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Rattling the Cage of Meaning: Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, the Two Cultures, and the Ethical Duty of the Writer

By Lucia Boldrini

Abstract

This essay considers Levi's The Periodic Table in relation to two debates - that on 'The Two Cultures', as C. P. Snow's 1959 Rede lecture famously defined it, and that sparked by Sartre's position in What is Literature? on the role of the writer in post-war society, to which Adorno's responded, in 1962, with his essay on 'Commitment'. The essay concludes that despite Levi’s apparent demand for clarity, based on positions that echo those of Sartre within the debate on 'commitment' and those of Snow within the debate on the 'two cultures', his writing has much more complex and darker overtones, and continues to 'rattle', as Adorno would say, the 'cage' of a meaning that refuses to be simple

Topics: Q200, R320, R900
Publisher: Rodopi
Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.gold.ac.uk:6654
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