|Dante in Auschwitz: Primo Levi Reads the Canto of Ulysses|
On April 23, 2012 the first public lecture organized by the ISSNAF South West Chapter took place. The event was made possible thanks to a partnership with the Italian Cultural and Community Center (ICCC)—the lecture took place in the beautiful Milford House, the head quarter of the ICCC in the heart of Houston—but also with the support of another prestigious and vital institution of the city, the University of Houston, more specifically the UH Italian Studies and Jewish Studies Programs. The distinguished speaker of the talk entitled “Dante in Auschwitz: Primo Levi Reads the Canto of Ulysses” was Alessandro Carrera.
Alessandro Carrera is Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Houston and Director of the Master Program in World Cultures and Literatures. He has published extensively in the fields of Italian and Comparative Literature, Critical and Literary Theory, Continental Philosophy, and Music Criticism.
His most recent books are La consistenza della luce. Il pensiero della natura da Goethe a Calvino (Feltrinelli, 2010) and La distanza del cielo. Leopardi e lo spazio dell'ispirazione (Medusa, 2011). He has written on Bob Dylan (La Voce di Bob Dylan. Feltrinelli, 2001 & 2011) and has translated the songs and prose of Bob Dylan into Italian.
Carrera has been the recipient of the Eugenio Montale Prize for poetry (1993), the Arturo Loria Prize for short fiction (1998), the Attilio Bertolucci Prize for literary criticism (2006), and the “Fanfullino d'oro” Prize awarded by his hometown of Lodi (2012).
Present to the event were the Consul General of Italy, Fabrizio Nava and Prof. Alberto Pimpinellithe Cultural liaison for the French Consulate as well as Marie Theresa Hernandez Director of Jewish Studies at the University of Houston, Hildegard Glass Director of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at the same Institution and several more UH Professors from Engineering to Hispanic Studies and the Honors College. Even Ryan Calabretta-Sajder from Rice University was in the audience.
Students from all these institutions were also there. Several Board Members of the ICCC and of the ISSNAF South West Chapter showed up and participated to the fascinating lecture. Prof. Carrera could have not chosen a better topic to inaugurate the cycle of lectures which have been planned by the ISSNAF South West Chapter, he focused on a crucial episode in the novel Se questo è un uomo (Survival in Auschwitz), probably the most famous among the books of Primo Levi, chemist, writer, and Auschwitz survivor. In this episode the author tries to transmit the poetry of Dante to a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz while reciting snippets of Canto 26th of the Divine Comedy. In this attempt, Levi reclaims his Italian identity, celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and underscores the cognitive power of poetry. For Italian scientists, scholars and students from different fields, members of the Jewish and Italian communities, Houston entrepreneurs and many other different groups, the lecture has been a very inspiring moment to reflect on the importance of the humanities especially during times of crisis.
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