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Zeno’s Conscience – Italo Svevo

 

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Posted October 13, 2016 by

Zeno’s Conscience – Italo Svevo – 1923

Posted by Rizwan on 5/8/2003, 17:46:27

Thank heavens for James Joyce. As if his gifts of Stephen Deadalus, Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom were not enough, Joyce also helped give to literature a character that rivals, and perhaps even surpasses, those other characters: Zeno Cosini.

Of course, Zeno Cosini is Italo Svevo’s creation ultimately, no matter Joyce’s influence. And what a creation he is! Is there anyone in literature to compare to our hero? Possibly, but the list is short, and the company Zeno keeps, in my opinion, consists of names like Quixote, Falstaff, Shandy, Chichikov, Bloom, Humbert and Biswas.

As I am not very knowledgeable in the ways and means of psychoanalysis, I am approaching this discussion from a somewhat different point of view than Paul so expertly did below. To begin, here are a few very general questions to ponder. No need to stick solely to them, as they are merely preliminary suggestions to get things started:

1. Is Zeno Cosini truly as hapless as he sometimes seems?

2. Is Zeno Cosini crazy, a genius–or both? Or neither?

3. Will Zeno Cosini ever stop reaching for that last cigarette? What is the significance of this?

4. Does Zeno Cosini really delude himself as often as it appears, or does he understand himself like no other, and instead turned the joke on us?

5. Is Zeno Cosini unique, or representative of people in general?

6. Zeno Cosini married Augusta while being in love with Ada. How does this dynamic change through the course of the novel, and what does it reveal about Zeno?

7. Why are cats so nationalistic?

~~

Posted by Paul on 5/8/2003, 18:12:47

: Of course, Zeno Cosini is Italo Svevo’s creation

: ultimately, no matter Joyce’s influence.

Hmm I will have to beg to differ with my esteemed colleage. Well somewhat. At least one Joycean scholar (Richard Ellman) speculates that Joyce learned about psychoanalysis from Svevo. Although it seems, that Joyce’s living in Trieste would have given him many opportunities to encounter it. I balk at the characterization of Joyce being responsible for Zeno:) Other areas in which Svevo influenced Joyce: given Svevo’s Jewish upbringing, Joyce used him as fodder to develop Ulyssey’s Leopold Bloom. Also, Finnegan’s Wake character Anna Livia Plurabelle had her named borrowed Schmitz’s wife:)

 ~~

Posted by Paul on 5/8/2003, 18:22:05

I cant wait any longer…so I will offer a couple of things….

La Coscienza di Zeno has been hailed as the “first psychoanalytic novel”. The psuedonym Italo Svevo (meaning “Italus the Swabian”) used by the author Ettore Schmitz is intergral to the story. Trieste, during Svevo’s time had a interesting cultural dynamic. Politically, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian emprie. Culturally and linguistically, it was Italian, and Svevo himself was a Jew of Transylvanian descent (on his father’s side). The diversity of his city Trieste, is reflected in both his pseudonym and his given name, which is characteristically both Jewish and Italian. At the end of the war, psychoanalysis was the Triestine soup de jour. Amateur diagnoses could be heard amoung the street conversations. This atmosphere is clearly one impetus for Svevo’s novel. Another however, closer to home, was his brother-in-law Bruno’s long but ultimately unsuccessful psychoanalytic treatment (Bruno was treated by both Viktor Tausk and Sigmund Freud, among others).

But how does Svevo accomplish his attempt at constructing a ‘psychoanalytic’ novel? In two ways. Psychoanalysis is first the underlying structural framework that keeps the novel progressing forward. That is, the events that unfold in the novel have been written down by Zeno in an attempt to help with his psychoanalysis. At the same time, the novel concerns itself with the practices and interpretations of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is not only the foundation of the novel, but also its subject matter. These two roles sometimes clash and in the end this clashing is responsible for the existence of the novel in the first place. That is, if Zeno had not instigated the situation with Dr. S, Zeno’s diaries would not have been published by Dr. S out of spite.

While there are numerous situations we can discuss here, I will limit myself to a few that, to me, portray Svevo’s view of psychoanalysis. To me Zeno viewed an individual’s ‘quirks’, ‘neuroses” as the glue that held the individual together. That they were integral not impinging upon the person. On the other hand, psychoanalysis is “a science which helps to study ourselves” as Schmitz himself wrote. The role of psychoanalysis then was not ‘cure’ but self-awareness. One was to study the quirks and neuroses perhaps but not attempt to artifically change them. But even self awareness was a double edged sword. My favorite example here is the scene in which Zeno thinks about the numerous muscles that make up his walk. Upon consciously attending to this, he no longer can keep this muscular complexity functioning correctly and develops a limp.

