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Primo Levi Centennial Series

05Jun7:00 pm8:30 pmPrimo Levi Centennial Series7:00 pm - 8:30 pm(GMT+00:00) Italian Cultural Institute, 686 Park Avenue Primo Levi ForumPrimo Levi Forum

Event Details

Pankaj Mishra Reads The Drowned and the Saved

This lecture inaugurates a series of programs to mark Primo Levi’s Hundredth Anniversary held at various venues in town, including the New York Public Library, the Italian Cultural Institute and Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò. Following the center’s tradition of providing a platform for readings of Levi’s work stemming from contexts and experiences others than those in which they originated.

Novelist and essayst Pankaj Mishra will draw on two chapters of Levi’s last book and intellectual testament, The Drowned and the Saved, the “The Intellectual at Auschwitz” and “The Grey Zone,” to probe his complex views on the dialectic of oppression and its impact on both oppressed and oppressor. 

Expanding on topics that Levi tackled with growing concern in his last years, Mr. Mishra will talk about Primo Levi and Israel as well as the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the light of Levi’s ideas.

“The surrender to the intrinsic horror of the past could lead the scholar to an intellectual abdication and at the same time equip him with the defensive weapons of his uneducated comrade: “So has it always been, so will it always be.” My ignorance of history may have protected me from this metamorphosis. On the other hand, luckily for me, I was not exposed to another danger that Amery rightly mentions: by nature, the intellectual (the German intellectual, allow me to add to his formulation) tends to become complicit with Power and therefore to sanction it. He tends to follow in the footsteps of Hegel and deify the State, any State: the mere fact of existing justifies its existence. The chronicles of Nazi Germany are filled with cases that confirm this tendency: the philosopher Heidegger, Sartres teacher; the physicist Stark, a Nobel laureate; Cardinal Faulhaber, the supreme Catholic authority in Germany; and countless others acquiesced in Nazism.” from: The Drowned and the Saved

Pankaj Mishra began writing as an essayist in the early 1990s after moving to a Himalayan village in northern India, where he read prolifically and contributed essays to a number of Indian magazines. By the end of the decade, he was writing regularly for The New York Review of Books and other publications, often providing an unsparing look at the legacy of colonial rule in Asia by unpacking the myriad ways in which Western interests continued to penetrate former possessions. 

His first book was Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India (1995), a travelogue which described the social and cultural changes in India in the new context of globalization. It was followed by: The Romantics (2000), An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World (2004), From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West (2012), The Remaking of Asia (2013), and A Great Clamour: Encounters with China and its Neighbours (2013).

His widely acclaimed 2012 book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, told the history of imperialism from the point of view of those subjected to its power, while his most recent offering, Age of Anger: A History of the Present (2017), which explores the foundations of violent nationalism and other ideologies, was long-listed for the 2018 Orwell Prize.

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