Interpreting Primo Levi Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Written by Arthur Chapman
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies Series
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Interpreting Primo Levi Interdisciplinary Perspectives by Arthur ChapmanThe legacy of antifascist partisan, Auschwitz survivor, and author Primo Levi continues to drive exciting interdisciplinary scholarship. The contributions to this intellectually rich, tightly organized volume - from many of the world's foremost Levi scholars - show a remarkable breadth across fields as varied as ethics, memory, and media studies.
. Some threads and topics touched on in the other sections are perhaps less original in the field of critial work on Levi, but in more than one case they are revisited with strikiing elegance and clarity Geras is a good example of this here, as he authoritatively draws out lines of contrast between Levi and another survivor-writer, Jean Amery, but in doing so offers powerful insights into ideas of shame and hope from his standpoint as a political theorist. (It is also true, conversely, the Geras speaks as a reader from a related field - poitical theory - and so is not engaging with other work done on Levi and Amery). Other instances of original revisiting of key contributions by Levi would include: Woolf on The Periodic Table, Mooney on the 'Gray Zone'. Some contributions offer original archival research (e.g. Episcopo). Others make bold connections to issues beyond Levi's central concerns (e.g. Noah on Judith Butler's appropriations of Levi on Israel). There is a strong international dimension also, with contributors from Italy, Norway, the US, Australia etc, but also in links of analysis, e.g. between Levi and the Polish context, Levi and Shakespeare etc. The visual dimension of the etchings, which are very fine, would give the volume a distinctive element. As the proposal indicates, there have been several other edited volumes about Levi published in English in the last ten years (including two by Palgrave in the US). This one would represent a further rich contribution to a growing and popular body of work on Levi. It is perhaps hard to make out a case for it as consistently distinctive from those other very worthy collections, except that it would be longer, more up-to-date and certainly has a cluster of outstanding contributors and contributions. I am also impressed by the care of the presentation of the proposal, the attentive work the editors are already doing with the authors, and the clarity and professionalism of the presentation and the conception, all of which bode very well for the completion of the book and for its careful shaping. Levi remains a highly popular, much read and much studied author, as of course does the Holocaust more generally. I have no doubt that the book would find a wide readership (and this is no doubt the positive reason why rival volumes have continued to be published). My impression is that this book cannot as it stands claim to a comprehensive coverage of Levi's work (it is not an 'Introduction to...'), nor to an exceptional status in the critical field. But it offers strong evidence of a well-thought-through and high-quality, as well as substantial contribution to an evolving field of research, one that has potential readers across several disciplines. Every effort has been made to draw the contributions together and to supplement the contents in such as way as to hold the volume together as a coherent whole. And, in so far as one can tell from the proposal, there is a preponderance of very strong essays that will make the book a very lively and interesting reference-point. On that basis, I see a strong case for recommending publication. I understand some thought is being given to explanding the book into a research handbook on Levi. This is an attractive idea: I suspect, however, it would require more than simply an expansion on the current proposal, since it would need to be more thoroughly comprehensive in its coverage of Levi's oeuvre and to give a more consistent sense of the relatively large critical field on Levi (possibly not only in English, although it might declaredly limit itself to this ambit), in order to point to both old and new directions in research. Several of the current strengths would also be a very positive presence in such a handbook, however - and with due investment of time, it could well become a more distinctive work than a collection of essays. A fully revised proposal - with an indication of models of such handbooks existing in relation to other authors - would be needed to give a serious assessment.
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9th December 2015
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