Dissertation Abstracts

Primo Levi and the Rumors of Memory: Limits and Challenges in the Construction of the Testimony

Author: Oliveira, Lucas A, lucas_amaral_oliveira@hotmail.com
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of São Paulo, Brazil
Supervisor: Maria Helena Oliva Augusto
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: Portuguese

Keywords: Primo Levi , Testimony , Memory , Traumatic Experience
Areas of Research: Biography and Society , Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Political Sociology


The Italian writer, chemist, and Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi (1919-1987), created one of the most important testimonies of the second half of the twentieth century. In this dissertation research, my aim is to convert some of the questions that appear in two of his most striking autobiographies about the extermination camp – "Survival in Auschwitz" and "The Drowned and the Saved" – into problems of a sociological character and contribute to the field of investigations opened up by the testimonies of the Jewish-Italian intellectual. I wish to interpret his testimony as a documentary source that can inform us about denunciation, pain, violence, and death – things that have characterized our era with blood. First, I seek to give voice and space to the memory of Levi and to his narration about the daily aggressions in the Lager, the usual sociability in that hellish place, the human types who were striving there, and the difficulty in communication that emerged as a result of the immense violence and the relegation of certain groups to slavery. From this point, I offer some reflections about his testimony, by exploring the aporetic groundings on which the testimony is developed: being fragmented, incomplete and impossible in its entirety, but absolutely necessary. In these terms, I will try to verify the limits to the construction of a testimony of the barbarism and the possibilities found by Primo Levi in the representation and transmission of his experience. Later, I interrogate the potential of the testimony to generate new knowledge about such a traumatic event as Auschwitz. I also ask to what extent Primo Levi's testimonial work can be taken as a mechanism for transmitting experience and knowledge about that past. These questions are important because to address Levi’s testimony parting from a set of elements that find in the notion of memory its decisive axis makes the testimony not only an object of historical analysis, but also a way to reflect on violence in other contexts.

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