1,089 Matching Annotations
  1. Last 7 days
    1. While the language of oppression is still with us, new words continue to emerge that are more accurate and descriptive, and allow us to be more successful in ameliorating oppression and more productive in our interactions with each other. If humankind can relearn the language of diversity, then we can relearn how to respect and treat each other with honor, dignity and love

  2. Feb 2024
    1. Sarah is a Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics, and Director of the Dictionary Lab at Oxford. She specializes in lexicography, endangered languages, language revitalization, the history of dictionaries, and the interface of technology with the Social Sciences and Humanities (digital humanities). Her research includes work on Australian Aboriginal and American Indian languages, especially relating to language documentation and revitalization. She is the Director of the new MSc in Digital Scholarship.

      What a fascinating set of areas she's working in... I want to do this...

  3. Jan 2024
    1. Hubinger, et. al. "SLEEPER AGENTS: TRAINING DECEPTIVE LLMS THAT PERSIST THROUGH SAFETY TRAINING". Arxiv: 2401.05566v3. Jan 17, 2024.

      Very disturbing and interesting results from team of researchers from Anthropic and elsewhere.

    1. Some of Newton's notes come from a 1654 edition of: Gregory, Francis. Ονομαστικὸν βραχύ; sive, Nomenclatura brevis, Anglo-Latino-Græca, in usum Scholæ Westmonasteriensis. Per F. G. [i.e. Francis Gregory.] Editio vigesima secunda, etc. John Meredith, in trust for Royston and Elizabeth Meredith, 1710.

    1. whitehead says that philosophy is an attempt to express the infinity of the universe in terms of the limitations of language

      for - Whitehead's philosophy - Whitehead - limitations of language - Indra's Net - Whitehead - process relational ontology

      • Whitehead says that

        • philosophy is an attempt to express the infinity of the universe
          • in terms of the LIMITATIONS OF LANGUAGE
      • And i think this image of the spiderweb with the dewdrops each reflecting the others is the perfect analogy for whitehead's ontology

      • You may have heard of indra's net from madhyamaka buddhism
        • the idea of dependent co-origination of all things
          • that nothing has independent abiding existence
            • but is rather caught up in a network of
              • relations or
            • causes and conditions
          • and so you can't remove any of the nodes in the network without destroying the node and totally changing the rest of the network that it was embedded within
      • This is the key to what a process RELATIONAL ONTOLOGY is trying to reveal to us about the nature of reality
      • Dependent co-origination or you could say
        • the inter-penetration of all things
      • though in Whitehead's cosmology there really are no things
        • if by thing you mean an inert isolated entity
      • Whiteheads ontology is really composed of events or processes
      • You could say and these processes for whitehead are
        • drops of experience
      • So for whitehead, there's no node in the network of reality that is not there for itself
      • It is not enjoying some degree of experience or subjectivity or has some degree or capacity for feeling
  4. Dec 2023
    1. ho bisogno che

      In the 1947 version, Levi writes ‘voglio che’. The change to ‘ho bisogno che’ in the 1958 edition closely recalls, and seems to be in dialogue with, the beginning of SQ (‘Prefazione’), where Levi states that he wrote his book to satisfy an urgent and elementary need - that of telling his story and bearing witness after his liberation from Auschwitz.

      VG

    1. The true distinction: static vs. dynamic

      The true distinction that we should be teaching students is the difference between properties of languages that can be determined statically—that is, by just staring at the code without running it—and properties that can only be known dynamically, during runtime.

      Notice that I said “properties” and not “languages”. Every programming language chooses its own set of properties that can be determined either statically or dynamically, and taken together, this makes a language more “dynamic” or more “static”. Static versus dynamic is a spectrum, and yes, Python falls on the more dynamic end of the spectrum. A language like Java has far more static features than Python, but even Java includes things like reflection, which is inarguably a dynamic feature.

    1. To restate another way, every single time we try to navigate real life (including the metacrisis) by focusing our attention on human-created constructs like economy and education, we automatically double down on dissociating from reality. As Daniel says, it is reductionistic to do this. That’s the nice way of putting it. Losing touch with reality is also the literal definition of psychotic.
      • for: critique - language

      • question: navigating without language

      • critique: language
      • adjacency between
        • kariotic flow
        • word intent
        • epoche
        • is the author sayng that we can and must navigator without language and ideas? If so, I don't see how that is possible, since language shapes the way we experience reality. Decades of languages training has become a part of the way we experience reality now and I don't see how it can become undone.
        • I've explored my entire life, in fact to determine it's itt is possible to undo this deep linguistic conditioning
          • my latest explorations of epoche are towards this direction
    2. Unfortunately, whenever we attempt to orient thought, choice and action using these human-created concepts, we’re effectively navigating towards the centre or essence of the concept’s definition, and as an inevitable consequence are simultaneously orienting away from reality-as-it-is, as a whole. (The map is not the territory!)
      • for: critique - language constructs

      • critique: language constructs

        • it is an inherent aspect of language that words are loci of a specific aspect of reality
    1. 仔細聽就可以知道他們講的地地道道的「北京話」和我們所說的「國語」也不是兩回事。當「國語」剩下煮、煨、燉、煎、炒、炸這些「大方向」的動作時,他們還會使用焯、飛水、燒、打沫、擼之類的詞。顏色都還會用棗紅、糖紅、碧綠、翠綠來區分,黏不只黏,還黏糊;顫不只顫,還顫悠。「北京話」和「國語」差異絕對不只兒化音和捲舌問題。問題關鍵當然是在為了方便推行「國語」,人工的、製造的國語便少了很多生活或細節的部份。寫作文章差別愈顯明。平平寫「中文」,「國語」和「北京話」的豐富程度天差地,欲寫贏中國人,真僫。這時台語優勢就出來矣。和北京話仝款,閣保留誠濟用詞幼路的所在,親像炕、燖、煏、𠞭。最近台語文書寫的作家增加也是按呢,使用生活語言寫作,才有可能寫愈好。

      語彙的豐富性,例如煮食

      北京話 >> 普通話, 臺語 >> 國語

  5. Nov 2023
    1. he spoke of the ‘historian’s credo’ that ‘the factscrubbed clean is more eternal than perfumed or rouged words’ (Marcus, 1957:466).17

      Jacob Marcus, ‘The Historian’s Credo’, 1958, AJA Marcus Nearprint File, Box 2.

    1. catch me if I stray

      "Evolving from violent language" (picture, see Obsidian)

      • for: BEing journey - adapt to, DH, Deep Humanity

      • comment

        • Potentiality coupled with limitations - Daseitz Suzuki and the elbow does not bend backwards.
        • The experience of the unnamable quality present in every moment - infinite potentiality
        • The mundane is the extraordinary. Even when we name it and discover it in all our scientific discoveries and articulate it, and mass produce technologies with it, is is still miraculous
      • adjacency

        • Nora Bateson's book Combining and the Douglas Rushkoff podcast interview
        • potentiality
      • adjacency statement
        • both are alluding to the pure potentiality latent in the moment
        • language can be contextualized as an unfolding of the space of potentiality to a specific trajectory. Each word added to the previous one to form a sentence is a choice in an infinite, abstract space of symbols that communicates intentionality and is designed to focus the attention of the listener to one very narrow aspect of the enormous field of infinite potentiality
    1. COMMENTS BY REVIEWER AI have studied this manuscript very carefully withlemon juice and X-rays and have not detected a singleflaw in either design or writing style. I suggest it bepublished without revision. Clearly it is the mostconcise manuscript I have ever seen-yet it containssufficient detail to allow other investigators to repli-cate Dr. Upper's failure. In comparison with theother manuscripts I get from you containing all thatcomplicated detail, this one was a pleasure to examine.Surely we can find a place for this paper in theJournal-perhaps on the edge of a blank page.

      Flawless bullshitting.

  6. Oct 2023
    1. usage is also, however, a concern for the prescriptive tradition, for which "correctness" is a matter of arbitrating style
    2. In the descriptive tradition of language analysis, by way of contrast, "correct" tends to mean functionally adequate for the purposes of the speaker or writer using it, and adequately idiomatic to be accepted by the listener or reader
    1. New words, and new senses and uses of words, are not sanctioned or rejected by the authority of any single body: they arise through regular use and, once established, are recorded in dictionaries and grammars.
    2. In this book, grammar refers to the manner in which the language functions, the ways that the blocks of speech and writing are put together. Usage refers to using specific words in a manner that will be thought of as either acceptable or unacceptable. The question of whether or not to split an infinitive is a consideration of grammar; the question of whether one should use literally in a nonliteral sense is one of usage."
    1. According to TLC, 143 out of 219 languages are in danger of extinction in the United States, while 75 of 94 are at similar risk in Canada.
    2. The RWC was developed by The Language Conservancy (TLC), an NGO dedicated to protecting around 50 Indigenous languages around the world, in order to churn out such dictionaries at super-speed. TLC, which has a $3 million budget, regularly teams up linguists with Native American language teachers to work on these dictionaries.
    3. International Conference on Indigenous Language Documentation, Education and Revitalization (ICILDER) last weekend at the University of Indiana.
    1. Wu, Prabhumoye, Yeon Min, Bisk, Salakhutdinov, Azaria, Mitchell and Li. "SPRING: GPT-4 Out-performs RL Algorithms byStudying Papers and Reasoning". Arxiv preprint arXiv:2305.15486v2, May, 2023.

    1. Zecevic, Willig, Singh Dhami and Kersting. "Causal Parrots: Large Language Models May Talk Causality But Are Not Causal". In Transactions on Machine Learning Research, Aug, 2023.

    1. "The Age of AI has begun : Artificial intelligence is as revolutionary as mobile phones and the Internet." Bill Gates, March 21, 2023. GatesNotes

    1. Feng, 2022. "Training-Free Structured Diffusion Guidance for Compositional Text-to-Image Synthesis"

      Shared and found via: Gowthami Somepalli @gowthami@sigmoid.social Mastodon > Gowthami Somepalli @gowthami StructureDiffusion: Improve the compositional generation capabilities of text-to-image #diffusion models by modifying the text guidance by using a constituency tree or a scene graph.

    1. Training language models to follow instructionswith human feedback

      Original Paper for discussion of the Reinforcement Learning with Human Feedback algorithm.

    1. LaMDA: Language Models for Dialog Application

      "LaMDA: Language Models for Dialog Application" Meta's introduction of LaMDA v1 Large Language Model.

    1. Boroditsky, Lera. How Language Shapes the Way We Think. Streaming Video. TED | TEDWomen 2017, 2017. https://www.ted.com/talks/lera_boroditsky_how_language_shapes_the_way_we_think.

      See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKK7wGAYP6k

    2. Kuuk Thaayorre language (Australia) orients everything with respect to cardinal directions or is mapped onto their terrain/land. Even their perception of time (chronology) is mapped onto the land with respect to their bodies.

    3. Perception of events can differ dramatically in different languages based on their constructions and what those constructions dictate.

      Example: Accidents in different languages are seen differently. In English, focus is on the actor who receives blame while in Spanish, there is more focus on the action and intention rather than what English would view as "perpetrator". Spanish eyewitness are less likely to remember the actor for testimony versus in English.

