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Of Nakedness and Clothing: Primo Levi’s Affective Compromise

  • Miglianti, Giovanni
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
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By bringing together literary studies and affect theory, this article shows how Primo Levi understands the Holocaust as an assault on human pudore, constantly negotiating his testimony (as well as his writing at large) in a productive tension between exposure and modesty. At the level of content, his testimonial works present “la natura insanabile dell’offesa, che dilaga come un contagio” with specific reference to the Nazi attack on both external and internal layers of defense, involving a spoliazione in the sense of a literal stripping naked as well as a moral plundering. As a reaction to such a negative process, Levi configures his writing by means of a stylistic practice informed by pudore – as evident from his constant appeal to avoidance language, understatement, and irony – that he himself describes as rivestire people and facts with words. Through the analysis of tropes of nakedness and clothing in Levi's works, this paper shows how the Turinese writer responds to the “contagio del male” of Auschwitz by appealing to an affective compromise – both partially waiving his own sense of pudore when putting into words what he endured and witnessed in the camp, and, at the same time, managing to partially restore the modesty and human decency so brutally denied in the concentration camp precisely through the mode of testimonial representation.

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