI:
The Humanity and Humanism of Primo Levi

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In a wide-ranging, polemical lecture in Turin in 1979, Primo Levi discussed the roots and variations of racial prejudice in history, finding early traces of the phenomenon even in the seemingly innocuous biblical verse in the Canticle of Canticles, “Nigra sum sed formosa.” (I am black but beautiful.) The very title of the work, If This Is a Man, implies the same anguished questioning on humanity and humanism that is present in the lecture, and in both works Nazism is presented as the very denial of humanism as well as of the humanitarian spirit and even of shared humanity. It can be noted that the distinguishing feature of Levi's account of the Holocaust is the prominence given to the malevolent process of dehumanization.

Keywords: Primo Levi; humanity; humanism; Nazism; Holocaust; dehumanization

Chapter.  6944 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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