    1. this other sort of development also happened in the last couple years just clip models um and this enables us to do predictive 00:09:47 modeling across domains um what do I mean by that it means that you can understand and provide the model information in one modality and it can essentially translate it into another
      • for: definition, definition - CLIP models

      • definition: CLIP model

        • contrastive language-image pre-training (CLIP) model allows model information in one modality - predictive modeling in one domain to be translated to another domain
    1. If you want the easy way out (which looks like the way majority usage is going anyway), you can probably get away with using dependency all the time.
  7. Sep 2023
      • for: symbiocene, ecozoic, ecocivilization, eco-civilization, animal communication, inter-species communication, Azi Raskin, Earth Species Project, umwelt
      • summary

        • Very interesting talk given by Aza Raskin, founder of:
        • on two main themes:
          • how AI is being used to decode language communication of many different plant and animal species, including inter-fauna, inter-flora and fauna-flora cross communication
          • how AI used to study human languages has detected a universal meaning shape between all languages.
      • reference

    1. given this motion for an animal what sound might it 00:35:42 make an example two whales coming together what sound do they make that might mean hello if a whale Dives what sound would the 00:35:54 other whales have to make to make that whale dive and that would mean maybe it means dive maybe it means there is danger up here maybe it means there's food now there but has something to do with diving
      • for: animal motion and language
    2. AI used to have separate fields this is great when I get to reuse slides um speech recognition computer vision robotics music generation were all different fields that changed also in 00:30:21 2017 when they became one thing language
      • for: AI - everything is one thing - language

      • comment

        • Has importance for the Indyweb / Indranet
    3. this is like 00:24:33 where this like cusp of a moment as we move this from able to work with lab-like data to real life data that we're about to have access sort of like to the new telescope to look out at 00:24:45 the universe and then to discover all the things that were invisible to us before
      • for: making the invisible visible, decoding the language of the biosphere
    4. whales and dolphins have had culture passed down vocally for 34 million years humans have only been speaking vocally impacted on culture for like 200 000 years tops 00:17:16 like and that which is oldest correlates with that which is wisest
      • for: quote, quote - age of whale and dolphin languages

      • quote

        • whales and dolphins have had culture passed down vocally for 34 million years
        • humans have only been speaking vocally impacted on culture for like 200 000 years tops and
        • that which is oldest correlates with that which is wisest
      • author - Aza Raskin
      • date: 2023
    5. pretty much every human language that's been tried ends up fitting in a kind of universal human meaning shape 00:15:40 which I think is just so profound especially in this time of such deep division that there is a universal hidden structure underlying us all
      • for: language, quote, quote - Aza Raskin, quote - universal language shape, quote - universal meaning shape, CHD, CHD - language - universal meaning shape

      • quote

        • pretty much every human language that's been tried ends up fitting in a kind of universal human meaning shape
        • which I think is just so profound especially in this time of such deep division that there is a universal hidden structure underlying us all
    6. AI turns semantic relationships into geometric relationships
      • for: key idea, key idea - language research , AI - language research - semantic to geometric
    7. the shape which is say Spanish can't possibly be the same shape as English right if you talk to anthropologists they would say different cultures different cosmologies 00:14:45 different ways of viewing the world different ways of gendering verbs obviously going to be different shapes but you know the AI researchers were like whatever let's just try and they took the shape which is Spanish 00:14:59 and the shape which is English and they literally rotated them on top of each other and the point which his dog ended up in the same spot in both
      • for:AI - language research, AI - language research - semantic invariancy
    1. If you want to learn a language just for fun, start with Swedish. If you want to rack up an impressive number, stay in Europe. But if you really want to impress, bulking up your brain to master Cantonese or Korean is the sign of the true linguistic Ironman.
    2. A second way languages can be hard is with sounds and distinctions that do not exist in the learner‘s language.
    3. Chinese stands out for its difficulty. It is commonly said that a learner must memorise around 2,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper. But even this estimate is criticised; someone with 2,000 characters will still have to look up unfamiliar ones in every few lines of text. Japanese is (mostly) written with a subset of the Chinese characters, but most characters can be given either a Japanese or Chinese pronunciation, making the task mind-tangling in that language too.
    4. The main reason a language is hard is that it is different from your own.
      • for: language graph, linguistic graph
      • title: An application of graph theory to linguistic complexity
      • author: Alexander Piperski
      • date: 2014
      • source:
        • chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/pdfjs/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fpublications.hse.ru%2Fpubs%2Fshare%2Ffolder%2Flenyneoat0%2F178007616.pdf
    1. "Surrendering" by Ocean Vuong

      1. He moved into United State when he was age of five. He first came to United State when he started kindergarten. Seven of them live in the apartment one bedroom and bathroom to share the whole. He learned ABC song and alphabet. He knows the ABC that he forgot the letter is M comes before N.

      2. He went to the library since he was on the recess. He was in the library hiding from the bully. The bully just came in the library doing the slight frame and soft voice in front of the kid where he sit. He left the library, he walked to the middle of the schoolyard started calling him the pansy and fairy. He knows the American flag that he recognize on the microphone against the backdrop.

  8. Jul 2023
    1. Daniel Adiwardana Minh-Thang Luong David R. So Jamie Hall, Noah Fiedel Romal Thoppilan Zi Yang Apoorv Kulshreshtha, Gaurav Nemade Yifeng Lu Quoc V. Le "Towards a Human-like Open-Domain Chatbot" Google Research, Brain Team

      Defined the SSI metric for chatbots used in LAMDA paper by google.

    1. Browser-based interfaces are slow, clumsy, and require you to be online just to use them

      Nope (re: offline). You're confusing "browser-based" and "Web-based" (sort of the way people confuse statically typed" versus strongly typed*). They're different. You can have a fully offline browser-based interface. Most common browsers are every bit as amenable as being used as simple document viewers as Preview.app or Microsoft Word is. The browser's native file format is just a different sort—not DOCX, and not PDF (although lots of browsers can do PDF, too; you can't write apps in PDF, though—at least not in the subset supported by typical browsers). Instead of Office macros written in VBA, browsers support scripting offline documents in JS just like online documents. You can run your offline programs using the browser runtime, unless they're written to expect otherwise.

    1. But in almost all English sentences containing »there is«, these words do not mean »in this place is« but »it exists«. But the German words »da ist« do not have the meaning »it exists«. They only mean »in this place is«.
  9. Jun 2023
    1. «perciò»

      The causative connector in inverted commas aims at highlighting the perverted logic regulating life in the Lager. Levi repeatedly noticed this disturbing lack of consequentiality, which prevented the prisoners from deducing from observation what the expected behaviour was, which in turn translated into a constant state of insecurity and danger: ‘ogni congettura è arbitraria ed esattamente priva di ogni fondamento reale’. Pikolo’s privileged condition follows another ‘fierce law’ of the Lager: ‘a chi ha, sarà dato; a chi non ha, a quello sarà tolto’.

      EL

    2. qui

      The focus of ecosemiotics is ‘on the interactions between environmental conditions and semiotics processes and the diversity of life stories, meaning-making strategies, and narratives that spring from these intertwinings’ (Maran 2020, 4). One of the main difficulties in any ecosemiotic approach is that cultural entities are predominantly symbolic and therefore they are relatively independent from their environmental conditions, as symbols are made autonomous from their objects. In other words, because of the complex and highly symbolic quality of our human communications, we constantly run the risk of creating artifacts that are self-sufficient and closed, with little to no relationship with the actual material circumstances they describe and in which they are involved. This is an apparent danger for any form of literary narrative that aims to the status of testimony, as bearing witness (to the complexity of the nonhuman world as much as to what happened in Auschwitz) requires instead referring to a material reality that lies outside the text. To avoid a radical symbolic self-sufficiency, ecosemiotics scholars suggest paying attention to the inclusion of simpler iconic and (especially) indexical sign relations, as they ‘establish both the connection between the text and the communicative situation as well as make it possible to distinguish between the discursive universe and the real world’ (Maran, 33).

      A crucial group of indexical signs is known in linguistics as deictics. Spatial and temporal words, such as here, or this, or now, have fixed semantic meanings, but their information refers to a specific context without which they cannot be properly interpreted. For instance, and broadly speaking, if I say ‘this’ in my speech, my interlocutor and I need to share an extra-linguistic context in which the close object I am pointing to with my deictic does exist. The absence of a shared material context in literary texts makes the use of deixis particularly poignant, as it inevitably incurs in some sort of paradoxical double experience: a similarity because both narrator and readers are surrounded by a material reality in which words like ‘this’ or ‘now’ have a specific meaning, and a disjunction between the context of the former and the context of the latter as they likely diverge (cfr. Uspenskij 2008, 112).

      Beginning with the very title of his first book (Se questo è un uomo / If This Is a Man (my emphasis)), Levi’s use of deictics is remarkable in size and meaning, and plays a crucial role in his testimonial work. For instance, if we consider how he utilises the word ‘qui’ (here) in the context of ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, we notice four occurrences, all of them in pivotal moments of friction between linguistic and extra-linguistic realities. In fact, Levi twice employs ‘qui’ in relation to the passage of the Commedia he is trying to remember (‘Qui mi fermo’; ‘Qui ancora una lacuna’). They represent a sort of pause in the character Levi’s effort to communicate with Pikolo, a mark of discourse interruption and ultimately of failure, as in both instances they denote a gap – a ‘lacuna’, as Levi calls it – in the intradiegetic attempt to teach his friend some Italian language and, most importantly, to share Dante’s poetry with him. Twice instead the deictic refers to the actual external environment of the concentration camp (‘come si dice qui’; ‘del nostro essere oggi qui’). In this case, too, the deictic determines a break of communication, but the relationship that is interrupted is between the intradiegetic narrator and the reader. The deictic ‘qui’ in the literary text refers in fact to a reality that is surely not shared by the readers of SQ, who likely have a completely different context denoted by ‘qui’ (the library, or their room, but almost certainly not Auschwitz). The deictic thus highlights an ambivalence, as every reader has their own experience of ‘qui’ and yet cannot truly refer to the reality to which the ‘qui’ in Levi’s book points, both epistemologically and ethically (as the reality of Auschwitz is almost unknowable to those who did not experience it). To paraphrase Maran, we may say that the ‘qui’ in ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ emphasises both a connection and a distance between the discursive world of the text and the external reality of both the first-hand witness and the readers.

      In a famous passage of SQ, Levi uses a different series of deictics but a similar strategy to address precisely the almost inconceivable distance between different instances of ‘qui’, as he writes that ‘questo vero oggi in cui io sto seduto a un tavolo e scrivo, io stesso non sono convinto che queste cose sono realmente accadute’ (emphasis added to the deictics).

      Yet, the most radical application of such usage of deixis is in Il sistema periodico. The fictional testimony of the atom of carbon included in this volume ends in fact with the sentence ‘un doppio scatto, in su ed in giù, fra due livelli d’energia guida questa mia mano ad imprimere sulla carta questo punto: questo’ (OC I, 1032). In a story that links the entanglement of the human and the nonhuman world to the act of writing, the deictic metalinguistically redoubles and forces readers to pay attention to the material context of our reading. In pointing to its own materiality made of ink or graphite (carbon again!), Levi thus transforms the full stop from a mere convention into a literary strategy in which indexicality becomes a crucial testimonial tool capable of bringing together different realities without necessarily overlapping them. The deictic therefore functions as a sort of multistable sign through which we experience both writing and the external world; our presence and the presence of others; what happened out there and what is instead happening ‘qui’, here.

      (On other instances of 'qui' in this chapter, see here.)

      DB

    3. Trattengo Pikolo

      This paragraph fascinatingly exemplifies how a text can build on bodily patterns and sensorimotor experience to produce an effect that enriches its semantic meaning. Positioned towards the end of the chapter, it coincides with the emotional peak of Levi’s attempt to explain Dante’s Commedia to Pikolo. The conversation leads Levi’s mind outside of the camp and far from his present condition (‘Per un momento, ho dimenticato chi sono e dove sono’), back to Turin (‘non lasciarmi pensare alle mie montagne, che comparivano nel bruno della sera quando tornavo in treno da Milano a Torino!’) and to a place where it is possible to devote time and mental effort to existential issues other than bare survival. Yet, at the same time, it is Levi’s present condition that makes it all the more important to convey to Pikolo the relevance of Ulysses’ story and Dante’s recounting of it.

      The feeling of this sudden expansion – towards other geographical places, past times, and higher meanings – is rendered through various stylistic devices. While the average length of sentences in the chapter is 16.5 words (Voyant Tools), this sentence counts 74 words; the anomalous length of the sentence dovetails with the unusual breadth of Levi’s thoughts, with how far he concedes himself to go with his mind away from the concerns of his life in the camp. Within this continuous flow of words, the urgency of Levi’s present task is formally conveyed through the accumulation of paratactic sentences linked via asyndeton, which reinforce the idea of a linear proceeding, simply propelled forward without strong control (which would be expressed by a period with a more complex and rigid structure), stretching out towards meanings that seem to escape Levi’s reach (and whose scope progressively increases: specific textual passages; the Middle Ages; human destiny). However, this long, loosely ordered period is delimited by words with a high deictic power: ‘Trattengo’ and ‘oggi qui’. Both the opening verb and the closing pair of adverbs (temporal and spatial) identify a deictic centre that coincides with the narrator (and the reader): in between, the paragraph unfolds in a flow that leads both narrator and reader far from the camp, in an encompassing movement that reaches out in time and space to the point of touching and almost enfolding something ‘gigantesco’, which is the sense of destiny of the entire human race, and then swiftly reverts to the starting point of the here and now (‘oggi qui’). (For more on this 'qui', see here.)

