Interpreting Primo Levi Interdisciplinary Perspectives by Arthur Chapman

Interpreting Primo Levi Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Written by Arthur Chapman
Illustrated by
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies Series

RRP £63.00


Interpreting Primo Levi Interdisciplinary Perspectives by Arthur Chapman

The 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.


REVIEWER: Robert Gordon, Cambridge Interpreting Primo Levi: Interdisciplinary Perspectives This report is based on a detailed proposal with outline and chapter abstracts, two draft chapters (Rudolf, Geras) and reproductions of the original etchings by Jane Joseph to be included in the book. The project is to publish a substantial edited volume on Holocaust survivor and writer Primo Levi, based on but not liimited to papers at an international conference on Levi held at Edge Hill University in 2012. The book will be divided into 6 sections, with 3 or 4 chapters in each, for a total of appx. 150,000 words. The sections will be cover the following areas. * Political philosophy and ethics; * Memory and Science; * The human and the post-human; * Language, identity and intertext; * Holocaust education; * Publishing, media and representation. The contributors are drawn from a wide range of disciplines and take varying approaches. They include figures of international renown in the study of Levi (Cicioni, Woolf), and a group of lively young researchers, but also major figures from other related fields, including perhaps Levi's most active British interlocutor and sometime publisher, Rudolf (Rudolf's piece makes some fascinating literary connections from Levi to Leopardi, Byron, and others, but is most interesting as the history of a private correspondence between him and Levi regarding poetry and other matters). The key strength of the proposal lies in the wide range of disciplines and approaches to Levi's work on offer. The section on Holocaust education is particularly welcome and innovative in academic work on Levi, as is the section on the human and post-human, linking Levi to some of the most interesting and original debates in contemporary philosophy (Hamilton, Benvegnu

. 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.

About the Author

Minna Vuohelainen is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and MA Program Leader at Edge Hill University, England. She holds a BSc in International History from the London School of Economics, an MA in English from King's College London, and a PhD in English from Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Richard Marsh (2015) and of many articles in English Studies, the Journal of Literature and Science, and Victorian Periodicals Review, and has also produced scholarly editions of novels and short fiction. Her current research focuses on print culture, spatiality, the gothic, and the literature of conflict. Arthur Chapman is Senior Lecturer in History Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, England.

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281 pages


Arthur Chapman
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Palgrave Macmillan

Publication date

9th December 2015



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