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The Shame of Being Human: A Philosophical Reading of Primo Levi

Bellin, Stefano; (2019) The Shame of Being Human: A Philosophical Reading of Primo Levi. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis aims to explore the meaning and the significance of the shame of being human through a mutually elucidating dialogue between Levi’s work and that of a range of philosophers (Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Roberto Esposito). It argues that shame assumes an ontological dimension in Levi’s writings which questions what it means to be human. The ontology of shame is analyzed through three broad chapters examining different aspects of being central to Levi’s work. The first chapter ‘Being on Trial’ investigates how and why Levi, during and after his translation of Kafka’s Trial, progressively identifies with Josef K. Since shame is an emotion of self-evaluation, the trial’s process of ‘giving an account of oneself’ is important for understanding what elicits Levi’s feeling of shame. The second chapter ‘Being a Person, Being an Animal’ discusses Levi’s concept of the human by analysing his writings through the lens of Esposito’s work on the category of the person. I argue that Levi prompts us to see the human not as something that we definitively know, but as something that we do, that we practise in our concrete, daily interaction with other living beings. Building on this idea of the human, the last chapter, ‘Being Ashamed’, explores the meaning of the shame of being human and some of the ethical-political questions raised by Levi’s work. To do so I examine the relations between shame and evil, power and survival, and the different practices, techniques, and discourses through which human beings are made subjects. My argument is that political evil – the evil that arises from specific relations and networks of power – is the prime elicitor of the shame of being human. The shame of being human emerges precisely when the practice of the human is ignored, negated, or radically overturned by ourselves or by ‘significant others’, i.e., human beings who we recognise as humans, with whom – as members of the human community – we identify, and whom we expect to exemplify and live up to the ideal that the practice of the human configures.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Shame of Being Human: A Philosophical Reading of Primo Levi
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
Keywords: Primo Levi, Shame, Human, Holocaust, Hannah Arendt, Roberto Esposito, Person, Political Evil, Power, Franz Kafka
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10084045
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