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Representations of science, literature, technology and society in the works of Primo Levi

By Charlotte Ross


The thesis tackles two main issues. Part I explores Levi's engagements with the `two cultures' debate concerning the relationship between literature and `science' in postwar culture. Building on existing scholarship, I provide a more comprehensive view of his project to combat the two cultures divide. I contextualize the literature-science debate in Anglophone and Italophone culture, and then investigate dialogues between Levi and his contemporaries (for example, the writer Italo Calvino; the physicist Tullio Regge). Among other theoretical frameworks, I draw on critical approaches to the literature-science relationship and Bahktinian dialogics.\ud Part II analyzes Levi's portrayals and critiques of science and technology as they impact on human life and freedoms, especially his problematizations of relationships between humans and machines in a post-industrial society. This aspect of Levi's work, particularly his representations of bodies and embodiment in a technologized age, has received little critical attention to date. I evaluate Levi's engagements with such issues, focussing also on gender dynamics in his writing about technologically-mediated embodiment. Given the absence of sustained Italophone critical reflection on these questions, I analyze Levi's work in light of recent Anglopone theorizing on posthumanism. I also refer to psychoanalytic approaches to the self.\ud Considering Levi's approach to a series of perceived cultural dialectics-the relationships between science and literature, science and society, human subjects and machines-I argue that his work is characterized by contradiction. He asserts the need to break down cultural and disciplinary boundaries while simultaneously revealing his personal tendency to conceptualize literary and scientific activities, for example, as distinct practices. I conclude that by embracing such contradictions his work highlights areas of difficulty, and, without attempting to offer falsely universal solutions, reminds us of our capacity to maintain-or reclaim-corporeal and epistemological sovereignty of ourselves and our society

Topics: PQ
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:1220

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