      The meaning of Levi’s words is reinforced thanks to a conceptual metaphor operating unconsciously which is that of THINKING IS MOVING (writing conceptual metaphors in capital letters is a linguistics convention). THINKING IS MOVING is an elaboration of the very general conceptual metaphor MIND IS BODY, which means that we automatically tend to conceptualise mental activities in terms of bodily activities, because the latter are those of which we have immediate experience. In this paragraph, the encompassing wandering of Levi’s thoughts, its breadth and immense distance from the reality of the camp, is conveyed through strategies that all variably rely on the reader’s bodily experience. Sensorimotor experience operates unconsciously and yet plays a crucial role: it is our non-representational knowledge of what is feels like to move through open spaces, to be held vs. be released, to roam freely with our bodies, that scaffolds and enriches our understanding of what it means to metaphorically roam with one’s mind. Thanks to this metaphor, because the deictic centre at the beginning and at the end of the period is the same and is close to the narrator (reader), this period is endowed with a feeling of circularity, of reaching out and returning to the starting point, which is not explicitly expressed in the text and is rather projected by the reader’s embodied experience.

      MB

    4. il Pikolo

      In this same paragraph, the ‘Pikolo’ is said to be a ‘fattorino-scritturale, addetto alla pulizia della baracca, alle consegne degli attrezzi, alla lavatura delle gamelle, alla contabilità delle ore di lavoro del Kommando’, and three paragraphs later Levi adds that ‘la carica di Pikolo costituisce un gradino già assai elevato nella gerarchia delle Prominenze’.

      Whereas the other titles mentioned in this chapter - Vorarbeiter; Kapo - identify recognised positions within the hierarchy of the Lager, Pikolo, according to the testimony of Jean Samuel, was the invention of Primo Levi: ‘Pikolo was not a camp job. The term was coined for me by Primo Levi. I was the only Pikolo. Of course, all the Kapos had helpers, often very young people, sometimes as young as twelve, who served as their assistants, doing everything they asked, including prostitution. The Kapos’ lovers, their sexual victims, were called “Pipel”. I escaped all that’ (Samuel, Dreyfus 2015, 37; my translation).

      Jean’s testimony also raises questions about the spelling of this term. In a letter he sent to Levi on 13 March 1946, Jean signed his name with his title and identification number from Auschwitz, ‘Picolo ex 176.397’, amending the spelling to ‘Piccolo’ in subsequent correspondence (Franceschini 2017, 268). Moreover, Levi replied to Jean’s letter with a note dated 24 May 1946, attached to which was an early draft of ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, which differs in some ways from what would become the published version, including identifying Levi’s conversation partner as ‘Jean detto Piccolo', a spelling that corresponds to that adopted in the draft of the chapter that Levi sent to Anna Foa on 14 February 1946 (269). Beginning with the first edition of SQ, however, the spelling of Jean’s title was changed to ‘Pikolo’. Fabrizio Franceschini argues that Levi adopted this term, with its new spelling, from its common usage in northern Italian (and possibly also in Vienna in German usage) to refer to shop boys and other minor functionaries (272-79).

      CLL

    5. Vorarbeiter

      The Vorarbeiter, or foreman, was responsible for supervising the prisoners’ labour. This was a privileged position within the Lager, for which extra food rations were provided (Megargee 2009-2012, 200). A study of another camp reports that those ‘employed as foremen (Vorarbeiter) represented the most hateful attitudes towards Jews’ (4), a finding that might inform our understanding of Levi’s account of Auschwitz. In SQ, Levi discusses the Vorarbeiter in the chapter ‘Il lavoro’, where he explains the discriminatory power that the role affords: ‘Il Vorarbeiter ha distribuito le leve di ferro a noi e i martinetti ai suoi amici’ (OC I, 44).

      For confirmation of the violence with which this power was enforced, we can consult the archives of the United States Holocaust Museum, which contain the contents of a talk given to members of the French Army in October November 1945 in which the deportee Henry Cogenson testified that: ‘As for Kapos and Vorarbeiter, mostly German, Russian or Polish “common criminals”, they, like the SS, never knew when to stop; after having been hit by others when they were simple inmates, they returned the favor on their peers now that they were given a smidgen of power. It was rather common to bring back to camp in the evening a comrade who had been struck during the day and was unable to withstand the blows’. The Auschwitz Museum online hosts images of the armbands worn by the Vorarbeiter, and of the whips they used to beat prisoners. We might also compare Levi’s account with that contained in the Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowski’s 1946 collection of short stories Pożegnanie z Marią (This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1967), wherein the Vorarbeiter Tadeusz is a frequent protagonist.

      CLL

    6. Chissà

      Levi’s ‘chissà’ suggests that the decision to discuss Dante’s ‘Canto di Ulisse’ during the walk with Jean was a matter of mere happenstance, or better still of fortune, to use a word that was dear to Levi and crucial to his conception of the Lager (Gordon 2010). ‘Who knows’ how and why the Inferno, and not another text, came to Levi in this pivotal moment of human connection amidst the inhumanity of Auschwitz?

      To answer that question, we may wish to note that Dante’s Inferno similarly occurred to many others among the first witnesses to describe the horrors of the Lager. In an article published in the Socialist daily Avanti! in October 1945, Francisco Largo Caballero, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, recounted his ‘Ritorno dalla morte’ after being interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which he described as ‘uno scenario da “Inferno” dantesco’. Writing in the same daily in July 1949, the French Resistance fighter turned member of Parliament Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier described her own internment in similar terms: ‘Auschwitz! Si è molto scritto sui campi della morte: quando ci eravamo ci pareva che solo un Dante avrebbe potuto descriverne l’orrore per coloro che non ci sono stati’. Umberto Consiglio, bearing witness to the enormity of Dachau for L’Èra Nuova in May 1946, argued that ‘[s]olo Dante, guidato dal suo alto ingegno e aiutato dalle Muse, potrebbe degnamente descrivere quello che è stato il martirio di migliaia e migliaia di esseri umani’, comparing his arrival in the camp to ‘il “lasciate ogni speranza” della porta dell’inferno dantesco’. In that same year, Aldo Pantozzi described Mauthausen as the brutal realisation of Dante’s vision: ‘La fantasia di Dante relegò nelle infernali viscere della terra tali scene: dovevano passare sei secoli di civiltà perché esse, dalle tenebre infernali, venissero trasferite alla luce del sole dalla barbarie nazista’ (Pantozzi 2002, 88). In Liana Millu’s 1947 Il fumo di Birkenau, she describes that infamous Polish camp as having ‘l’aria “senza tempo” descritta nel cerchio dantesco’, relates how during her imprisonment her thoughts became ‘un tormento quasi dantesco’, and recalls her struggle to call to mind, as she sought to make sense of her condition, ‘un canto dell’Inferno dove si parla di dannati che trasportano pietre’ (Millu 1947, 36, 139, 166). As Robert Gordon summarises the situation, in Italian accounts of the Shoah, ‘Dante’s Inferno is a familiar and recurrent reference point’ (Gordon 2010, 52).

      Far from a random occurrence or even a fortunate intimation, therefore, Levi’s decision to deliver a Lectura Dantis while in confinement might best be understood as conforming to a recognisable cultural pattern. Consider that while Levi and Jean were discussing ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ in Auschwitz, more than five thousand miles away, the Italian prisoner of war Giuseppe Berto was offering his own interpretation of Dante to his fellow internees in Camp Hereford, Texas, where he was held from May 1943 to February 1946 (Culicelli 2022, 286). Berto, who would go on to achieve literary acclaim with the publication of the novel Il cielo è rosso in 1950, had been captured in Africa, and the experience of military defeat, coinciding with the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, shattered his most deeply held convictions. Unlike many other Fascist true-believers, however, Berto refused to pass directly into the anti-Fascist camp, engaging instead in a continued confrontation with his former faith motivated by an agnosticism that he termed afascismo (CIDAS, 88).

      That confrontation propels Berto’s Dante lectures, which he began to deliver in November 1943, but which were published for the first time only in 2015. If Levi focused on Inferno 26, Berto chose instead Inferno 5, the canto of Paolo and Francesca, with whom his current fate, cut off not only from his home but also from his previous ideals, inspired evident sympathy. It is not hard to recognise Berto himself in the description of Francesca’s ‘malinconia di cose belle perdute per sempre’ (461). Yet Berto appears to identify more with Dante the poet than with the sinners whom Dante pilgrim encounters during his voyage. Having witnessed first-hand, and with profound regret, the demise of Fascist Italy’s imperial ambitions in Africa, Berto presents a Dante

      ancorato a quella sua medioevale concezione imperialistica, mentre l’impero e il potere teocratico dei papi erano ormai cose morte […]. E chi vi ha detto questo, vi ha anche spiegato come gran parte della grandezza morale di Dante abbia le sue origini appunto nella sua fede in ideali sorpassati. E questa interpretazione, ben che non possa del tutto convincerci, ci affascina per la sua novità, e sopra tutto perché molti di noi sappiamo quanto costi mantenere fede a quegli ideali che sembrano perduti (451).

      With these words, Berto unmistakably addressed himself to all those Blackshirts whose honour rested on the refusal to forsake their ideals even when all seemed to be lost.

      Primo Levi’s ideals are of course quite far from those promoted by Giuseppe Berto. Levi had been captured as an anti-Fascist partisan, Berto as a Fascist colonial soldier. Yet, just as Levi, interpreting Dante in Auschwitz, finds ‘forse il perché del nostro destino, del nostro essere qui oggi’, so too does Berto find that the Commedia speaks to his conflicted condition before the ‘pulpiti herefordiani’ (448). Ultimately, that condition appears to align Berto more closely with Levi than with Dante, whose unforgiving judgement of the sinners in Inferno clashes with more modern sensibilities. For Berto, ‘la poesia di Dante si rafforza e si esalta proprio dove i sentimenti umani raggiungono una vetta tale da superare i pregiudizi del poeta […]. Farinata, Ulisse, Brunetto Latini hanno un valore umano che sta al di sopra della religione e della morale’ (455-456). Does not this celebration of the sinners’ humanity echo, across a vast physical and ideological divide, the ‘così umano e necessario e pure inaspettato anacronismo’ that Levi discovers in his sympathetic identification with Dante’s Ulysses?

      CLL

    7. Häftling

      Levi introduces the term ‘Häftling’ (pl. Häftlinge), German for ‘detainee’ or ‘prisoner,’ in the chapter of SQ entitled ‘Sul fondo,’ wherein he recounts his arrival in Auschwitz, a camp designed to produce ‘un uomo vuoto, ridotto a sofferenza e bisogno, dimentico di dignità e discernimento’, so that ‘Si comprenderà allora il duplice significato del termine «Campo di annientamento»’ (OC I, 152). It is immediately after offering this reflection that Levi provides the term used to denote this ‘uomo vuoto’: ‘Häftling: ho imparato che io sono uno Häftling. Il mio nome è 174 517; siamo stati battezzati, porteremo finché vivremo il marchio tatuato sul braccio sinistro’ (ibid.). Later in the same chapter, Levi explains the distinction between ‘Häftlinge privilegiati’ and ‘comuni Häftlinge’ and describes how the various groups of prisoners are distinguished: ‘Tutti sono vestiti a righe, sono tutti Häftlinge, ma i criminali portano accanto al numero, cucito sulla giacca, un triangolo verde; i politici un triangolo rosso; gli ebrei, che costituiscono la grande maggioranza, portano la stella ebraica, rossa e gialla’ (OC I, 158).

      CLL

    8. istrice

      This is not the only porcupine to appear in Levi’s writing. In The Truce, we learn that Levi’s companion Cesare, disappointed after a misadventure on the black market, spent two days ‘huddled on his bed, bristling like a porcupine’ (CW I, 338). In The Wrench, Faussone identifies a clearing in which ‘a porcupine was advancing cautiously, with brief stops and starts’ (CW II, 1025). These English translations suggest a possible connection to SQ that is less obvious in the original Italian, where the text refers not to an ‘istrice’ but rather to a ‘porcospino’. In La tregua, Cesare is described as ‘ispido come un porcospino’ (OC I, 417), and in La chiave a stella, Faussone points out that ‘un porcospino avanzava cauto, con brevi arresti e riprese’ (OC I, 1099).

      The terms ‘istrice’ and ‘porcospino’ refer to animals of the same family, Hystricidae, and identify the same species, Hystrix cristata, the crested porcupine, which is native to Italy. In the Grande dizionario italiano dell’uso, ‘porcospino’ is listed as a synonym of ‘istrice’, which is defined scientifically as a ‘piccolo mammifero con il corpo coperto di aculei appuntiti ed erettili’, with a second figurative meaning as a ‘persona intrattabile, scontrosa’ (805).

