Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Review: Zeno's Conscience

This was a remarkable book.

Written in 1923, the narrator/ confessor has been asked by his Doctor to write down the story of his life in order to "cure" him. It's basically a psychoanalytical autobiographical fiction. Its self-reflective post-script decodes the mental mechinations of the book's protagnist by describing his Dr's interpretation of the book, casting doubt on the veracity of his accounts, reminding the reader of the subjectivity and perhaps intentionally dishonesty/ cognitive dissonance of the descriptions.

This may be a bit too heavy handed, by Svevo ends his novel with a few journal entries driven by "contemporary" (1920's) psychoanalysis. He writes over the backdrop of the opening shots of the first world war. He is a hypochondriac who modern science insists has no physical disease, he is a German Austrian living in Trieste which has been absorbed by the unification of Italy, he is both the last man of the 19th century and the first man of the 20th. Presciently, the last page presages atomic holocaust, suggesting that a rebirth through fire is necessary to the success of man.

This quote sums up Zeno's philosophy, "Natural law does not entitle us to happines, but rather it prescribes wretchedness and sorrow. When something edible is elft behind, from all directions parasites, they are quickly generated. Soon the prey is barely sufficiant, and immediately afterwards it no longer suffices at all. For nature doesn't do sums, it experiments. When food no longer suffices, then consumers must diminish through death preceeded by pain; thus equilibrium, for a moment, is reestablished. Why complain? And yet everyone does complain. Those who have had none of the prey die, cying out against injustice, and those who had a share feel that they deserved more. Why don't they die, and line, in silence...The only admissible cry is that of the triumphant, the victor". (368-369).

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