Memory in The Drowned And the Saved by Primo Levi

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Primo Levi, in The Drowned and the Saved, expresses theories of memory. My objective is to prove that Primo Levi’s theories of memory being transitive and selective are correct. I will do this by examining and critiquing not only Levi’s perspective on memory, but also those of other philosophers and psychoanalysts whose work explored the subject. Writer and chemist, survivor and witness, Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy, in 1919. Like most Italian Jews of his generation, Levi was assimilated to the hilt: "Religion," he later recalled, "did not count for much in my family." In 1938, however, his religion of Judaism became a sudden and serious liability. That year, Mussolini's government enacted a series of anti-Semitic regulations that outlawed mixed marriages, expelled Jews from the universities, and forbade them even to own certain kinds of property. Despite the so-called racial laws, Levi managed to complete his degree in chemistry at the University of Turin in 1941. But he had difficulty finding work. And two years later, when the Germans invaded northern Italy, Levi fled to the mountains with a pearl-handled pistol, joining an ineffectual band of partisans. In December 1943, he was captured by a troop of a Fascist militia. Levi soon found himself crossing the Brenner Pass in a cattle car, en route to a location whose name had not yet acquired its terrible, latter-day resonance: Auschwitz. In a convoy of 650 "items" (prisoners of Auschwitz), of which 525 went directly to the gas chambers, the rest to the labor camps, Levi and a few others survived. After his liberation Levi returned to his native village with one ambition: to bear witness to all that he had seen. The Holocaust changed his life and gave him an intense need to testify. If it had not been for what happened to Levi at the age of 24, this unassuming Italian chemist might have lived and died unknown to all but his family and friends. On April 11, 1987, Primo Levi fell to the bottom of the staircase of the building in which he was born, widely believed a suicide. On his grave, which lies next to that of his mother, who died five years later, his family laid a slab of plain black marble carved with his name, the dates of his birth and death, and the number 174517, which the Nazis had tattooed on his arm in Auschwitz. This expressed t... ... middle of paper ... ... that a person can end up believing a “substituted” memory. He says, “…when fate put them before judges, before the death they deserved, built a convenient past for themselves and ended by believing it.” (Pg. 29) Levi makes the argument that memory is deceiving in so many ways that its hard to hold as truth: It is so deceiving that you can end up believing something that is not true and would not know it. Primo Levi has experienced a past that only a few people can relate or equate to. Given the harshness of Levi’s past, it has lead me to believe that his arguments are strictly based on experience. The fact that Levi has experienced so much in the past puts more credibility in Levi’s arguments. All of Levi’s arguments seem to delve into or have some connection with Levi’s experience in Auschwitz. Bibliography Anissimov, Myriam translated by Steve Fox. Tragedy of an Optimist. The Overlook Press: Woodstock, New York, 1996. Levi, Primo. The Drowned And the Saved. Vintage Books: New York, 1986. Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Vintage Books: New York, 1989.

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