Underground Directed by Emir Kusturica or the Periodic Table by Primo Levi Essay

Pages: 7 (2241 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Chemistry

¶ … Underground" directed by Emir Kusturica, or "The Periodic Table" by Primo Levi

The Second World War has been the scene of numerous horrible events, but the Holocaust is definitely the most shocking affair from the era. Because of its notoriety, it gave birth to innumerable books, articles, and movies, as people wanted to express their standpoint relating to it. However, few of them actually managed to live through the horrors that they narrated. Primo Michelle Levi, a Jewish Italian chemist, has come up with thorough stories speaking about the time he spent in the German work and death camp in Auschwitz. "The Periodic Table" is a series of short stories, partly autobiographical, partly fiction, and partly nonfiction. The book should not actually be linked to a genre, since its greatness is owed to a series of genres, to the point where one could claim that it is unlike anything that one could relate it to. However, unlike most of Levi's other books (mostly known for relating to the Holocaust), "The Periodic Table" involves most of the author's life, and not just the year that he spent in Auschwitz.

From "Argon" (the first chapter), and until "Carbon" (the last chapter), the author describes his life from the moment of his birth and until the Holocaust and its aftermath. Levi's passion for chemistry went beyond words, as albeit he chose words to describe it, it is obvious that not even words can act as representatives for his feelings.

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The book's title is rather easy to understand, given the fact that the twenty one stories in it are each given the name of a particular chemical element. Every story has more or less something to do with the chemical element which gives its title. Levi's profession proves to be much more than a simple job, as he invests deep passion in it, something which can easily be observed through the way that he relates to chemistry, even when writing fiction.

Essay on Underground Directed by Emir Kusturica or the Periodic Table by Primo Levi Assignment

In the beginning of each chapter, Levi carefully describes the chemical element that names the section and then proceeds to depict an episode in his life and its connection to the chemical element. The book constantly connects the chemical properties which serve as limiting humanity with the moral development of a person. Through Levi's words, chemical elements are brought to life, as they are being given human characteristics.

In the book's first chapter, "Argon," Levi shows how his Jewish ancestors arrived in Italy somewhere around the fifteenth century. They were exiled from Spain and moved further to the east, in a mass movement. This first chapter is apparently meant to describe how the Jewish population in Italy got to develop their language and their identity.

The Jews in the Italian Piedmont region are unique through their features, both from an Italian and from a Jewish point-of-view. Their language consists out of words from both dialects, but they also involve words that have nothing to do with neither of them, and with no foreign language whatsoever, their etymologies remaining a mystery. According to Levi, this dialect is often related to (mostly by those who use it) as the language of holiness. Jewish people are normally known to consider their language, Hebrew, a holy language. It is not certain whether the Jews from the Italian Piedmont used this phrase to describe their language because of the respect that they had for it or merely as a mean of ridiculing it because they considered it anything but holy.

Levi believed that in spite of the fact that the Jewish population in the Italian piedmont referred to their dialect as being holy (thus making an allusion to Hebrew), most of the words that they used were more similar to Yiddish than they were to Hebrew. At particular times, it is as if Levi wants to get involved in discussing sociolinguistics by analyzing how the Judeo-Piedmontan dialect evolved into what it became in the twentieth century. Probably because of his limited knowledge of sociolinguistics (and because of the fact that the domain is still in its early years), the study seems undeveloped at times.

"Argon" can be considered to be an important work involving sociolinguistics, even if the author did not necessarily want to incorporate this particular field in his book. The unripe nature Levi used to describe how the Jewish population came into Italy can be frequently observed throughout the first chapter. Particularly, the fact that he considered most Jews in Italy to come from Spain is proof that he tended to be prejudiced in his writing. Although Sephardic Jews have a long history behind them, it does not mean that all Jews from western and central Europe were initially located in Spain.

Levi's profession as a chemist can be observed throughout the book, and even if he relates to other domains (such as sociolinguistics), it is obvious that he has a tendency to create a link between everything he comes across and chemistry. Language and chemistry are interconnected, as Levi describes the phenomenon. From the very first phrases of "Argon," readers are presented with the information that all the names of noble gases have their origins in the Greek dialect (neon -- the new, krypton (the hidden), xenon (the alien), and argon (the inactive)).

The Judeo-Piedmontan Jewish population is considered to reside in Italy for several centuries. However, Italians, and most of Europeans according to Levi, have little information regarding the ethnic minority. Thus, "Argon" can be considered to be a proper name for the first chapter of the book, considering that it relates to Judeo-Piedmontan history. This assumption is backed up by the concept that Argon is a gas that does not hinder with any chemical reaction, and does not have the ability to combine with other chemical elements. This makes the gas's properties somewhat similar to the Jewish population in the Italian Piedmontan region, bearing in mind that the ethnic minority did not a make a name for itself. As the action gradually advances in each of the short stories, the readers are likely to realize how chemical elements are connected to the narration. In most cases the connection is purely metaphorical.

At the time when fascists were lobbying against Jewish people, Levi found that there was little about himself that was actually Jewish (as firebrands described it). "A Jew is someone who at Christmas does not have a tree, who should not eat salami but eats it all the same, who has learned a bit of Hebrew at thirteen and then has forgotten it" (Zinc, p. 35-36). From the time when they first came into the country, Jews assimilated amazingly, to the point when little people could actually make the difference between a Jewish person and a bona-fide Italian.

While in Levi's opinion both language and chemistry are pure, Nazism is polluted. Studying history through sociolinguistics, one might find that Judeo-European names have their origins in various territories from around the continent, such as France, Spain, and Italy. In their attempt to dehumanize the Jewish race, Nazis went at destroying their prisoners' identities. Instead of relating to them with the help of their names, as it would be normal, the Germans assigned numbers to each prisoner, imposing the concept that the captives were considered to be less than human.

Whereas some might believe that there is nothing dehumanizing about assigning numbers to people instead of their names, this is actually a horrible process, one in which humans are brought to an indescribable stage, one which classifies them and makes them feel like objects.

Through its evil performances, Nazism virtually ruins the beauty of the periodic table. The Jewish people in Piedmontan Italy could no longer do as they did before: step aside letting history ignore them. This time they were one of the main players and history involved them directly. "Argon" was no longer suitable to be considered one of the chemical elements characteristic to them.

In spite of the fact that it would be unconceivable for someone to believe that a Holocaust survivor is actually capable of looking back and approaching the topic from an objective standpoint, Levi managed to do so. Even under these circumstances, he did not abandon his biased opinions regarding the Holocaust; it's just that he chose not to express them anymore.

It is amazing how the author sometimes manages to describe events as if he didn't take part in them. To the end of the book, it becomes clear why exactly Levi wanted to write the twenty one stories. "I told him that it did not seem fair to me that the world should know everything about how the doctor, prostitute, sailor, assassin, countess, Ancient Roman, conspirator and Polynesian lives and nothing about how we transformers of matter live" (Silver, p. 203). Across the book, the main aspect that brings together all the chapters is none other than chemistry. From the time when he became fond of the scientific field in his early years and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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