      Despite their similarity, there is a notable difference between the two synonyms with regard to their literary resonances. As the Tesoro della lingua Italiana delle Origini demonstrates, ‘istrice’ was the preferred term for medieval philosophers, historians, and poets, including Boccaccio, who used it in his Caccia di Diana and Ameto, where the husband’s beard is described as being ‘né più né meno pugnente che le penne d’uno istrice’ (Tutte le opera di Giovanni Boccaccio, 774). The Grande dizionario della lingua italiana attests subsequent citations from Parini, D’Annunzio, De Amicis, and Foscolo, with the latter two adopting the term metaphorically to refer to a person who is taciturn and cagey (615).

      I suspect that Levi had another literary reference in mind when he opted for ‘istrice’ rather than ‘porcospino’ in SQ. Here are the words with which the Ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet reveals both his identity and the infernal torments he suffers in the afterlife:

      I am thy father’s spirit,

      Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

      And for the day confined to fast in fires,

      Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

      Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid

      To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

      I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

      Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

      Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

      Thy knotted and combined locks to part

      And each particular hair to stand on end,

      Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:

      But this eternal blazon must not be

      To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, vv. 14-28)

      In standard Italian translations dating back at least to the early nineteenth century, Shakepeare’s ‘fretful porpentine’ is rendered as a ‘pauroso istrice’ (Amleto, 59). This word, and these lines, would seem to resonate remarkably well with Levi’s description of the hell of Auschwitz, which is the context for his invocation of ‘la difesa dell’istrice’.

      After all, Hamlet’s Ghost is compelled to speak quickly, in the brief interval he has been granted in his eternal suffering:

      My hour is almost come,

      When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames

      Must render up myself (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, vv. 5-7)

      Cannot Levi and Jean say the same thing? The ‘lungo giro’ that Jean has arranged buys them a brief respite, but this precious time has begun to disappear as soon as it arrives: ‘quest’ora già non è più un’ora’. Cannot Hamlet’s Ghost say the same thing?

      The moment of connection and communication at the heart of ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ can be said to have begun with Jean’s clever strategy to curry favour with cruel Alex, the Kapo Levi describes as ‘un bestione violento e infido’, who is won over by Jean’s ‘opera lenta cauta e sottile’, finally ceding to him the coveted role of Pikolo. It is this victory that Levi describes as penetrating ‘the porcupine’s defence’. And it is this victory that frees Jean to choose Levi for the task of fetching the daily soup ration, enabling the disquisition on Dante that gives the chapter its title.

      If I am correct that the reference to ‘la difesa dell’istrice’ is thus evidence that Levi and Jean’s Dantean voyage begins under the sign of Hamlet, this would be a particularly elegant literary manoeuvre, since the voyage concludes under the very same sign. As their hour runs out once they have reached the kitchen, Levi finds himself unable to say all that needs to be said and is forced to concede that ‘il resto è silenzio’, an unmistakable echo of Hamlet’s final words: ‘the rest is silence’ (Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2, v. 395).

      If further evidence for a Shakespearean source text is warranted, I would note that Levi included in Ad ora incerta a poem that explicitly references Hamlet’s Ghost, who is referred to as an ‘old mole’ because he continues to speak from beneath the floorboards (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, v. 183). Italian translations render this line as ‘vecchia talpa’, words that Levi borrowed for the title of a 1982 poem, which literalises the reference - the poem is in fact written from the perspective of an old mole - while nevertheless conveying the sense of the original, with its profound intimations of the latent power of buried knowledge.

      In altri tempi seguivo le femmine,

      E quando ne sentivo una grattare

      Mi scavavo la via verso di lei:

      Ora non più; se capita, cambio strada.

      Ma a luna nuova mi prende il morbino,

      E allora qualche volta mi diverto

      A sbucare improvviso per spaventare i cani. (OC II, 727)

      The reference to an ‘istrice’ in ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ similarly suggests hidden depths.

      CLL

    9. vorrebbe imparare l’italiano

      Interlinguistic necessity. Although containing the record of a ‘lesson’ on Dante’s Inferno 26, the central experience recounted in this chapter is set in motion by linguistic rather than literary elements. Jean desires to learn a new language, Italian, and Primo’s teaching accordingly combines his intermittent recitation of Dante’s text in the original language with a hesitant French commentary on, often a paraphrase of, salient elements in it. At its core, thus, the chapter relates an attempt at interlinguistic mediation. The text’s emphasis on interlinguistic communication is projected against the backdrop of the Lager’s Babel-like dehumanising confusion of languages that Levi explored in other texts (SQ, I sommersi e i salvati). As such, the circumstances of the episode are exceptional.

      Jean is an exceptional, and exceptionally positive, character in the universe of the book. He speaks and thinks in two languages: most importantly, he is native in both (‘Jean parlava correntemente francese e tedesco’). As established on the chance encounter with an SS, Rudi the Blockführer, bilingual utterances are for him the norm: ‘È indifferente, può pensare in entrambe le lingue’. The role he plays in the structure of the concentration camp, facilitated by the distinction of his bilingualism, however, is not what is at stake in the episode per se. While Jean certainly has acquired a linguistic capital of sorts, Levi’s narrative insists on what he decides to share of that privilege. His multilingualism is not associated with exclusionary practices, but with the work of intermediation it brings about and the community of intents it creates. The language learning situation is presented as a space in which the power dynamics of the Lager’s languages are suspended and ultimately refused.

      (For more on this, go back here or forward here).

      SM

    10. e che riguarda noi due, che osiamo ragionare di queste cose con le stanghe della zuppa sulle spalle

      Dante’s text ‘riguarda’, ‘has to do with’, Levi and Pikolo. ‘Considerate la vostra semenza: | Fatti non foste a viver come bruti, | Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.’ What I would emphasise is that by remembering and translating and discussing Dante, Levi and Pikolo live out that terzina from Inferno 26, or rather, they live out a new version of the terzina. That action - ‘ragionare di queste cose con le stanghe della zuppa sulle spalle’ - is a particular living out of Ulysses’ words. For Levi and Pikolo here, discussing Dante becomes a way of seeking after ‘virtute e conoscenza’, and of going beyond the camp’s Pillars of Hercules; ‘è scagliare se stessi al di là di una barriera’, as Levi writes earlier in the chapter. Yet while Dante’s Ulysses casts aside bonds of friendship and affection - seeing the ‘piéta | del vecchio padre’, the ‘debito amore | lo qual dovea Penelope far lieta’ as obstacles to his pursuit of ‘virtute e conoscenza’ - Levi and Pikolo seek after knowledge through conversation, through attention to each other. In the chapter Pikolo listens, he pays attention, he suggests possible translations, he reassures Levi. Interpreting Inferno 26 - ‘ragionare di queste cose’ - is a joint endeavour (Gordon 2001, 68-70; Insana 2009, 107-10; Montemaggi 2020, 127-42), an endeavour in which Levi and Pikolo pursue virtue and knowledge, but do so in a mode quite different to Ulysses (Montemaggi 2020, 133-35; Montemaggi 2011, 66-67, 71-72).

      What seems to matter particularly in this passage is that Pikolo and Levi realise that Dante’s is a text about them. ‘[F]orse […] ha ricevuto il messaggio, ha sentito che lo riguarda, che riguarda tutti gli uomini in travaglio, e noi in specie; e che riguarda noi due’ (emphasis added). The ‘messaggio’ arising from Levi and Pikolo’s joint interpretation of Dante is not only a fuller understanding of the ideas Dante is expressing, important as that is, nor is the message limited to assessing the truthfulness of Dante’s words, important as that is too. But - and perhaps underpinning both of these - the ‘messaggio’ also involves recognising that Dante’s words speak about and to Levi and Pikolo. The repeated ‘riguarda’ casts the terzina as not just concerning humanity as a general, abstract category, but as concerning specific, particular lives: Pikolo’s and Levi’s. In the movement from Pikolo (‘lo riguarda’) outward to all those in travail and then narrowing inward to those in the camps (‘noi’) and then inward again to Pikolo and Levi (‘noi due’), the ‘riguarda’ also cast the terzina as open to be encountered in an equally personal light by others.

      At least here, the value of the Commedia seems ultimately to lie not in the particular elaboration that Dante offers of various worldviews, but in how the text becomes part of a reader’s lived experience. The two are, however, connected, and one of the questions arising from this chapter is: How? Levi tells us that Dante’s words - in and through the context of Levi’s encounter with them in Auschwitz - revealed to him, ‘perhaps’, ‘forse’, ‘il perché del nostro destino, del nostro essere oggi qui’. A question perhaps worth investigating further would be: How might moving towards fuller understanding of the Commedia and particular lived experiences of Dante’s text inform each other?

      HPR

    11. Si annunzia ufficialmente che oggi la zuppa è di cavoli e rape: – Choux et navets. – Kaposzta és répak.

      Levi and Jean’s fleeting Dantean reprieve is abruptly halted by the return to the ‘sordid, ragged crowd of the soup queue’. Standing in contrast with Dante’s majestic verses and Ulysses’ voyage of discovery is the cramped enclosure of the queue and the banality of the description of the day’s cabbage-and-turnip soup. But the contrast is also between Levi’s own Italian language and sense of cultural identity and the Babelic experience of the Lager. Linguistic chaos is a key component of Levi’s experience and subsequent description of the camp, and one to which he was unusually attentive. Early on in his testimony (and once again, Dante is an important model here), Levi designates the camp a ‘perpetua Babele’. He evokes the linguistic confusion of the camp by including in his account unfamiliar tongues. We see this here in the soup queue but also, for example, in his recollection of the distribution of bread (‘la distribuzione del pane, del pane-Brot-Broit-chleb-pain-lechem-kenyer’) and in his description of the industrial tower in the camp (‘i suoi mattoni sono stati chiamati Ziegel, briques, tegula, cegli, kamenny, bricks, teglak’). Linguistic chaos contributes acutely to the condition of extreme isolation associated with the Lager.

      Levi’s most sustained meditation on language in Auschwitz comes in the essay ‘Comunicare’, found in the 1986 collection I sommersi e i salvati. Here he reflects not only upon the extreme linguistic isolation of the camp and the psychological damage this often wrought, but also upon the degradation of language he witnessed. Violence and brute force would often replace linguistic exchange as the ‘communicative’ medium between individuals. Levi describes how, for those who did not speak German, words were used not on account of their referential function but as blunt aural instruments that could elicit the desired response from the receiver. The linguistic interaction between guards and prisoners became more reminiscent of that between humans and working animals than that between human beings existing on the same level.

      TK

    12. Kraut und Rüben

      Examples are everywhere in SQ, but this is arguably the most striking instance of how an elevated style and references taken from literary tradition clash continuously with plurilingualism in Levi’s writing; abstract concepts with harsh materiality; ‘destiny’ with ‘Kraut’. In this case, ‘cavoli e rape’ is repeated in four different languages. The harsh sound of these words in German, Italian, French, and Hungarian clashes with the philosophical reasoning of the vertiginous previous lines. Language underscores the tragic irony of the entire sequence (a tragic irony that was present even in Dante’s original treatment of Ulysses’ story, in his Inferno 26).

      FB

    13. Ci dev’essere l’ingegner Levi. Eccolo, si vede solo la testa fuori della trincea. Mi fa un cenno colla mano, è un uomo in gamba, non l’ho mai visto giú di morale, non parla mai di mangiare.

      In the linguistic framework of the chapter, and in light of the Dantean subtext on which it relies, the figure of this non-speaking character is particularly meaningful since it evokes, as a foil, the character of Nimrod in Inferno 31. Dante introduces Nembrotte as the speaker of an unintelligible language, embodied in a single five-word enigmatic utterance: Raphèl maì amecche zabi almi (v. 67). Three elements seem pertinent to establish the contrastive connection. First, the position: both Nimrod and the ingegner Levi stand in a hole, visible only from the waist up. Secondly, the speaking: Virgil mocks Nimrod’s inability to move out of his own private, untranslatable language, while ingegner Levi ‘makes a gesture’ (‘mi fa un cenno’), entrusting to a non-verbal cue its expression of charitable and friendly connection with Primo. Finally, the restriction of what may be conveyed verbally: Nimrod does not speak intelligibly, while ingegner Levi ‘never speaks of eating’. The verb for “eating” (It. mangiare) is a particularly sensible one in the linguistic domain of the Lager, having been violently shifted in the semantics of the Lager from the human and communal ‘essen’ to the animal and isolating ‘fressen’. Ingegner Levi’s character in the episode reinforces the notion that a desire for communication is at the root of a human community, the exact opposite of ‘life as brutes’.

