Primo Levi and the Politics of Survival

By Frederic D. Homer | Go to book overview

7
Choices

I must have by then overcome the most terrible crisis, the crisis of having become part of the Lager system, and I must have developed a strange callousness if I then managed not only to survive but also to think, to register the world around me, and even to perform rather delicate work, in an environment infected by the daily presence of death.

The Periodic Table

That evening I brought into camp the small rods and Alberto a metal plate with a round hole: it was the prescribed caliber to which we had to thin down the rods in order to transform them into flints [for lighters] and therefore bread…. We worked for three nights: nothing happened, nobody noticed our activity, nor did the blanket or pallet catch fire, and this is how we won the bread which kept us alive until the arrival of the Russians and how we comforted each other in the trust and friendship which united us.

The Periodic Table

Primo Levi's observations in the Lager led him to conclude that the prisoners had very little latitude for choice and were forced into rigid patterns of conformity: “In reality, in the vast majority of cases, their behavior was rigidly preordained.”1 However, Levi and other prisoners found that even under such harsh and unconditional circumstances of slavery, they could use will and guile. Here we find Levi's ambivalence about existence that

____________________
1
The Drowned and the Saved, 49. Future references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

-131-

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Primo Levi and the Politics of Survival
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Primo Levi and the Politics of Survival *
  • Introduction 1
  • I - The Origins of Levi's Philosophy 7
  • 1 - Force Majeure 9
  • 2 - Hobbesian Hell 23
  • II - Ill-Constituted Beings 43
  • 3 - Ill-Constituted Beings 45
  • 4 - Violence 57
  • III - Optimistic Pessimism 89
  • 5 - The Tragic Sense of Life 91
  • 6 - Useful Qualities of Human Nature 117
  • 7 - Choices 131
  • 8 - Purpose and Work 161
  • 9 - Optimistic Pessimism 180
  • IV - Defense of Modernism 197
  • 10 - Civilized Liberalism 199
  • 11 - A Defense of Modernism 220
  • V - Conclusion 253
  • 12 - Levi's Death 255
  • Bibliography 265
  • Index 273
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