The Object(s) of Memory: Models of Remembering in Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo

  • Timothy C. Campbell
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


This essay examines, with a minimal amount of abstraction, Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo in light of contemporary work being done on communication theory and memory studies. In asking how Primo Levi articulates memory in his chronicle of the Shoah, it addresses the region in which contemporary models of remembering and Levi’s own abbreviations for memory overlap.1 Specifically considered here is the relation between the conditions that structure memory for the musulmani [the drowned] and the salvati [saved] in communicative terms, and in so doing provides possible coordinates for mapping two fields that continue to maintain a discrete distance from one another. Much of my attention will therefore fall on two principal models for remembering in Se questo è un uomo: memory as the organization of access to information and memory as prosthesis. Undoubtedly, these models are by no means exhaustive, for Levi presents others in the first pages of Se questo è un uomo (collective memory, traumatic memory). Yet it seems to me that they, more than the others, echo themes taken up by communication and media theory.


Collective Memory Traumatic Memory Memory Study Contemporary Work Principal Model 
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  1. 1.
    “Si puó partire allora affermando, con Luhmann, che la memoria è un’espres-sione abbreviata per la ricorsivitá delle operazioni, che consente di fissare, al di lá del continuo fluire di operazioni sempre diverse, qualcosa che si ripete e in quanto tale viene ricordato, mentre il resto si abbandona alla dimenticanza.” Elena Esposito, La memoria sociale: Mezzi per comunicare e modi di dimenticare (Roma: Laterza, 2001), 10.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Vintage International, 1988), 23. All subsequent references cited as Drowned.Google Scholar
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    Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Methuen, 1982), 133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 15.Google Scholar
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    Primo Levi, Se questo è un uomo/La tregua (Turin: Einaudi, 1989), 79. All subsequent references cited as Se questo.Google Scholar
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    J. Piaget, The Construction of Reality in the Child, trans. Margaret Cook (New York: Basic Books, 1954), 65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Stanislao G. Pugliese 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy C. Campbell

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