Centro Primo Levi with the Italian Cultural Institute and Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimó inaugurate the first annual symposium dedicated to the Italian writer and scientist Primo Levi. Sessions continue on September 9 at 7:00 pm at the Italian Cultural Institute and on September 15 at 7:00 pm at the Center for Jewish History.
Participants: Moni Ovadia (actor and playwright), Franco Baldasso (New York University), Uri Cohen (Columbia University), Luigi Dei (University of Florence), Andrea Fiano (journalist and author of “The Late Fortune of Primo Levi in the IS), Robert Weil (editor, WW. Norton), Mark Greif (writer, The American Prospect/London Review of Books), Sergio Parussa (Wesley College).
The symposium aims at creating an annual appointment for scholars and lay-people to discuss –outside the borders of specialization and ethnic identity– the complex universe of ideas that Primo Levi left as his legacy.
In the past few years Primo Levi’s ideas on memory, history, science, and poetry have entered the public debate in America more significantly than ever before. Shaped by Levi’s distinct secular humanism and by a notion of identity rooted in the millenarian exchange between Italy and Judaism, Levi’s views challenge established trends in the understanding of the Holocaust (a term he adamantly refused to use) and question the contemporary deepening of the divide between humanities and science.
Levi’s refusal of “mystification,” his unrelenting analysis of evil as part of the “human machine,” and his commitment to liberal ethics, contributed to the delay in the publishing and appreciation of his work, which – at last- proved capable of transcending the fluctuations of literary and social trends and entered the “classical canon”.
In 2007 the 20th anniversary of Levi’s death and the anniversary of the first publication of “If This is a Man” were marked by a series of programs that expanded Centro Primo Levi’s collaborations with many public institutions and universities. The conference held at Yale “Primo Levi in the Present Tense: New Reflections on His Life and Work before and after Auschwitz ” crowned a year of renewed interest in the Italian writer and helped new views on Primo Levi emerge as part of an interdisciplinary debate.
Shortly after the beginning of this year, the long-awaited creation of the Primo Levi Archives and International Research Institute in Turin became a reality, triggering a whole world of potential international exchanges inspired by his ideas and life-work.
It is against this background of events that the board of Centro Primo Levi decided to establish an annual symposium aimed at gathering new perspectives on the work of Levi and at offering a public forum where people of different backgrounds can discuss Levi’s views on life, society, and the humankind.
Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy in 1919, to a family of Jewish descent. He received a degree in chemistry from the University of Turin in 1941. Until 1943 Levi managed to work clandestinely in a chemical laboratory first and a Swiss pharmaceutical firm after. At the signing of the armistice on September 8, 1943 Italy became German-occupied territory and the stage of a civil war. Primo Levi, along with many young Italians joined the resistance movement “Giustizia e Libertà” which took after the organization founded by Carlo and Nello Rosselli.
After being arrested by the Fascist militia Levi was sent to the internment camp of Fossoli, handed over to the Germans and deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. He spent 10 months there and survived by working in a synthetic rubber factory in the Monowitz labor section of the camp. Falling ill to scarlet fever, he was left behind when the Germans evacuated the camp in anticipation of advancing Soviet forces. In January 1945, Levi was liberated by the Red Guard. After passing through a Soviet camp for former concentration camp inmates, he embarked on an arduous ten-month journey home in the company of former Italian prisoners of war going from Poland, through Russia, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Germany. He arrived in Turin on 19 October, 1945.
In Turin he met Lucia Morpurgo who would become his wife. In January 1946 he resumed his career as an industrial chemist and began to write poetry and prose to bear testimony and make sense of the horror of Auschwitz. By the beginning of 1947 the manuscript of “If this is a man” was completed. Rejected by Einaudi, Levi found a small publisher who printed 2000 copies of the book. It was not until 1959 that an English version was published by Orion Press owned by the Italian Eugenio Cassin. This memoir of his experience in the Nazi extermination camp marked the beginning of a long career that was to make Primo Levi one of the most respected literary and political figures in Italy and internationally. Primo Levi died in 1987 falling from the interior landing of his apartment building in Turin.
His death, by some interpreted as suicide, became the object of rhetoric and public debate.
September 8. Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo. 24 West 12th Street
PRIMO LEVI: WRITER AND SCIENTIST
7:00 – 8:00 pm – Elements of writing: Primo Levi today
A conversation on new trends and views in the reading of Primo Levi hosted by Franco Baldasso (New York University) with Uri Cohen (Columbia University).
8:30 -9:30 pm – A bridge between science and literature. Luigi Dei (Department of Chemistry, Universita` di Firenze). Introduced by Andrea Fiano (CPL).
September 9 at 6:00 pm
Italian Cultural Institute, 686 Park Avenue, NYC
READING PRIMO LEVI
Actor-playwright Moni Ovadia reads excerpts from Primo Levi’s writings. Italian w/English supertitles.
September 15 at 6:00 pm
Center for Jewish History
PRIMO LEVI, HISTORIAN AND PUBLIC FIGURE
7:00 pm – Film premiere: “Primo Levi on Television” by Roberto Olla. English subtitles.
7:30 – 8:30 pm – The politics of memory – A conversation with Marc Greif ( American Prospect, London Review of Books), Robert Weil (W.W.Norton and co-editor of the upcoming complete works of Primo Levi), Andrea Fiano (CPL) and Sergio Parussa (Wesley College). Modeated by Alessandro Cassin.