By A cura di Claudio Leonardi

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3 While Levi was at university, he joined some friends in a Jewish study group, formed in response to the passage of the Racial Laws. In The Periodic Table, he describes how they gathered in the gym of the Jewish elementary school and tried to find in the Bible the strength to overcome injustice. ”5 His vision was surprisingly aggressive. We would dredge the bowels of the mystery with our strength, our talent: we would grab Proteus by the throat, cut short his inconclusive metamorphoses from Plato to Augustine, from Augustine to Thomas, from Thomas to Hegel, from Hegel to Croce.

Philosophical problems, by contrast, haven’t changed since the Pre-Socratics, they keep going around and around them, working them over and over . . 2 Levi’s answer blends modesty and pride. He portrays himself as an ignorant paint-maker, and yet he judges philosophers quite harshly for two flaws: they invent their own languages, and they make no progress. Levi, by contrast, wants an interpretation of reality that is comprehensible to all and reflects the progress scientists like Darwin and Einstein have made in understanding reality.

The other evil man in If This Is A Man is not a Nazi soldier or administrator, but a fellow prisoner: Alex, a green triangle, a German criminal. Alex has achieved the position of Kapo, which he lords over his fellow inmates. As he takes Levi back from the exam with Pannwitz, Alex grabs hold of a cable that is covered with thick, black grease. 25 How, in the shadow of the gas chambers, could this minute indignity, committed by a fellow inmate, be the key, the standard by which Levi will measure everyone?

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