I’ll end with this for now, as I dont have my copy with me – but I will write more later.

~~

Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 5/8/2003, 18:43:50

Well, I have to confess I may have a handicap (or maybe not), especially when compared to some of our members: I have practically no knowledge whatsoever about psychoanalyisis. I do remember some terms from a course I took in high school (back before the end of the Cold War): Ego, Superego, Subconscious, etc. Being a naturally skeptical person, those terms sounded to me much more like literature than science. In fact, I have read somewere that today Freud is basically read as a writer, not a scientist.

So I read this book as a costumbrist novel. The story of the everyday life of an upper-middle class Triestean family over the course of several decades. Of course everything is seen and told from the perspective of just one individual writing down his memories. As we all are contradictory, who among us would guarantee that our memories would not contain any contradictions?

I kept forgetting all the time that these were memories supposed to help in psychoanalyisis, precisely becasue it seemed to be a XIXth century costumbrist novel. At some point, it reminded me a lot about “The Posthumous Memoirs of Braz Cubas”, the excellent novel by Machado de Assis. The cynical, and already dead narrator Cubas also incurs in contradictions and second thoughts when relating for us his life. Zeno is also very human (and this is the first point I want to make about why I liked the novel). Zeno is entirely a believable character and that makes the book work even if it is strange it does: none of the characters is particularly likeable (not even Zeno himself, except at some points mainly located at the end), nothing really interesting happens and there is really no plot. It is all centered around Zeno’s mind (is that why it is considered psychoanalythical?).

Now onto Rizwan’s questions:

1. Zeno is clearly neurotic (most of us have some form of neurosis, or so they say), but not that hapless. He’s simlpy very hypochondriac and his neurosis may easily come from the simple fact that he NEVER REALLY WORKS. If I did nothing all day, I would be all the time gazing my navel and that produces neurosis.

2. Zeno’s not crazy. He does the right thing at moments of crisis. He’s not a genius, he’s just an idle, spoiled junior.

3. Zeno will never reach the final cigarrette. Never ever in his life has he been forced to exercise a strong will, and so his is atrophied.

4. Zeno jokes a lot on us.

5. Zeno is representative of any people in his circumstance.

6. In Spanish there is an old saying: “Pretty girls usually envy the ugly girls’ luck”. Augusta was after all lucky to marry Zeno. In spite of his philandering, he remained a good husband (or so he says). But of all the characters, Zeno was clearly the winner in this respect. Augusta is probably the most likeable character. She’s a great woman with a great sense of humor. I wonder what her reaction would have been had she found out about Zeno’s permanent infidelity.

7. Cats are nationalistic because they’re very territorial animals.

~~

Posted by Rizwan on 5/8/2003, 19:06:48

Guillermo, I must say, I read the book the same way you did. I too constantly forgot the fact that Zeno’s memoirs would never have seen the light of day had Doctor S. not sought revenge. I suppose the question to ask, then, is: Is this fact essential to the novel? Would Svevo’s book have been just as successful had Doctor S.’s prefatory note not opened the book?

As for your comparison between Zeno and Bras Cubas: I mentioned earlier other characters who inhabit the same world as Zeno, but now that you’ve brought this up, I agree that none provides a more apt comparison with Zeno than Cubas.

 ~~

Posted by Paul on 6/8/2003, 17:09:33

: Being a naturally skeptical person, those terms sounded to me

: much more like literature than science. In fact, I have

: read somewere that today Freud is basically read as a

: writer, not a scientist.

Well Freud was a scientist, but his psychoanalysis is not a science. Im not sure of the value, if any, of psychoanalysis, while not a clinical psychologist, my bias is cognitive-behavioral, given my education. Nevertheless you cannot discount Freud’s conceptualization of the subconscious- which is taken for granted in todays soceity, but was a repulsive thought to most ‘society’ in his own time. This article is relevant to your point however, and it draws the interesting parallel between the Bible and Freud in terms of trying “to find secular value in a once sacred text.”

http://slate.msn.com/id/2086413/

 

Posted by len. on 6/8/2003, 20:24:37

Paul writes:

>Well Freud was a scientist, but his psychoanalysis is not a science. Im not sure of the value, if any, of psychoanalysis, while not a clinical psychologist, my bias is cognitive-behavioral, given my education.

