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The Grey Zone

The Grey Zone, Anna Bravo, Working paper for the Lezione Primo Levi: Raccontare per la storia, Einaudi, 2014

Levi writes about Rumkowski “we are all mirrored in Rumkowski, his ambiguity is ours, it is our second nature, we hybrids molded from clay and spirit.” Certainly he was a literary character, a resource that the narrative of these events cannot do without, whether the narrative is considered as testimony or it is interwoven with analytical writing. Nevertheless, he also seemed to be a concrete individual in If This is a Man. If so, he seemed most believable as a shrewd prostitute who can convince clients that they are having love affairs. There is one basic difference. A prostitute sells his or her body. Henri sells his soul. From Levi’s point of view, selling one’s soul is worse than losing it like so many prisoners who did. The reason is that the word sell alludes to a relationship, a range of choices, a pact. It is a point of view that falsifies the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor down to the roots and turns one of Levi’s most treasured words into a parody, friendship.

I do not know if The Drowned and the Saved was in harmony with the climate of Italy of those years, as Alberto Cavaglion thinks. This was a climate that tended towards half tones and towards self-absolution to the point of self-complacency. Eraldo Affinati thinks differently. For him there is no writer aside from Levi who had the courage “before the fall of the Berlin wall to reflect beyond ideological categories on the feelings of extreme fragility, present in all of us like harmful sirens capable of unhinging our defenses and leading us to the most terrible of abstentions – the abstention from judgment.” Read more

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