The Witness’s Tape Recorder and the Violence of Mediation

  • Lina Insana
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


The analysis of Primo Levi’s sizeable testimonial, literary, and essayistic production has tended, over the years, to be subject to what I’ll call a centripetal approach that seeks to draw together its threads, themes, and images. One of the gestures I’d like to make in the present chapter is to suggest that from within Levi’s oeuvre emerges an opposing, centrifugal force.1 This is a force governed in part by a logic of the reactive and productive capacities of difference—the “mustard seed” as Levi writes in The Periodic Table—and driven by Levi’s many contradictions, both in his evolution over time and the tensions engendered by his multiple and overlapping subject positions: assimilated Jew, survivor, chemist, public intellectual, cultural icon, and so on.2 To this end, my comments in the present chapter will show that translation—the totality of the ways in which Levi translated and wished to be translated—is emblematic of this fact and offers a study in how we might better use Levi’s tensions to explore his writings, his worldview, and his thought.


Tape Recorder German Language Source Text Mustard Seed Public Intellectual 
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  1. 3.
    Lina N. Insana, Arduous Tasks: Primo Levi, Translation, and the Transmission of Holocaust Testimony (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  2. Lina N. Insana, Arduous Tasks: Primo Levi, Translation, and the Transmission of Holocaust Testimony (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009); Lina N. Insana, “In Levi’s Wake: Adaptation, Simulacrum, Postmemory.” Italica 86, no. 2 (2009): 212–38.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summitt Books, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Friedrich Schleiermacher, “On the different methods of translating,”, Western Translation Theory from Herodotus to Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Douglas Robinson ([0]Manchester: St. Jerome, 2002), 233.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, trans. Stuart Woolf (New York: Collier, 1961).Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    On translation as task and duty, see the canonical essay by Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,”, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt; trans. by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), as well as the rich response tradition that has emerged in its wake; Derrida’s “Des tours de Babel,”, Difference in Translation, ed. and trans. Joseph Graham (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985) is particularly illuminating for its focus on the afterlife, or the sur-vie, that translation issues.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Risa Sodi and Millicent Marcus 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lina Insana
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PittsburghUSA

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