My conclusion is that he got one thing right, and all the rest is invention. Talking about things does in fact enable behavioral change, because of the way it allows different brain systems to interact (in ways that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise), but all the id ego superego stuff is at best an approximate model of a rather more complex reality.

len.

 ~~

Posted by Rizwan on 5/8/2003, 18:30:34

Oh, absolutely Paul. I don’t doubt that the influence was mutual between Svevo and Joyce (though if you read the memoirs of Svevo’s wife, it is clear that Svevo revered the younger Joyce).

I should explain what I meant by Joyce’s influence. Discouraged with the lack of success of his early books, Svevo at one point had given up on writing entirely. Had he continued in this manner, the world would have been forever deprived of Zeno Cosini. It was Joyce’s enthusiasm for Svevo’s work after Joyce read “Una Vita” and “Senilita” that apparently encouraged Svevo to later take on the writing of “Zeno’s Conscience.” Joyce’s influence extends no farther than this, as far as I know, but it is pivotal nonetheless.

~~

Posted by Paul on 6/8/2003, 14:36:03

and you of course are right- sorry for the misinterpretation

 ~~

Posted by Paul on 6/8/2003, 15:03:13

I forgot to mention that the quotes (and in retrospect, a few of the ideas, much to my chagrin) found in the “background” quote come from Aaron Esman’s article titled “Italo Svevo and the First Psychoanalytic Novel” published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (2001) pp. 1225-1233

Now on to the questions.

1. Zeno is hapless because he is engaged in ‘psychoanalysis’- his temperment, much like Marcel in Proust’s work is by disposition sensitive, insightful and yes neurotic. It is interesting to note how both Svevo and Proust take an interesting approach to “time”, and I wonder how strongly/solely it has to do with the fact that both novels are individual histories of consciousness.

2. Neither. Zeno is a prime example of a mind turned inward. But the more I think about it, I can see how he is both crazy and genius- that is, his ability to truly unravel a behavior, trace it backwards through associations, thoughts, actions (and when none provide themselves, cheerfully make them up), can be thought of as both genius or craziness- all depending on how functional the individual is in other ways.

3. Svevo himself was a horrific smoker but in Zeno I think the struggle with smoking should be seen as symbolic. He will never reach his last cigarette because smoking is a part of him, and as I said in the background, you do not seek to ‘cure’ yourself of these things (Of course at the time, the health implications of smoking were not of importance, and was never his reason to quit). But doesnt he mention something in the end of being able to smoke in moderation? Or am I making this up? This moderation, in effect accomplishes his goal, he is master over it.

4. I think Zeno realizes that you can not really know yourself- (this is all said in the context of psychoanalysis)- you cannot know the unconscious (nor can the doctor) because at every turn the conscious is acting out to sabotage this- either intentionally, or altrusitically as when to help Dr. S along in his analysis, Zeno makes up memories that he thinks would confirm Dr. S hypotheses. So in this way he ‘turns the joke on us’. But only _IF_ we forget the title of the novel, it is ‘The (Conscience) Consciousness of Zeno’ – NOT the ‘Absolute Honest Truth of Zeno’. Why is this important? Well if we keep this in mind, we see the joke (and disaster) implicit in Zeno’s adventure, and appreciate it nonetheless, not as history but as consciousness.

5. Zeno is representative of people, but perhaps unique in the breadth of his ability. Zeno ability to take psychoanalytic introspection to the extreme results in the vivid picture we get through his diary. It underlines the point: continuous thinking, introspection, “analysis” will lead to neurosis. It is not the way to health but sickness (I forget now, but Zeno’s description of his wife’s ‘happiness’ illustrates this as well). So in this way he is unique, but he is representative in that for everyone it would lead to sickness not health.

6. In its essence, the dynamic never changes but it is somewhat transferred onto Guido. The fact that Zeno ‘goes to the wrong funeral’ underlines that Guido was always his rival, due to his love for Ada (this is classic Freudian behavior). He appreciates Augusta for her strength in health and her loyalty. His ability to be looked upon by her family as the ‘man’ of the house was also important and, I think, leads to his acceptance of the situation. While his voiced views about Ada definitely change, remember we are dealing with a consciousness, and I am not convinced he would not have ran away with her if only she asked.