      (Note: L’ingegner Levi appears twice earlier in SQ: first in ‘Il viaggio’ as the father of three-year old Emilia - ‘una bambina curiosa, ambiziosa, allegra e intelligente’ (OC I, 146) - murdered on arrival at Auschwitz; and then in ‘Sul fondo’, nervously asking Primo where his daughter and wife might be.)

      SM

    14. «misi me» non è «je me mis»

      As in ‘Argon’ in Il sistema periodico, Levi here demonstrates a philologist’s interest in historical grammar. The grammatical difference that separates the marked ‘Ma misi me’ and its unmarked equivalent in Italian is not expressly stated (the French je me mis is the ordinary, unremarkable grammar, and hence can’t serve to illustrate it). Levi’s free indirect discourse here indicates how much store he put in this difference: he explains its effect in three different ways to Jean (as ‘audacious’, as a broken chain, as the other side of a barrier).

      The expected fourteenth-century Italian syntax is Ma misimi. (It is unlikely to be Ma mi misi, as it would be today, because in old Italian ma frequently triggers the postposition of the pronoun). But Levi does not limit himself to describing impressionistically the effect of the marked grammar. Scientifically, he analyses the form of mettersi via comparison with other instances of the same lemma in the passage. Of si metta: ‘I had to come to the Lager to realise that it is the same expression as before’.

      The difference between Ma misimi and Ma misi me is that the unaccented, enclitic pronoun mi has become the accented, separate word me. This completely changes the rhythm of the line: *Ma mísimi per l’álto máre apérto (accents on 2, 6 and 10) becomes Ma misi mé per l’álto máre etc. (with accents on 4, 6 and 10). A number of Commedia manuscripts, in fact, have misimi – another clue to precisely the ‘audacity’ that Levi detects in Dante’s rhythmical and grammatical usage here.

      Dante’s me makes his reflexive pronoun mi into (almost) a transitive object – a distinct, real-existing entity, separate from the grammatical subject: ‘I’ act on a ‘me’, not just ‘myself’.

      What Levi hears, via a kind of solecism, is a prominent, sticking-out me – ‘oggi mi sento da tanto’. This is a sense of self that grows – ‘Per un momento, ho dimenticato chi sono e dove sono’ – into almost an answer to his title’s question.

      RP

    15. Tuttavia l’esperienza pare prometta bene: Jean ammira la bizzarra similitudine della lingua, e mi suggerisce il termine appropriato per rendere «antica».

      Interlinguistic felicity. Passages addressing questions of communication, language acquisition, interlanguage connection and intercultural translation scattered throughout the text are constantly marked by a specific affective tonality: they are remembered and represented as successful. The situation at hand is exceptional. In both SQ and I sommersi e i salvati, linguistic plurality is often used to characterise the absurd chaos and linguistic cacophony that marked Häftling existence in the Lager, which is a temporary universe of linguistic dissension and violence. To the contrary, the exchange between Jean and Primo is not simply based on, and concerned with, translation. It also is utterly charitable, in a technical sense. It is based on a systematic practicing of interpretive benevolence. It is dominated, that is, by the desire to move beyond linguistic differences and find a common ground. Such desire is not simply posited: it is acted upon. When Primo stumbles or forgets, Jean encourages him to go on (“Ça ne fait rien, vas-y tout de même”). Similarly, when memory of Dante’s original fails Primo and something of the original text is admittedly lost, the text does not dwell on the loss, but it vindicates the eventual success of the mediation work: ‘nonostante la traduzione scialba e il commento pedestre e frettoloso, ha ricevuto il messaggio’.

      Felicity in interlingual communication is crucial for Levi to regain momentary existence as a human being in the violent linguistic landscape of the Lager. Accordingly, interlinguistic success is made the vehicle of interhuman connection. The exchange between Primo and Jean, in its translative quality, sheds light on an oppositional element in the language of the Lager, which Levi defines as ‘orts- und zeitgebunden', tied to that place and that time (I sommersi e i salvati, 1066; OC II, 1025). Levi draws his terminology from Victor Klemperer’s 1947 book Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist’s Notebook. Klemperer’s merciless diagnosis of the language of Nazi Germany as the product and the producer of a dehumanising regime is the foil for Levi’s momentarily but crucially successful act of communicating across different languages. In the chapter, the willingness and ability to free the most meaningful human exchange from the ties of a time- and place-bound language is the antidote to the isolating and dehumanising linguistics of the concentration camp.

      (For more on this theme, see here.)

      Linguistically categorised terms: * Vorarbeiter [German]

      • Pikolo [KZGerman]

      • Häftling [KZGerman]

      • Kommando [KZGerman]

      • Also, etc. [German]

      • Qu’est-ce qu’il-y-a [French]

      • Kapo [KZGerman]

      • Ihr Doktoren! [German]

      • Meister [KZGerman]

      • Lager [KZGerman]

      • Aujourd’hui [French]

      • Essenholen [KZGerman]

      • Corvée [French]

      • Tu es fou de marcher [French]

      • Blockführer [KZGerman]

      • Sale brute [French]

      • Ein ganz gemeiner Hund [German]

      • Je me mis [French]

      • Kraftwerk [German]

      • Keine Ahnung [German]

      • Ça ne fait rien [French]

      • Kraut und Rüben [German]

      • Choux et navets [French]

      • Káposzta és répak [Other]

      SM

    16. – Aujourd’hui c’est Primo qui viendra avec moi chercher la soupe.

      Interlinguistic mutuality. Shuttling between recitation of Dante’s text in the Italian original and its hurried and utilitarian French prose version, the lesson Primo imparts to Jean is deeply interlinguistic. The exchange between Jean and Primo is also mutual, at the very basic level of collaboration that any linguistic exchange requires. In addition, Jean is not a passive learner. He takes part in the process of communication, which unfolds in a living dialogue and requires that dialogue to exist. The first words of Italian that Jean picks up and adopts emerge from the living context of a spoken exchange, by the ‘natural’ and immediate imitation of two native speakers. The syllabification of the initial vocabulary Jean apprehends (“zup-pa, cam-po, ac-qua”) from those exchanged between Primo and another prisoner from Rome, Limentani, is not a marker of alienness but of co-participation. More importantly, the learning process is from the start accompanied by a smile, a pre-linguistic sign of mutual understanding.

      Levi’s insistence on the collaborative work that undergirds the acts of interlinguistic communication taking place in the episode resonates with Walter Benjamin’s notion that translation is the cultural practice which best captures the intrinsic drive of all languages to communicate through their apparent mutual exclusiveness: ‘All suprahistorical kinship between languages consists in this: in every one of them as a whole, one and the same thing is meant […]. Whereas all individual elements of foreign languages - words, sentences, associations - are mutually exclusive, these languages supplement one another in their intentions’ (‘The Translator’s Task’, 156). The experience of shared humanity, which Primo and Jean achieve within the Babel of the Lager, and notwithstanding its violence, relies on the same underlying philosophy of language as Benjamin’s.

      (For more on this, go here next.)

      SM

    17. qui

      This “qui” is a fulcrum around which the temporal and spatial dimensions of Levi’s narrative turn. After Levi’s initial passato remoto (‘Passò una SS’) shifts to present-tense narration (‘È Rudi’) in paragraph 15, Primo and Pikolo’s itinerant conversation unfolds in the now. Levi then develops an analogous spatial proximity with his insistence on the demonstrative “questo”, culminating in paragraph 28 (beginning ‘Pikolo mi prega…’), where he twice uses the word “qui”: in the first instance indicating the “hereness” of yet another gap in his memory; in the second, in ‘... come si dice qui’, effectively erasing any distance between the episode and its narration.

      LI

    18. prosa

      Possibly the first time that Levi refers to the fundamental difference between prose and poetry and a certain natural superiority of poetic expression (see ‘Introduction’ to his poetry collection Ad ora incerta).

      VG

    1. Tuttavia l’esperienza pare prometta bene: Jean ammira la bizzarra similitudine della lingua, e mi suggerisce il termine appropriato per rendere «antica».

      Interlinguistic felicity. Passages addressing questions of communication, language acquisition, interlanguage connection and intercultural translation scattered throughout the text are constantly marked by a specific affective tonality: they are remembered and represented as successful. The situation at hand is exceptional. In both SQ and I sommersi e i salvati, linguistic plurality is often used to characterise the absurd chaos and linguistic cacophony that marked Häftling existence in the Lager, which is a temporary universe of linguistic dissension and violence. To the contrary, the exchange between Jean and Primo is not simply based on, and concerned with, translation. It also is utterly charitable, in a technical sense. It is based on a systematic practicing of interpretive benevolence. It is dominated, that is, by the desire to move beyond linguistic differences and find a common ground. Such desire is not simply posited: it is acted upon. When Primo stumbles or forgets, Jean encourages him to go on (“Ça ne fait rien, vas-y tout de même”). Similarly, when memory of Dante’s original fails Primo and something of the original text is admittedly lost, the text does not dwell on the loss, but it vindicates the eventual success of the mediation work: ‘nonostante la traduzione scialba e il commento pedestre e frettoloso, ha ricevuto il messaggio’.

      Felicity in interlingual communication is crucial for Levi to regain momentary existence as a human being in the violent linguistic landscape of the Lager. Accordingly, interlinguistic success is made the vehicle of interhuman connection. The exchange between Primo and Jean, in its translative quality, sheds light on an oppositional element in the language of the Lager, which Levi defines as ‘orts- und zeitgebunden', tied to that place and that time (I sommersi e i salvati, 1066; OC II, 1025). Levi draws his terminology from Victor Klemperer’s 1947 book Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist’s Notebook. Klemperer’s merciless diagnosis of the language of Nazi Germany as the product and the producer of a dehumanising regime is the foil for Levi’s momentarily but crucially successful act of communicating across different languages. In the chapter, the willingness and ability to free the most meaningful human exchange from the ties of a time- and place-bound language is the antidote to the isolating and dehumanising linguistics of the concentration camp.

      Linguistically categorised terms: * Vorarbeiter [German]

      • Pikolo [KZGerman]

      • Häftling [KZGerman]

      • Kommando [KZGerman]

      • Also, etc. [German]

      • Qu’est-ce qu’il-y-a [French]

      • Kapo [KZGerman]

      • Ihr Doktoren! [German]

      • Meister [KZGerman]

      • Lager [KZGerman]

      • Aujourd’hui [French]

      • Essenholen [KZGerman]

      • Corvée [French]

      • Tu es fou de marcher [French]

      • Blockführer [KZGerman]

      • Sale brute [French]

      • Ein ganz gemeiner Hund [German]

      • Je me mis [French]

      • Kraftwerk [German]

      • Keine Ahnung [German]

      • Ça ne fait rien [French]

      • Kraut und Rüben [German]

      • Choux et navets [French]

      • Káposzta és répak [Other]

      SM

    2. il Pikolo

      In this same paragraph, the ‘Pikolo’ is said to be a ‘fattorino-scritturale, addetto alla pulizia della baracca, alle consegne degli attrezzi, alla lavatura delle gamelle, alla contabilità delle ore di lavoro del Kommando’, and three paragraphs later Levi adds that ‘la carica di Pikolo costituisce un gradino già assai elevato nella gerarchia delle Prominenze’.

      Whereas the other titles mentioned in this chapter - Vorarbeiter; Kapo - identify recognised positions within the hierarchy of the Lager, Pikolo, according to the testimony of Jean Samuel, was the invention of Primo Levi: ‘Pikolo was not a camp job. The term was coined for me by Primo Levi. I was the only Pikolo. Of course, all the Kapos had helpers, often very young people, sometimes as young as twelve, who served as their assistants, doing everything they asked, including prostitution. The Kapos’ lovers, their sexual victims, were called “Pipel”. I escaped all that’ (Samuel, Dreyfus 2015, 37; my translation).

      Jean’s testimony also raises questions about the spelling of this term. In a letter he sent to Levi on 13 March 1946, Jean signed his name with his title and identification number from Auschwitz, ‘Picolo ex 176.397’, amending the spelling to ‘Piccolo’ in subsequent correspondence (Franceschini 2017, 268). Moreover, Levi replied to Jean’s letter with a note dated 24 May 1946, attached to which was an early draft of ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, which differs in some ways from what would become the published version, including identifying Levi’s conversation partner as ‘Jean detto Piccolo', a spelling that corresponds to that adopted in the draft of the chapter that Levi sent to Anna Foa on 14 February 1946 (269). Beginning with the first edition of SQ, however, the spelling of Jean’s title was changed to ‘Pikolo’. Fabrizio Franceschini argues that Levi adopted this term, with its new spelling, from its common usage in northern Italian (and possibly also in Vienna in German usage) to refer to shop boys and other minor functionaries (272-79).

