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Primo Levi’s Lesson: a Bridge between Chemistry and Literature

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This lecture aims to offer a reading in a scientific vein of a story by Primo Levi which can be found in the book ‘The Periodic Table’. The reader is accompanied within this story, Cerium, making him to go into the foldings of the sentences that deal with scientific laws, phenomena, and discoveries with the purpose of catching the bond between narration and scientific knowledge, in a setting – that of lager’s life – where the tragedy and the existential upset obfuscate and certainly fade into the background the technical aspects of which the Primo Levi’s writing is greatly soaked in. The narrative thread is not only maintained, but it goes to constitute the essential skeleton onto which the chemical knowledge is explained rigorously as concerns the content, even though with simplicity in the form, with the aim of stimulating a critical interpretation and a punctual attention towards those parts, only apparently lacking in literary glamour, that reveal the chemist Primo Levi. This contribution concludes with an outlook of ‘memory’ that, taking its cue from another story of the same book, Carbon, and turning completely into matter and energy, from one standpoint loses lyricism and spirituality, but from another point of view achieves a truly interesting pathos and suggestiveness for people who devote themselves or manifest their interest for the scientific rationalization of natural phenomena.

This talk is part of the Chemistry Departmental-wide lectures series.

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