7. Because they dont speak the language and can’t read the newspaper.

 

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 8/8/2003, 19:57:14

I am going to liven this discussion up a little, so I’ll start with being deliberately provocative: I thought Zeno was a bore. He has no problems, only what we Dutch call luxury problems. They are all trivial. The man’s very comfortably off, does not have to work, has a good loving wife and family, a beautiful house and is in good health. So he starts to make things difficult for himself by taking a mistress, inventing illnesses and dabbling in business with an inept partner. He is silly.

Like some of you I also made the comparison with Mr Biswas. He, too, is silly and insufferable at times, BUT he genuinely has to struggle to make something of his life. He has genuine bad luck and he is a genuine tragicomic character, unlike Zeno who never runs any real risks in his life and is a settled member of the stuffy established middleclass (like me of course, I am a lot more boring even than Zeno – I’ll admit to that).

The world that Mr Biswas inhabits is so much more full of life, so much more filled with humanity in all its bad and good facets. It is also much funnier: there is simply no comparison between Mr Biswas’s in-laws and Zeno’s or between Mr Biswas’s Trinidad and Zeno’s Trieste.

Only at the end of the novel, when the war started, did I get suddenly really interested in Zeno and his fate. Unfortunately there the book ended.

Now I won’t say that I hated the book. Not at all. It was entertaining enough, only I simply wasn’t able to care about Zeno as I did about Mr Biswas and therefore I couldn’t get engrossed in the book. Three hearts for me therefore.

And now for the 64.000 dollar question:

: 7. Why are cats so nationalistic?

Answer: they are not; they are true cosmopolitans, loving us all indiscriminately. Dear Rizwan, what gave you the idea they are nationalistic?

 ~~

Posted by Paul on 8/8/2003, 20:49:32

I agree with Anna- Zeno’s problems are luxury problems. But I accept these bourgeoisie ‘problems’ (could psychoanalysis at the beginning of the 20th century have been examined in any other circle?) I guess what interested me was how perceptive (or seemingly so) Zeno was into his own psyche. I like ‘minds turned in on themselves’ novels – so I must admit I am biased here.

I like Anna’s point that Zeno invents problems. And they _are_ trivial. Trivial until/if Zeno points his magnifying glass towards them (similar to Proust where 50 pages can be dedicated to his exposition of whether the lack of a warm salutation in one of Alberte’s letters alludes to her assignations with women – at some point you just want to say ‘hey Marcel, put the notebook down, go outside and drink some wine’). But I think that this is at least part of the point being made- even trivial, nonsensical problems can be dangerous – can turn into neuroses- if granted sufficient exposition.

Zeno cant be a tragic figure- like Anna said, his humanity hasnt been portrayed enough to be tragic- but Zeno is pathetic- caused not by his trivial problems themselves, but with Zeno’s illumination of them, focus on them and attempt to ‘cure’ them….

In the tradition of other ‘consciousness’ novels- Id give it 4 stars for those who enjoy this type of literary exposition, and 3 stars in general.

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 9/8/2003, 6:11:51

–Paul writes–

: […] I think that this is at least part of the point

: being made- even trivial, nonsensical problems can be

: dangerous – can turn into neuroses- if granted

: sufficient exposition.

Good point. To me this speaks against exposing yourself to the ruthless scrutiny of a shrink and/or your own mind, unless you are seriously malfunctioning.

 

Posted by Howard on 8/8/2003, 23:18:14

Zeno’s Conscience was a good story but could have been better. I read the William Weaver translation by Penguin which was superb and the Doctor’s note and the map of Trieste at the beginning seemed to promise an interesting read.

The earlier chapters, Smoke and My Father’s Death, were my favourites. If we were discussing this book chapter by chapter I would give both five hearts. I enjoyed the humour in this book too, the funniest part being Guido’s seance.

However, Zeno’s endless pursuit of Carla in Wife and Mistress did begin to get a bit tiresome for me and Guido’s death and Ada’s convenient departure to Argentina just seemed a bit too contrived.

I would give Zeno’s Conscience three and a half hearts.

 ~~

Posted by Rizwan on 9/8/2003, 0:41:46

: And now for the 64.000 dollar question: : 7. Why are

: cats so nationalistic?

: Answer: they are not; they are true cosmopolitans,

: loving us all indiscriminately. Dear Rizwan, what gave

: you the idea they are nationalistic?