      CLL

    3. il Pikolo

      In this same paragraph, the ‘Pikolo’ is said to be a ‘fattorino-scritturale, addetto alla pulizia della baracca, alle consegne degli attrezzi, alla lavatura delle gamelle, alla contabilità delle ore di lavoro del Kommando’, and three paragraphs later Levi adds that ‘la carica di Pikolo costituisce un gradino già assai elevato nella gerarchia delle Prominenze’.

      Whereas the other titles mentioned in this chapter - Vorarbeiter; Kapo - identify recognised positions within the hierarchy of the Lager, Pikolo, according to the testimony of Jean Samuel, was the invention of Primo Levi: ‘Pikolo was not a camp job. The term was coined for me by Primo Levi. I was the only Pikolo. Of course, all the Kapos had helpers, often very young people, sometimes as young as twelve, who served as their assistants, doing everything they asked, including prostitution. The Kapos’ lovers, their sexual victims, were called “Pipel”. I escaped all that’ (Samuel, Dreyfus 2015, 37; my translation).

      Jean’s testimony also raises questions about the spelling of this term. In a letter he sent to Levi on 13 March 1946, Jean signed his name with his title and identification number from Auschwitz, ‘Picolo ex 176.397’, amending the spelling to ‘Piccolo’ in subsequent correspondence (Franceschini 2017, 268). Moreover, Levi replied to Jean’s letter with a note dated 24 May 1946, attached to which was an early draft of ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, which differs in some ways from what would become the published version, including identifying Levi’s conversation partner as ‘Jean detto Piccolo', a spelling that corresponds to that adopted in the draft of the chapter that Levi sent to Anna Foa on 14 February 1946 (269). Beginning with the first edition of SQ, however, the spelling of Jean’s title was changed to ‘Pikolo’. Fabrizio Franceschini argues that Levi adopted this term, with its new spelling, from its common usage in northern Italian (and possibly also in Vienna in German usage) to refer to shop boys and other minor functionaries (272-79).

      CLL

    4. Vorarbeiter

      The Vorarbeiter, or foreman, was responsible for supervising the prisoners’ labour. This was a privileged position within the Lager, for which extra food rations were provided (Megargee 2009-2012, 200). A study of another camp reports that those ‘employed as foremen (Vorarbeiter) represented the most hateful attitudes towards Jews’ (4), a finding that might inform our understanding of Levi’s account of Auschwitz. In SQ, Levi discusses the Vorarbeiter in the chapter ‘Il lavoro’, where he explains the discriminatory power that the role affords: ‘Il Vorarbeiter ha distribuito le leve di ferro a noi e i martinetti ai suoi amici’ (OC I, 44).

      For confirmation of the violence with which this power was enforced, we can consult the archives of the United States Holocaust Museum, which contain the contents of a talk given to members of the French Army in October November 1945 in which the deportee Henry Cogenson testified that: ‘As for Kapos and Vorarbeiter, mostly German, Russian or Polish “common criminals”, they, like the SS, never knew when to stop; after having been hit by others when they were simple inmates, they returned the favor on their peers now that they were given a smidgen of power. It was rather common to bring back to camp in the evening a comrade who had been struck during the day and was unable to withstand the blows’. The Auschwitz Museum online hosts images of the armbands worn by the Vorarbeiter, and of the whips they used to beat prisoners. We might also compare Levi’s account with that contained in the Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowski’s 1946 collection of short stories Pożegnanie z Marią (This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1967), wherein the Vorarbeiter Tadeusz is a frequent protagonist.

      CLL

    5. Vorarbeiter

      The Vorarbeiter, or foreman, was responsible for supervising the prisoners’ labour. This was a privileged position within the Lager, for which extra food rations were provided (Megargee 2009-2012, 200). A study of another camp reports that those ‘employed as foremen (Vorarbeiter) represented the most hateful attitudes towards Jews’ (4), a finding that might inform our understanding of Levi’s account of Auschwitz. In SQ, Levi discusses the Vorarbeiter in the chapter ‘Il lavoro’, where he explains the discriminatory power that the role affords: ‘Il Vorarbeiter ha distribuito le leve di ferro a noi e i martinetti ai suoi amici’ (OC I, 44).

      For confirmation of the violence with which this power was enforced, we can consult the archives of the United States Holocaust Museum, which contain the contents of a talk given to members of the French Army in October November 1945 in which the deportee Henry Cogenson testified that: ‘As for Kapos and Vorarbeiter, mostly German, Russian or Polish “common criminals”, they, like the SS, never knew when to stop; after having been hit by others when they were simple inmates, they returned the favor on their peers now that they were given a smidgen of power. It was rather common to bring back to camp in the evening a comrade who had been struck during the day and was unable to withstand the blows’. The Auschwitz Museum online hosts images of the armbands worn by the Vorarbeiter, and of the whips they used to beat prisoners. We might also compare Levi’s account with that contained in the Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowski’s 1946 collection of short stories Pożegnanie z Marią (This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1967), wherein the Vorarbeiter Tadeusz is a frequent protagonist.

      CLL

    6. Chissà

      Levi’s ‘chissà’ suggests that the decision to discuss Dante’s ‘Canto di Ulisse’ during the walk with Jean was a matter of mere happenstance, or better still of fortune, to use a word that was dear to Levi and crucial to his conception of the Lager (Gordon 2010). ‘Who knows’ how and why the Inferno, and not another text, came to Levi in this pivotal moment of human connection amidst the inhumanity of Auschwitz?

      To answer that question, we may wish to note that Dante’s Inferno similarly occurred to many others among the first witnesses to describe the horrors of the Lager. In an article published in the Socialist daily Avanti! in October 1945, Francisco Largo Caballero, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, recounted his ‘Ritorno dalla morte’ after being interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which he described as ‘uno scenario da “Inferno” dantesco’. Writing in the same daily in July 1949, the French Resistance fighter turned member of Parliament Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier described her own internment in similar terms: ‘Auschwitz! Si è molto scritto sui campi della morte: quando ci eravamo ci pareva che solo un Dante avrebbe potuto descriverne l’orrore per coloro che non ci sono stati’. Umberto Consiglio, bearing witness to the enormity of Dachau for L’Èra Nuova in May 1946, argued that ‘[s]olo Dante, guidato dal suo alto ingegno e aiutato dalle Muse, potrebbe degnamente descrivere quello che è stato il martirio di migliaia e migliaia di esseri umani’, comparing his arrival in the camp to ‘il “lasciate ogni speranza” della porta dell’inferno dantesco’. In that same year, Aldo Pantozzi described Mauthausen as the brutal realisation of Dante’s vision: ‘La fantasia di Dante relegò nelle infernali viscere della terra tali scene: dovevano passare sei secoli di civiltà perché esse, dalle tenebre infernali, venissero trasferite alla luce del sole dalla barbarie nazista’ (Pantozzi 2002, 88). In Liana Millu’s 1947 Il fumo di Birkenau, she describes that infamous Polish camp as having ‘l’aria “senza tempo” descritta nel cerchio dantesco’, relates how during her imprisonment her thoughts became ‘un tormento quasi dantesco’, and recalls her struggle to call to mind, as she sought to make sense of her condition, ‘un canto dell’Inferno dove si parla di dannati che trasportano pietre’ (Millu 1947, 36, 139, 166). As Robert Gordon summarises the situation, in Italian accounts of the Shoah, ‘Dante’s Inferno is a familiar and recurrent reference point’ (Gordon 2010, 52).

      Far from a random occurrence or even a fortunate intimation, therefore, Levi’s decision to deliver a Lectura Dantis while in confinement might best be understood as conforming to a recognisable cultural pattern. Consider that while Levi and Jean were discussing ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ in Auschwitz, more than five thousand miles away, the Italian prisoner of war Giuseppe Berto was offering his own interpretation of Dante to his fellow internees in Camp Hereford, Texas, where he was held from May 1943 to February 1946 (Culicelli, 286). Berto, who would go on to achieve literary acclaim with the publication of the novel Il cielo è rosso in 1950, had been captured in Africa, and the experience of military defeat, coinciding with the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, shattered his most deeply held convictions. Unlike many other Fascist true-believers, however, Berto refused to pass directly into the anti-Fascist camp, engaging instead in a continued confrontation with his former faith motivated by an agnosticism that he termed afascismo (CIDAS, 88).

      That confrontation propels Berto’s Dante lectures, which he began to deliver in November 1943, but which were published for the first time only in 2015. If Levi focused on Inferno 26, Berto chose instead Inferno 5, the canto of Paolo and Francesca, with whom his current fate, cut off not only from his home but also from his previous ideals, inspired evident sympathy. It is not hard to recognise Berto himself in the description of Francesca’s ‘malinconia di cose belle perdute per sempre’ (461). Yet Berto appears to identify more with Dante the poet than with the sinners whom Dante pilgrim encounters during his voyage. Having witnessed first-hand, and with profound regret, the demise of Fascist Italy’s imperial ambitions in Africa, Berto presents a Dante

      ancorato a quella sua medioevale concezione imperialistica, mentre l’impero e il potere teocratico dei papi erano ormai cose morte […]. E chi vi ha detto questo, vi ha anche spiegato come gran parte della grandezza morale di Dante abbia le sue origini appunto nella sua fede in ideali sorpassati. E questa interpretazione, ben che non possa del tutto convincerci, ci affascina per la sua novità, e sopra tutto perché molti di noi sappiamo quanto costi mantenere fede a quegli ideali che sembrano perduti (451).

      With these words, Berto unmistakably addressed himself to all those Blackshirts whose honour rested on the refusal to forsake their ideals even when all seemed to be lost.

      Primo Levi’s ideals are of course quite far from those promoted by Giuseppe Berto. Levi had been captured as an anti-Fascist partisan, Berto as a Fascist colonial soldier. Yet, just as Levi, interpreting Dante in Auschwitz, finds ‘forse il perché del nostro destino, del nostro essere qui oggi’, so too does Berto find that the Commedia speaks to his conflicted condition before the ‘pulpiti herefordiani’ (448). Ultimately, that condition appears to align Berto more closely with Levi than with Dante, whose unforgiving judgement of the sinners in Inferno clashes with more modern sensibilities. For Berto, ‘la poesia di Dante si rafforza e si esalta proprio dove i sentimenti umani raggiungono una vetta tale da superare i pregiudizi del poeta […]. Farinata, Ulisse, Brunetto Latini hanno un valore umano che sta al di sopra della religione e della morale’ (455-456). Does not this celebration of the sinners’ humanity echo, across a vast physical and ideological divide, the ‘così umano e necessario e pure inaspettato anacronismo’ that Levi discovers in his sympathetic identification with Dante’s Ulysses?

      CLL

    7. Ci dev’essere l’ingegner Levi. Eccolo, si vede solo la testa fuori della trincea. Mi fa un cenno colla mano, è un uomo in gamba, non l’ho mai visto giú di morale, non parla mai di mangiare.

      In the linguistic framework of the chapter, and in light of the Dantean subtext on which it relies, the figure of this non-speaking character is particularly meaningful since it evokes, as a foil, the character of Nimrod in Inferno 31. Dante introduces Nembrotte as the speaker of an unintelligible language, embodied in a single five-word enigmatic utterance: Raphèl maì amecche zabi almi (v. 67). Three elements seem pertinent to establish the contrastive connection. First, the position: both Nimrod and the ingegner Levi stand in a hole, visible only from the waist up. Secondly, the speaking: Virgil mocks Nimrod’s inability to move out of his own private, untranslatable language, while ingegner Levi ‘makes a gesture’ (‘mi fa un cenno’), entrusting to a non-verbal cue its expression of charitable and friendly connection with Primo. Finally, the restriction of what may be conveyed verbally: Nimrod does not speak intelligibly, while ingegner Levi ‘never speaks of eating’. The verb for “eating” (It. mangiare) is a particularly sensible one in the linguistic domain of the Lager, having been violently shifted in the semantics of the Lager from the human and communal ‘essen’ to the animal and isolating ‘fressen’. Ingegner Levi’s character in the episode reinforces the notion that a desire for communication is at the root of a human community, the exact opposite of ‘life as brutes’.

