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I Sommersi E I Salvati Analysis

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In this Essay I will critically analyse the figure of the Muselmann in Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo. Levi identifies two very distinct categories of Haftlinge in the camp, the drowned and the saved. This concept is discussed in depth in the chapter “I sommersi e I salvati”. I will discuss Levi’s three key points in his exposition on the Muselmann; The Muselmann’s loss of time, his loss reaction, and his loss of relation. I will question if the Muselmann is still man, the Muselmann as the true witness, how one becomes a Muselmann and how one can avoid becoming a Muselmann. Muselmann was the term given to the starved, stick-like figures of prisoners who had been broken physically and mentally by life in the camp. . The origin…show more content…
The Dictionary defines human beings as being distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance. However the figure of the Muselmann do not hold the same characteristics as living man anymore. In Se questo è un uomo (1989) Levi says “Essi popolano la mia memoria della loro presenza senza volto…un uomo scarno, dalle fronte china e dalle spalle curve, sul cui volto e nei cui occhi non si possa leggere traccia di pensiero.” The Muselmann embodies the anthropological transformation of a human being under the conditions of existence in Auschwitz. Agamben sees the Muselmann as a “threshold figure” (Calarco and DeCaroli, 2007) saying“ as suggested by the ironic rhetorical title Se questo è un uomo.. in Auschwitz ethics begins precisely at the point at which the Muselmann… makes it forever impossible to distinguish between the man and non-man” (De la Durantaye, 2009). Because it is difficult to define whether they are human or non human Levi says “si esita a chiamarli vivi; si esita a chiamar morte la loro morte” (Levi,1989). The Muselmänner were reduced to “an apathetic vegetative state” (Norris, 2005), having lost their “scintilla divina” which separates them from other beasts and they begin to exist only in the limbo between life and…show more content…
This Paradoxical statement leads Agamben to conclude the Muselmann to be “the impossible witness”; “he is the only one who fully witnessed the horror of the concentration camp and, for that very reason, is not able to bear witness”(Žižek, 2006). Because the “sommersi” did not live to able able to testify for themselves, Levi believes that it is the duty of the “salvati” to witness for them, an old friend tells him “ero sopravvissuto affinché portassi testimonianza.” (Levi,
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