It seems this question is a mystery to all. But I swear I didn’t dream it up out of the blue. The question was a tongue-in-cheek reference to p.76-78 (in my edition), where Zeno goes to the English language bookstore and gets scratched by the “English cat” because Zeno is Italian. As Zeno puts it: “From that moment on, England was intolerable.” Ada later asks “And you felt the cat represented the entire English nation?,” to which Zeno calmly replies “Certainly no Italian cat would be capable of such a thing…(attacking him) because I was Italian.”

I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment, but I would like to mention something else that struck me based on the comments I’ve read so far. It seems to me that Zeno is almost like an early 20th century George Castanza, and those who like Seinfeld are likely to enjoy “Zeno’s Conscience.” Am I way off base here? As Paul mentioned, Zeno’s problems are totally trivial, just like George’s. Just a thought.

In any case, I love Seinfeld, and I loved “Zeno’s Conscience,” though I agree with Anna that it is just a tad less good than “A House for Mr. Biswas.”

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 9/8/2003, 6:19:29

–Rizwan wrote–

: The question was

: a tongue-in-cheek reference to p.76-78 (in my edition),

: where Zeno goes to the English language bookstore and

: gets scratched by the “English cat” because

: Zeno is Italian. As Zeno puts it: “From that

: moment on, England was intolerable.” Ada later

: asks “And you felt the cat represented the entire

: English nation?,” to which Zeno calmly replies

: “Certainly no Italian cat would be capable of such

: a thing…(attacking him) because I was Italian.”

I must confess I completely missed or forgot or repressed this passage. I think it says more about Zeno than about cats!

: It seems to me that

: Zeno is almost like an early 20th century George

: Castanza, and those who like Seinfeld are likely to

: enjoy “Zeno’s Conscience.” Am I way off base

: here?

Well, I became bored with Seinfeld and his friends, too, after watching them for a couple of months……. And that’s not because I don’t like American humour, because I used to laugh aloud at Cheers, for instance.

 ~~

Posted by len. on 11/8/2003, 15:32:00

Anna writes:

>He has no problems, only what we Dutch call luxury problems. They are all trivial. The man’s very comfortably off, does not have to work, has a good loving wife and family, a beautiful house and is in good health. So he starts to make things difficult for himself by taking a mistress, inventing illnesses and dabbling in business with an inept partner. He is silly.

Uhm, haven’t we read this book several times now? One time it was titled “The Sheltering Sky”, another time it was titled “The Beggar”?

len.

 

Posted by Liliana Rodriguez on 8/8/2003, 23:03:32

Hmmm… I got mixed “feelings” after having read this book. I really liked the way it is written, and I think that Svevo did a great job in bringing us in and out of Zeno’s conscience. I guess what I did not like that much was the way Zeno was, although I must say that he seemed honest to me, since he was open about all his flaws and unaccomplished goals.

I guess the scary thing for me was to identify myself with Zeno in some situations that he put himself through, but I would have never dared writing these down! For example: a thousand times I have experienced doubts about how to proceed with a specific situation. A thousand and one times I have already known what I want to do, but I just need to justify myself. I want to fool myself, and I guess that is what Zeno does. I hate him for this. However, please don’t think that I am as mediocre as Zeno is. I guess this is what I disliked about his personality: his lack of courage to do what he wanted. He had a very very weak character, letting every desire rule over his person.

I’ll go straight to the questions:

: 1. Is Zeno Cosini truly as hapless as he sometimes seems?

I had to look this word up in the dictionary. Since “hapless” seems to be a synonim of unlucky, I don’t really believe this applies to Zeno. He is a very lucky guy! In a lot -if not most- of his stories he seems to be acting with a personal purpose (own profit in some form), yet he ends up looking like the hero!!

: 2. Is Zeno Cosini crazy, a genius–or both? Or neither?

I think Zeno is just a quite man who exploits its weaknesses very well. I definitely don’t think he is crazy, and he is not a genius. Even his intelligence can be catalogued as “mediocre”!

: 3. Will Zeno Cosini ever stop reaching for that last cigarette? What is the significance of this?

Not a chance. I don’t even think this is significant. It would be considered significant if Zeno was making a true effort to quit smoking. He says he wants to quit, yet he knows he is not going to.

: 4. Does Zeno Cosini really delude himself as often as it appears, or does he understand himself like no other, and instead turned the joke on us?

