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Primo Levi (1919 – 1987)


Italian chemist and author of memoirs, short stories, poems and novels.
Primo Levi
It is a pretty structure isnít it? It makes you think of something solid, stable, well-linked. In fact it happens also in chemistry as in architecture that ďbeautifulĒ edifices, that is, symmetrical and simple, are also the most sturdy: in short, the same thing happens with molecules as with the cupolas of cathedrals of the arches of bridges.
Levi quotes
Stand back, leave me alone, submerged people,
Go away. I haven't dispossessed anyone,
Haven't usurped anyone's bread.
No one died in my place. No one.
Go back into your mist.
It's not my fault if I live and breathe,
Eat, drink, sleep and put on clothes.
Levi
To be considered stupid and to be told so is more painful than being called gluttonous, mendacious, violent, lascivious, lazy, cowardly: every weakness, every vice, has found its defenders, its rhetoric, its ennoblement and exaltation, but stupidity hasnít.




Levi Primo quotes
I beg the reader not to go in search of messages. It is a term that I detest because it distresses me greatly, for it forces on me clothes that are not mine, which in fact belong to a human type that I distrust; the prophet, the soothsayer, the seer. I am none of these; Iím a normal man with a good memory who fell into a maelstrom and got out of it more by luck than by virtue, and who from that time on has preserved a certain curiosity about maelstroms large and small, metaphorical and actual.
Levi Primo
Interviewer: Is it possible to abolish man's humanity?
Levi: Unfortunately, yes. Unfortunately, yes; and that is really the characteristic of the Nazi lager [concentration camp]. About the others, I don't know, because I don't know them; perhaps in Russia the same thing happens. It's to abolish man's personality, inside and outside: not only of the prisoner, but also of the jailer. He too lost his personality in the lager.
These are two different itineraries, but with the same result, and I would say that only a few had the good fortune of remaining aware during their imprisonment; some regained their awareness of the experience later, but during it, they had lost it; many forgot everything. They did not record their experiences in their mind. They didn't impress on their memory track. Thus it happened to all, a profound modification in their personality. Most of all, our sensibility lost sharpness, so that the memories of our home had fallen into second place; the memory of family had fallen into second place in face of urgent needs, of hunger, of the necessity to protect oneself against cold, beatings, fatigue... all of this brought about some reactions which we could call animal-like; we were like work animals.
It is curious how this animal-like condition would repeat itself in language: in German there are two words for eating. One is essen and it refers to people, and the other is fressen, referring to animals. We say a horse frisst, for example, or a cat. In the lager, without anyone having decided that it should be so, the verb for eating was fressen. As if the perception of the animalesque regression was clear to all.
Primo Levi quotes
In countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither; discussion dies by inanition, ignorance of the opinion of others becomes rampant, imposed opinions triumph. The well-known example of this is the crazy genetics preached in the USSR by Lysenko, which in the absence of discussion (his opponents were exiled to Siberia) compromised the harvests for twenty years. Intolerance is inclined to censor, and censorship promotes ignorance of the arguments of others and thus intolerance itself: a rigid, vicious circle that is hard to break.
Primo Levi
Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Levi Primo quotes
Translation is difficult work because the barriers between languages are higher than is generally thought ... knowing how to avoid the traps is not enough to make a good translator. The task is more arduous; it is a matter of transferring from one language to another the expressive force of the text, and this is a superhuman task, so much so that some celebrated translations (for example that of the Odyssey into Latin and the Bible into German) have marked transformations in the history of our civilisation.
Nonetheless, since writing results from a profound interaction between the creative talent of the writer and the language in which he expresses himself, to each translation is coupled an inevitable loss, comparable to the loss of changing money. This diminution varies in degree, great or small according to the ability of the translator and the nature of the original text. As a rule it is minimal for technical or scientific texts (but in this case the translator, in addition to knowing the two languages, needs to understand what he is translating; possess, that is to say, a third competence). It is maximal for poetry...
Levi
If he believes time has run its course,
A man is a sad thing too.
Levi Primo
Beware of analogies: for millenia they corrupted medicine, and it may be their fault that today's pedagogical systems are so numerous, and after three thousand years of argument we still don't know which is best.
Primo Levi
Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition, which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable.




Primo Levi quotes
For me chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black volutes torn by fiery flashes, like those which had hidden Mount Sinai. Like Moses, from that cloud I expected my law, the principle of order in me, around me, and in the world. I was fed up with books, which I still continued to gulp down with indiscreet voracity, and searched for a key to the highest truths; there must be a key, and I was certain that, owing to some monstrous conspiracy to my detriment and the world's, I would not get in school. In school they loaded with me with tons of notions that I diligently digested, but which did not warm the blood in my veins. I would watch the buds swell in spring, the mica glint in the granite, my own hands, and I would say to myself: "I will understand this, too, I will understand everything, but not the way they want me to. I will find a shortcut, I will make a lock-pick, I will push open the doors."
It was enervating, nauseating, to listen to lectures on the problem of being and knowing, when everything around us was a mystery pressing to be revealed: the old wood of the benches, the sun's sphere beyond the windowpanes and the roofs, the vain flight of the pappus down in the June air. Would all the philosophers and all the armies of the world be able to construct this little fly? No, nor even understand it: this was a shame and an abomination, another road must be found.
Primo Levi
I am not even alive enough to know how to kill myself.
Levi quotes
In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: Fascism does not want them, forbids them, and thatís why youíre not a Fascist; it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not. But immaculate virtue does not exist either, or if it exists it is detestable.
Levi Primo
What to do now? How to detach yourself?
With every work thatís born you die a little.
Levi Primo quotes
Is anything sadder than a train
That leaves when itís supposed to,
That has only one voice,
Only one route?
Thereís nothing sadder.
Primo Levi
The aims of life are the best defense against death.
Primo Levi quotes
Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.
Primo Levi
The future of humanity is uncertain, even in the most prosperous countries, and the quality of life deteriorates; and yet I believe that what is being discovered about the infinitely large and infinitely small is sufficient to absolve this end of the century and millennium. What a very few are acquiring in knowledge of the physical world will perhaps cause this period not to be judged as a pure return of barbarism.
Levi Primo
In history and in life one sometimes seems to glimpse a ferocious law which states: "to he that has, will be given; from he that has not, will be taken away."


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