Giovanni Miglianti

Giovanni Miglianti (Yale University)

Giovanni Miglianti is a PhD Candidate in Italian Studies at Yale University and a Visiting Student at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (Italy). He holds a BA in Humanities from the University of Udine, an MPhil in Comparative Literature from the University of Cambridge, and an MA and an MPhil in Italian Literature from Yale. His doctoral research brings together literary studies, cultural history, and affect theory to analyze the notion of pudore in the works of Primo Levi.




Containing Captivity: Of Bodies, Uniforms, and Writing at Auschwitz

“Man is a constructor of containers,” Primo Levi wrote in a 1985 essay. This paper offers an affective reading of Levi’s testimonial works on captivity in the Auschwitz camp in light of the notion of containing. The concentration camp itself can be considered as a locus of forced containment, one dominated – according to Levi and other survivor-writers – by the violation of pudore. In a narrow sense, pudore is an affect that pertains to physical concealment (through gestures and clothing) as well as self-protection from an individual’s exposure. Moving from the bodily to the literary level, from the physical experience to its later narration, pudore raises questions of revealing and concealing, telling and not telling. 

This paper will first discuss representations of the prisoners’ bodies, focusing on Levi’s reflections on nakedness and uniforms, and on some of his most recurring metaphors for the human body (alive or dead): guscioinvolucrocorazza. Thus, it will consider the relevance of writing in and about Auschwitz – what Levi described as ‘clothing people in words.’ This analysis of the camp, the body, and their representation in writing through the category of pudore will provide a novel interpretation of Levi’s contribution to understanding the Holocaust.