I don’t think Zeno deceives himself, since he knows, right before he starts, that he will not accomplish what he wants to do. But he does a lot of “wishful thinking”, which I guess is very common in people (especially politicians and other public figures). Zeno lives a very comfortable life and does not have too many challenges to live up to. Why would he put any effort in doing anything? he has it all, as many of you mentioned before, and his personality is quite dull, therefore I would not expect somebody with these characteristics to be extremely useful in this world.

: 5. Is Zeno Cosini unique, or representative of people in general?

It depends on what you are referring to: he is unique in that he is honest and writes all his defeated attempts to be good, stop smoking, etc. Most people do not like seeing this writen. There should be no evidence. We need to fool our conscience. But I would think he is more representative of people in general than we may think. Most people usually have an ulterior motive to doing things, which is the main characteristic of Zeno. Of course, he goes to the extreme, but hey, he is a literature character! he is allowed to!

: 6. Zeno Cosini married Augusta while being in love with Ada. How does this dynamic change through the course of the novel, and what does it reveal about Zeno?

Zeno was in love with the idea of being in love and be loved by Ada, but he does not even know her. He is not in love with her, and I guess that is why he was able to live a good (despite the infidelities) life with his wife and kids (although he was kind of an Herodes at some point, remember?). Then, being as superficial as Zeno was, it turned out really nicely to be the centre of attention, seen as the good husband in the family. I would have liked to know how the novel would have twisted if Zeno had married Ada, who was really ill – would this have defeated its hypochondriac nature? or would it have aggravated?

By the way, just like Anna, I found it really funny when Zeno started thinking about natural functions of the body (i.e. walking) and then started crumbling down because obviously he would be too focused in trying to coordinate them. When I was a little girl I used to think about the process of swallowing our food and drinks, and I swear that the same happened to me a couple of times: I was not able to do it!! (Try it some time – it is disruptive to focus in natural things: we should just let them happen! jajaja!).

: 7. Why are cats so nationalistic?

To be nationalistic you must be loyal to some principles, ideas or efforts, and I don’t think cats are loyal at all (except food). So I don’t see the point of the question.

 ~~

Posted by len. on 11/8/2003, 15:46:19

Liliana writes:

>>7. Why are cats so nationalistic?

>To be nationalistic you must be loyal to some principles, ideas or efforts, and I don’t think cats are loyal at all (except food). So I don’t see the point of the question.

Those of us who live with cats would probably argue that cats are at least as loyal to their people as dogs are, albeit in different (specifically more subtly complex) ways.

len.

 

Posted by Liliana Rodriguez on 11/8/2003, 17:44:10

I love cats, don’t take me wrong (they give me allergies, but after a few weeks I get used to it). My roommate actually had a cat – Rasta – and she was very nice, but she was not that loyal. Or perhaps she was, just not that “affectionate” as dogs are. I don’t know. I don’t know many cats, so I am just making a judgement based on my experience with Rasta.

Anyway, this cat-talk just brought back some memories of a great book I read a couple of years ago: The master and Margarita. Have you read it? One of the main characters is a cat who likes vodka and who walks and talks like any other human being. Interested? here are some reviews: http://www.world-literature.com/The_Master_and_Margarita_0679760806.html

 ~~

Posted by moana on 11/8/2003, 22:01:40

Hey there people! Sorry I’m a little late joining the discussion, I’ve been internet-less for a while and I’m just now ending my summer…

As for Zeno, well…

Ah, he’s just a bum who could probably quit smoking if he really wanted to, but since he likes his last cigarettes so much, will continue to “quit” until the end. I think one of the main problems he has is that he likes his vices too much but tries too much to act virtuous.

I would feel bad for Augusta, she’s a nice character and really one of the funniest parts of the book, but why on earth did she agree to marry this guy? How can she love him? It’s nuts…

And all the time he thinks that his adultery is going unnoticed, I’m sure that Augusta knows far, far more than is ever told by him. Bah to the narrator!

I liked the style of writing, it’s very funny and some parts I just laughed out loud, but there wasn’t a single character I really LIKED or sympathized with. It’s a problem I’ve been noticing with all these luxury-problem-ridden protagonists. I miss having heroes in my novels.

Ah. So it goes. Three stars and a half.