      (Note: L’ingegner Levi appears twice earlier in SQ: first in ‘Il viaggio’ as the father of three-year old Emilia - ‘una bambina curiosa, ambiziosa, allegra e intelligente’ (OC I, 146) - murdered on arrival at Auschwitz; and then in ‘Sul fondo’, nervously asking Primo where his daughter and wife might be.)

      SM

    8. qui

      This “qui” is a fulcrum around which the temporal and spatial dimensions of Levi’s narrative turn. After Levi’s initial passato remoto (‘Passò una SS’) shifts to present-tense narration (‘È Rudi’) in paragraph 15, Primo and Pikolo’s itinerant conversation unfolds in the now. Levi then develops an analogous spatial proximity with his insistence on the demonstrative “questo”, culminating in paragraph 28 (beginning ‘Pikolo mi prega…’), where he twice uses the word “qui”: in the first instance indicating the “hereness” of yet another gap in his memory; in the second, in ‘... come si dice qui’, effectively erasing any distance between the episode and its narration.

      LI

    9. «misi me» non è «je me mis»

      As in ‘Argon’ in Il sistema periodico, Levi here demonstrates a philologist’s interest in historical grammar. The grammatical difference that separates the marked ‘Ma misi me’ and its unmarked equivalent in Italian is not expressly stated (the French je me mis is the ordinary, unremarkable grammar, and hence can’t serve to illustrate it). Levi’s free indirect discourse here indicates how much store he put in this difference: he explains its effect in three different ways to Jean (as ‘audacious’, as a broken chain, as the other side of a barrier).

      The expected fourteenth-century Italian syntax is Ma misimi. (It is unlikely to be Ma mi misi, as it would be today, because in old Italian ma frequently triggers the postposition of the pronoun). But Levi does not limit himself to describing impressionistically the effect of the marked grammar. Scientifically, he analyses the form of mettersi via comparison with other instances of the same lemma in the passage. Of si metta: ‘I had to come to the Lager to realise that it is the same expression as before’.

      The difference between Ma misimi and Ma misi me is that the unaccented, enclitic pronoun mi has become the accented, separate word me. This completely changes the rhythm of the line: *Ma mísimi per l’álto máre apérto (accents on 2, 6 and 10) becomes Ma misi mé per l’álto máre etc. (with accents on 4, 6 and 10). A number of Commedia manuscripts, in fact, have misimi – another clue to precisely the ‘audacity’ that Levi detects in Dante’s rhythmical and grammatical usage here.

      Dante’s me makes his reflexive pronoun mi into (almost) a transitive object – a distinct, real-existing entity, separate from the grammatical subject: ‘I’ act on a ‘me’, not just ‘myself’.

      What Levi hears, via a kind of solecism, is a prominent, sticking-out me – ‘oggi mi sento da tanto’. This is a sense of self that grows – ‘Per un momento, ho dimenticato chi sono e dove sono’ – into almost an answer to his title’s question.

      RP

    10. Trattengo Pikolo

      This paragraph fascinatingly exemplifies how a text can build on bodily patterns and sensorimotor experience to produce an effect that enriches its semantic meaning. Positioned towards the end of the chapter, it coincides with the emotional peak of Levi’s attempt to explain Dante’s Commedia to Pikolo. The conversation leads Levi’s mind outside of the camp and far from his present condition (‘Per un momento, ho dimenticato chi sono e dove sono’), back to Turin (‘non lasciarmi pensare alle mie montagne, che comparivano nel bruno della sera quando tornavo in treno da Milano a Torino!’) and to a place where it is possible to devote time and mental effort to existential issues other than bare survival. Yet, at the same time, it is Levi’s present condition that makes it all the more important to convey to Pikolo the relevance of Ulysses’ story and Dante’s recounting of it.

      The feeling of this sudden expansion – towards other geographical places, past times, and higher meanings – is rendered through various stylistic devices. While the average length of sentences in the chapter is 16.5 words (Voyant Tools), this sentence counts 74 words; the anomalous length of the sentence dovetails with the unusual breadth of Levi’s thoughts, with how far he concedes himself to go with his mind away from the concerns of his life in the camp. Within this continuous flow of words, the urgency of Levi’s present task is formally conveyed through the accumulation of paratactic sentences linked via asyndeton, which reinforce the idea of a linear proceeding, simply propelled forward without strong control (which would be expressed by a period with a more complex and rigid structure), stretching out towards meanings that seem to escape Levi’s reach (and whose scope progressively increases: specific textual passages; the Middle Ages; human destiny). However, this long, loosely ordered period is delimited by words with a high deictic power: ‘Trattengo’ and ‘oggi qui’. Both the opening verb and the closing pair of adverbs (temporal and spatial) identify a deictic centre that coincides with the narrator (and the reader): in between, the paragraph unfolds in a flow that leads both narrator and reader far from the camp, in an encompassing movement that reaches out in time and space to the point of touching and almost enfolding something ‘gigantesco’, which is the sense of destiny of the entire human race, and then swiftly reverts to the starting point of the here and now (‘oggi qui’).

      The meaning of Levi’s words is reinforced thanks to a conceptual metaphor operating unconsciously which is that of THINKING IS MOVING (writing conceptual metaphors in capital letters is a linguistics convention). THINKING IS MOVING is an elaboration of the very general conceptual metaphor MIND IS BODY, which means that we automatically tend to conceptualise mental activities in terms of bodily activities, because the latter are those of which we have immediate experience. In this paragraph, the encompassing wandering of Levi’s thoughts, its breadth and immense distance from the reality of the camp, is conveyed through strategies that all variably rely on the reader’s bodily experience. Sensorimotor experience operates unconsciously and yet plays a crucial role: it is our non-representational knowledge of what is feels like to move through open spaces, to be held vs. be released, to roam freely with our bodies, that scaffolds and enriches our understanding of what it means to metaphorically roam with one’s mind. Thanks to this metaphor, because the deictic centre at the beginning and at the end of the period is the same and is close to the narrator (reader), this period is endowed with a feeling of circularity, of reaching out and returning to the starting point, which is not explicitly expressed in the text and is rather projected by the reader’s embodied experience.

      MB

    11. Kraut und Rüben

      Examples are everywhere in SQ, but this is arguably the most striking instance of how an elevated style and references taken from literary tradition clash continuously with plurilingualism in Levi’s writing; abstract concepts with harsh materiality; ‘destiny’ with ‘Kraut’. In this case, ‘cavoli e rape’ is repeated in four different languages. The harsh sound of these words in German, Hungarian, French, and Italian clashes with the philosophical reasoning of the vertiginous previous lines. Language underscores the tragic irony of the entire sequence (a tragic irony that was present even in Dante’s original treatment of Ulysses’ story, in his Inferno 26).

      FB

    12. qui

      The focus of ecosemiotics is ‘on the interactions between environmental conditions and semiotics processes and the diversity of life stories, meaning-making strategies, and narratives that spring from these intertwinings’ (Maran 2020, 4). One of the main difficulties in any ecosemiotic approach is that cultural entities are predominantly symbolic and therefore they are relatively independent from their environmental conditions, as symbols are made autonomous from their objects. In other words, because of the complex and highly symbolic quality of our human communications, we constantly run the risk of creating artifacts that are self-sufficient and closed, with little to no relationship with the actual material circumstances they describe and in which they are involved. This is an apparent danger for any form of literary narrative that aims to the status of testimony, as bearing witness (to the complexity of the nonhuman world as much as to what happened in Auschwitz) requires instead referring to a material reality that lies outside the text. To avoid a radical symbolic self-sufficiency, ecosemiotics scholars suggest paying attention to the inclusion of simpler iconic and (especially) indexical sign relations, as they ‘establish both the connection between the text and the communicative situation as well as make it possible to distinguish between the discursive universe and the real world’ (Maran, 33).

      A crucial group of indexical signs is known in linguistics as deictics. Spatial and temporal words, such as here, or this, or now, have fixed semantic meanings, but their information refers to a specific context without which they cannot be properly interpreted. For instance, and broadly speaking, if I say ‘this’ in my speech, my interlocutor and I need to share an extra-linguistic context in which the close object I am pointing to with my deictic does exist. The absence of a shared material context in literary texts makes the use of deixis particularly poignant, as it inevitably incurs in some sort of paradoxical double experience: a similarity because both narrator and readers are surrounded by a material reality in which words like ‘this’ or ‘now’ have a specific meaning, and a disjunction between the context of the former and the context of the latter as they likely diverge (cfr. Uspenskij 2008, 112).

      Beginning with the very title of his first book (‘Se questo è un uomo’ – If This Is a Man), Levi’s use of deictics is remarkable in size and meaning, and plays a crucial role in his testimonial work. For instance, if we consider how he utilises the word ‘qui’ (here) in the context of ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, we notice four occurrences, all of them in pivotal moments of friction between linguistic and extra-linguistic realities. In fact, Levi twice employs ‘qui’ in relation to the passage of the Commedia he is trying to remember (‘Qui mi fermo’; ‘Qui ancora una lacuna’). They represent a sort of pause in the character Levi’s effort to communicate with Pikolo, a mark of discourse interruption and ultimately of failure, as in both instances they denote a gap – a ‘lacuna’, as Levi calls it – in the intradiegetic attempt to teach his friend some Italian language and, most importantly, to share Dante’s poetry with him. Twice instead the deictic refers to the actual external environment of the concentration camp (‘come si dice qui’; ‘del nostro essere oggi qui’). In this case, too, the deictic determines a break of communication, but the relationship that is interrupted is between the intradiegetic narrator and the reader. The deictic ‘qui’ in the literary text refers in fact to a reality that is surely not shared by the readers of SQ, who likely have a completely different context denoted by ‘qui’ (the library, or their room, but almost certainly not Auschwitz). The deictic thus highlights an ambivalence, as every reader has their own experience of ‘qui’ and yet cannot truly refer to the reality to which the ‘qui’ in Levi’s book points, both epistemologically and ethically (as the reality of Auschwitz is almost unknowable to those who did not experience it). To paraphrase Maran, we may say that the ‘qui’ in ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ emphasises both a connection and a distance between the discursive world of the text and the external reality of both the first-hand witness and the readers.

      In a famous passage of SQ, Levi uses a different series of deictics but a similar strategy to address precisely the almost inconceivable distance between different instances of ‘qui’, as he writes that ‘questo vero oggi in cui io sto seduto a un tavolo e scrivo, io stesso non sono convinto che queste cose sono realmente accadute’ (emphasis added to the deictics).

      Yet, the most radical application of such usage of deixis is in Il sistema periodico. The fictional testimony of the atom of carbon included in this volume ends in fact with the sentence ‘un doppio scatto, in su ed in giù, fra due livelli d’energia guida questa mia mano ad imprimere sulla carta questo punto: questo’ (OC I, 1032). In a story that links the entanglement of the human and the nonhuman world to the act of writing, the deictic metalinguistically redoubles and forces readers to pay attention to the material context of our reading. In pointing to its own materiality made of ink or graphite (carbon again!), Levi thus transforms the full stop from a mere convention into a literary strategy in which indexicality becomes a crucial testimonial tool capable of bringing together different realities without necessarily overlapping them. The deictic therefore functions as a sort of multistable sign through which we experience both writing and the external world; our presence and the presence of others; what happened out there and what is instead happening ‘qui’, here.

      DB

    13. – Aujourd’hui c’est Primo qui viendra avec moi chercher la soupe.

      Interlinguistic mutuality. Shuttling between recitation of Dante’s text in the Italian original and its hurried and utilitarian French prose version, the lesson Primo imparts to Jean is deeply interlinguistic. The exchange between Jean and Primo is also mutual, at the very basic level of collaboration that any linguistic exchange requires. In addition, Jean is not a passive learner. He takes part in the process of communication, which unfolds in a living dialogue and requires that dialogue to exist. The first words of Italian that Jean picks up and adopts emerge from the living context of a spoken exchange, by the ‘natural’ and immediate imitation of two native speakers. The syllabification of the initial vocabulary Jean apprehends (“zup-pa, cam-po, ac-qua”) from those exchanged between Primo and another prisoner from Rome, Limentani, is not a marker of alienness but of co-participation. More importantly, the learning process is from the start accompanied by a smile, a pre-linguistic sign of mutual understanding.

      Levi’s insistence on the collaborative work that undergirds the acts of interlinguistic communication taking place in the episode resonates with Walter Benjamin’s notion that translation is the cultural practice which best captures the intrinsic drive of all languages to communicate through their apparent mutual exclusiveness: ‘All suprahistorical kinship between languages consists in this: in every one of them as a whole, one and the same thing is meant […]. Whereas all individual elements of foreign languages - words, sentences, associations - are mutually exclusive, these languages supplement one another in their intentions’ (‘The Translator’s Task’, 156). The experience of shared humanity, which Primo and Jean achieve within the Babel of the Lager, and notwithstanding its violence, relies on the same underlying philosophy of language as Benjamin’s.

