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The Rise of the Memoir$
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Alex Zwerdling

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198755784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198755784.001.0001

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Primo Levi’s Recursive Memory

Primo Levi’s Recursive Memory

(p.148) 6 Primo Levi’s Recursive Memory
The Rise of the Memoir

Alex Zwerdling

Oxford University Press

Levi’s Holocaust memoirs of his Auschwitz incarceration and return to Italy (Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening) have become classics, though the expectations for this autobiographical form clash with the subject. The victims’ arrival stripped them of their identities, national roots, and language. Their families were taken from them, their names changed to numbers. How could memoirs describe lives shorn of individual identity? Levi needed the memoir’s rigorous basis in fact, promise to bear witness, open form, and focus on shame and guilt, including his own. Levi uses the confessional memoir’s deliberate inconclusiveness to shift among memory, expectation, and unfinished business by shaping containers suited to his public subject and private needs.

Keywords:   testimony, survivors, genocide, implausibility, shame and guilt

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