~moana

PS. My cats are quite patriotic Americans, they are fat and lazy and sit around eating all the time 😉

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 12/8/2003, 10:04:33

A few things I really liked:

1. the tremendous detail in exposition of Zeno. He is truly fully fleshed out, real in every sense, a guy trying his best to live his life, as we all do.

2. the lunacy of his musings, excuses, reasonings.

3. the humor. The whole chapter on smoking was a hoot. His thoughts on how to handle screaming children is indelibly memorable:

“It would have been simple, a domestic tramway, a high chair equipped with wheels and tracks on which my child would spend her day: an electric switch, at one touch, would send chair and screaming baby off, at top speed, toward the most remote point int he house, whence its voice, muted by the distance, would actually seem pleasant.”

 ~~

Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 12/8/2003, 17:28:57

Epiphany: Zeno is a big cynical rascal, making fun of everything, including his father, his wife, his mistress, his political family and above all his therapist and US!

 

Posted by Lale on 21/8/2003, 5:12:12

I loved this book. I thought Zeno was pathetic, just like the rest of us. I was only happy to observe (might just be my optimistic perception, of course) that Zeno was more pathetic than I.

Every page had one or two paragraphs that just cracked me up. For instance when he met his friend at a pub: “Tullio had resumed talking about his illness, WHICH WAS ALSO HIS CHIEF HOBBY. He had studied the anatomy of the leg and the foot. laughing, he told me that when one walks at a rapid pace … no fewer than 54 muscles are engaged. I reacted with a start, and my thoughts immediately rushed to my legs, to seek this monstrous machinery. I believe i found it. … I limped, leaving that café; and I went on limping for several days.”

This does happen to some people and it is the first time I saw this explained so realistically in fiction. Up until I was in my late 20s, I always acquired, temporarily (thank goodness), the disease that is portrayed in a movie, book or conversation.

I found Zeno’s narration absolutely delightful. He tells us why, oh why, he has said or done something in a certain way, and I am sure we all consider a billion possibilities within fractions of seconds before saying something or acting in such a way, although we are, like Zeno, doomed, more or less, because a fraction of a second is not really enough time to change the sequence of the words that are already lined up to come out.

I found Zeno very human, much more human than many of the other charactyers we read about in books. To me Zeno was real, or “normal” so to speak. Everything in his life, the failure to quit smoking for over an hour, holding out only five (5) days not visiting the Malfenti family or the desperation in trying to keep the mistress, are of course signs of extreme weaknesses or simply exaggerations for the sake of humour. Something is not funny when it is exactly like *we* do it. It is only funny when it is exeggerated. There are millions of people who cannot quit smoking and there is nothing funny about that. Only Zeno’s attempts and failures are funny because they are so over the board. On the one hand he is a sick man, a mere caricature of a real person, and on the other hand, he is just a lover for whom 5 days of not visiting his loved one is like 5 years.

I loved the scene at the smoking clinic in which he is locked up with a guard-nurse.

And his descriptions of Olivi, the “scoundrel”, “who had been imposed on me to keep me from squandering my father’s legacy, tried to diminish my mother’s, which I controlled freely on my own!”

Best book I read this year. Five hearts.

Lale

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Posted by Paul L on 21/8/2003, 17:06:21

I’m glad someone else liked it:) Yes the depiction of Zeno ‘acquiring’ the limp was one of my favorite scenes in the book-and i think it is indicative of Svevo’s take on a mind turning in on itself- do it to enough of a degree and you will cripple yourself. Zeno spends a long time trying to undo the crippling effect of his “self-psychoanalysis”.

He is a character and you have to love him, the Triestean Woody Allen.

 ~~

Posted by Rizwan on 21/8/2003, 21:59:03

: Up until I was in my late 20s, I always acquired,

: temporarily (thank goodness), the disease that is

: portrayed in a movie, book or conversation.

Lale, you would have made an interesting medical student–especially in Pathology class…

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 21/8/2003, 23:57:43

: Lale, you would have made an interesting medical

: student–especially in Pathology class…

Yes, but not as good as my friend Zeno.

But seriously, that’s why I never considered studying medicine. I was sick every time we visited a sick relative. If I watched a war movie with someone’s legs blown off, I would not be able to get up and walk for a while. I fainted while watching Tom Cruise, in Vanilla Sky, explain his headaches after he had that bad accident.

However, the Vanilla Sky incident notwithstanding, this affliction of mine seems to be over now, there are less and less occurences of it as I age.

Lale

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