Thursday, March 28, 2013

ICA talks: Primo Levi and Michael Kustov, in conversation

Another post from the Institute of Contemporary Arts recordings. This one is from April 18, 1986 with Primo Levi, timed to coincide with the release of the English translation of If Not Now, When? in Great Britain. I didn’t take too many notes since his answers didn’t really lend themselves to a ‘highlights’ format. I do recommend listening to the recording just because of the range and depth of topics he covers.

In his ‘answers’ section Levi touches on many subjects. He wonders “Am I entitled” to tell stories about what happened in Auschwitz. The obvious question is if he isn't, what qualifies someone to do so? Part of the reason he wrote If Not Now, When? came from the constant questions about why the Jews didn’t fight back during the atrocities preceding and during World War II. Levi views these questions as completely out of touch to what was going on at the time. Even so, he felt some unease writing fiction about real events.

Levi also related some of his experiences on his journey home from Auschwitz and spends some time on a question about Eastern European Jews compared to Western European Jews. He talks about writers to which he feels close, such as Italo Calvino (who he calls a “twin”). Some literary works about concentration camps “fail” for him, whether personally or as literature. Many of the “fails” feel artificial (even though they may attempt in good faith)…a few are mentioned by name. Levi also mentions, as does one of the audience questioners, the humor in his work, which he feels to be an essential component if you’re going to write “from above,” as an omnipotent narrator.

Highly recommended.

2 comments:

Biblibio said...

This is absolutely wonderful - thank you for sharing!

Dwight said...

Thanks. I think this is the last one I'll mention--just wanted to let people know about these conversations. They are wonderful!