      SM

    14. vorrebbe imparare l’italiano

      Interlinguistic necessity. Although containing the record of a ‘lesson’ on Dante’s Inferno 26, the central experience recounted in this chapter is set in motion by linguistic rather than literary elements. Jean desires to learn a new language, Italian, and Primo’s teaching accordingly combines his intermittent recitation of Dante’s text in the original language with a hesitant French commentary on, often a paraphrase of, salient elements in it. At its core, thus, the chapter relates an attempt at interlinguistic mediation. The text’s emphasis on interlinguistic communication is projected against the backdrop of the Lager’s Babel-like dehumanising confusion of languages that Levi explored in other texts (SQ, I sommersi e i salvati). As such, the circumstances of the episode are exceptional.

      Jean is an exceptional, and exceptionally positive, character in the universe of the book. He speaks and thinks in two languages: most importantly, he is native in both (‘Jean parlava correntemente francese e tedesco’). As established on the chance encounter with an SS, Rudi the Blockführer, bilingual utterances are for him the norm: ‘È indifferente, può pensare in entrambe le lingue’. The role he plays in the structure of the concentration camp, facilitated by the distinction of his bilingualism, however, is not what is at stake in the episode per se. While Jean certainly has acquired a linguistic capital of sorts, Levi’s narrative insists on what he decides to share of that privilege. His multilingualism is not associated with exclusionary practices, but with the work of intermediation it brings about and the community of intents it creates. The language learning situation is presented as a space in which the power dynamics of the Lager’s languages are suspended and ultimately refused.

      SM

    15. ho bisogno

      In the 1947 version, Levi writes ‘voglio che’. The change to ‘ho bisogno che’ in the 1958 edition closely recalls, and seems to be in dialogue with, the beginning of SQ (‘Prefazione’), where Levi states that he wrote his book to satisfy an urgent and elementary need - that of telling his story and bearing witness after his liberation from Auschwitz.

      VG

    16. prosa

      Possibly the first time that Levi refers to the fundamental difference between prose and poetry and a certain natural superiority of poetic expression (see ‘Introduction’ to his poetry collection Ad ora incerta).

      VG

    17. Si annunzia ufficialmente che oggi la zuppa è di cavoli e rape: – Choux et navets. – Kaposzta és répak.

      Levi and Jean’s fleeting Dantean reprieve is abruptly halted by the return to the ‘sordid, ragged crowd of the soup queue’. Standing in contrast with Dante’s majestic verses and Ulysses’ voyage of discovery is the cramped enclosure of the queue and the banality of the description of the day’s cabbage-and-turnip soup. But the contrast is also between Levi’s own Italian language and sense of cultural identity and the Babelic experience of the Lager. Linguistic chaos is a key component of Levi’s experience and subsequent description of the camp, and one to which he was unusually attentive. Early on in his testimony (and once again, Dante is an important model here), Levi designates the camp a ‘perpetua Babele’. He evokes the linguistic confusion of the camp by including in his account unfamiliar tongues. We see this here in the soup queue but also, for example, in his recollection of the distribution of bread (‘la distribuzione del pane, del pane-Brot-Broit-chleb-pain-lechem-kenyer’) and in his description of the industrial tower in the camp (‘i suoi mattoni sono stati chiamati Ziegel, briques, tegula, cegli, kamenny, bricks, teglak’). Linguistic chaos contributes acutely to the condition of extreme isolation associated with the Lager.

      Levi’s most sustained meditation on language in Auschwitz comes in the essay ‘Comunicare’, found in the 1986 collection I sommersi e i salvati. Here he reflects not only upon the extreme linguistic isolation of the camp and the psychological damage this often wrought, but also upon the degradation of language he witnessed. Violence and brute force would often replace linguistic exchange as the ‘communicative’ medium between individuals. Levi describes how, for those who did not speak German, words were used not on account of their referential function but as blunt aural instruments that could elicit the desired response from the receiver. The linguistic interaction between guards and prisoners became more reminiscent of that between humans and working animals than that between human beings existing on the same level.

      TK

    18. «perciò»

      The causative connector in inverted commas aims at highlighting the perverted logic regulating life in the Lager. Levi repeatedly noticed this disturbing lack of consequentiality, which prevented the prisoners from deducing from observation what the expected behaviour was, which in turn translated into a constant state of insecurity and danger: ‘ogni congettura è arbitraria ed esattamente priva di ogni fondamento reale’. Pikolo’s privileged condition follows another ‘fierce law’ of the Lager: ‘a chi ha, sarà dato; a chi non ha, a quello sarà tolto’.

      EL

    1. This analysis will result in the form of a new knowledge-based multilingual terminological resource which is designed in order to meet the FAIR principles for Open Science and will serve, in the future, as a prototype for the development of a new software for the simplified rewriting of international legal texts relating to human rights.

      software to rewrite international legal texts relating to human rights, a well written prompt and a few examples, including the FAIR principles will let openAI's chatGPT do it effectively.

    2. The common aim of lawmakers is to achieve effective legislative texts, namely tests that with the synergy of the other actors in the legislative pro‐ cess can produce the desired regulatory results. However, the process for achieving this common goal is not identical. Broadly speaking, civil and common law countries differ in their approaches.

      Plain Language Movement: Common law and civil law differ in their approaches.

  10. May 2023
    1. Qui mi fermo e cerco di tradurre.

      The late Stuart Woolf (1936-2021) must have smiled to himself when he first translated these lines, as a young historian working on his PhD in 1950s Turin. Woolf is the only published English translator of SQ; his fluid and immediate rendering of Levi’s words remains the version known to millions of anglophone readers. While the task of a translator is never easy, it may be that the clarity and simplicity of Levi’s style lends itself to translation and grants his writing a certain universality - almost like a chemical formula.

      ‘The Canto of Ulysses’ can be read as an ode to translation, not just from one language to another, but in a metaphorical sense, in the repositioning of meaning between people and time. This goes back to the idea implied in the etymology of the word ‘translation’, which comes from the Latin translatio, to ‘carry over’, to ‘bring across’. In this chapter, instances of translation form a mise en abyme that ‘carries over’ from Homer to Virgil, Virgil to Dante, Dante to Levi, Levi to Pikolo, Italian to French, Italian to English, and text to reader.

      This more conceptual idea of ‘translation’ has become a way of understanding the testimonial act, central to Holocaust studies (Insana 2009; Felman and Laub 1992). Witnesses ‘translate’ into words their experience and their trauma. This process is often thought of as entailing a loss: an ineffable residue that cannot be communicated through language. However, the exchange that takes place between Levi and Jean in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’ invites us to rethink translation in terms of expansion, with each new version becoming part of the original’s harvest. The non-Italian reader’s lack of familiarity with ‘Who Dante is’, ‘What the Comedy is’, may at first seem a disadvantage. And yet, this has the enriching effect of aligning us with Jean: the reader/Pikolo attempts to overcome a linguistic and cultural barrier, to be in communion with the narrator/Levi. Conversely, Italian readers are likely to identify more closely with Levi, as they try, with him, to remember lines learned in their schooldays.

      The new interpretative perspectives created by the translated text respond to the original and form a polyphony. This polyphonic effect works on two different levels: first, just as a piece of music sounds different when sung by a different voice, a translation performs a text in another language, with another instrument. Second, by co-existing in the literary universe of the original text, the many translations of this chapter embody the multiple voices that have resonated from Levi’s writing. As Levi and Jean walk, we see the process of translation unfold. As they come to understand each other, communication through words falters, and another kind of translation begins to happen:

      O forse è qualcosa di piú: forse, nonostante la traduzione scialba e il commento pedestre e frettoloso, ha ricevuto il messaggio, ha sentito che lo riguarda, che riguarda tutti gli uomini in travaglio

      The ‘something more’ is in the polyphony of their exchange, where the ensemble is greater than any individual line. It takes on a special significance in Woolf’s translation - or in any translation of these lines, for it becomes another performance, or layer, of the initial translational act. The message of the original seems to swell, rather than subside. And, just as a melody transcends individual notes, the concern for individual words is eventually superseded by the harmony between Levi and Jean. Describing Dante’s approach to divine grace in Paradiso, George Steiner writes:

      But as the poet draws near the Divine presence, the heart of the rose of fire, the labour of translation into speech grows ever more exacting. Words grow less and less adequate to the task of translating immediate revelation (Steiner 1967).

      Levi draws us to a similar source, one that sounds ‘like the blast of a trumpet, like the voice of God’. This ‘something more’ that is not bound to language has the universality of music. It reaches towards an inexpressible goodness or enlightenment. This is in direct contrast to the negative ‘ineffability’ that is so often used to describe elements of testimony in Levi and others, in the challenge the Holocaust posed to language, in the impossibility of its translation. Here, language does not drift towards a void of suffering, but towards a chorus of joyful expression, a blast of trumpets. Unlike elsewhere in SQ, the ambiguity present in the meeting of languages is not represented as a chaotic and hellish Tower of Babel, but as a fecund, creative space. Translation is momentarily reclaimed, and acts as an implicit resistance to the obsessive uniformity of Nazi ideology. But their ‘canto’ is interrupted by the cacophony of Auschwitz, and this revelatory chink is closed with a tragic, symphonic surge:

      Infin che ’l mar fu sopra noi rinchiuso.

      RMur

  11. Apr 2023
    1. I've been experimenting with the idea of combining ChatGPT, DALL-E, the ReadSpeaker TTS engine and the LARA toolkit to create multimedia stories that can be used as reading material for people who want to improve their foreign language skills.

      https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5438280716

      Manny's description of writing introductory language books using ChatGPT.

    1. The Annotated S4 Efficiently Modeling Long Sequences with Structured State Spaces Albert Gu, Karan Goel, and Christopher Ré.

      A new approach to transformers

    1. Efficiently Modeling Long Sequences with Structured State SpacesAlbert Gu, Karan Goel, and Christopher R ́eDepartment of Computer Science, Stanford University

    1. Bowman, Samuel R.. "Eight Things to Know about Large Language Models." arXiv, (2023). https://doi.org/https://arxiv.org/abs/2304.00612v1.

      Abstract

      The widespread public deployment of large language models (LLMs) in recent months has prompted a wave of new attention and engagement from advocates, policymakers, and scholars from many fields. This attention is a timely response to the many urgent questions that this technology raises, but it can sometimes miss important considerations. This paper surveys the evidence for eight potentially surprising such points: 1. LLMs predictably get more capable with increasing investment, even without targeted innovation. 2. Many important LLM behaviors emerge unpredictably as a byproduct of increasing investment. 3. LLMs often appear to learn and use representations of the outside world. 4. There are no reliable techniques for steering the behavior of LLMs. 5. Experts are not yet able to interpret the inner workings of LLMs. 6. Human performance on a task isn't an upper bound on LLM performance. 7. LLMs need not express the values of their creators nor the values encoded in web text. 8. Brief interactions with LLMs are often misleading.

      Found via: Taiwan's Gold Card draws startup founders, tech workers | Semafor

    1. It was only by building an additional AI-powered safety mechanism that OpenAI would be able to rein in that harm, producing a chatbot suitable for everyday use.

      This isn't true. The Stochastic Parrots paper outlines other avenues for reining in the harms of language models like GPT's.

  12. Mar 2023
    1. Ganguli, Deep, Askell, Amanda, Schiefer, Nicholas, Liao, Thomas I., Lukošiūtė, Kamilė, Chen, Anna, Goldie, Anna et al. "The Capacity for Moral Self-Correction in Large Language Models." arXiv, (2023). https://doi.org/https://arxiv.org/abs/2302.07459v2.

      Abstract

      We test the hypothesis that language models trained with reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) have the capability to "morally self-correct" -- to avoid producing harmful outputs -- if instructed to do so. We find strong evidence in support of this hypothesis across three different experiments, each of which reveal different facets of moral self-correction. We find that the capability for moral self-correction emerges at 22B model parameters, and typically improves with increasing model size and RLHF training. We believe that at this level of scale, language models obtain two capabilities that they can use for moral self-correction: (1) they can follow instructions and (2) they can learn complex normative concepts of harm like stereotyping, bias, and discrimination. As such, they can follow instructions to avoid certain kinds of morally harmful outputs. We believe our results are cause for cautious optimism regarding the ability to train language models to abide by ethical principles.