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Day 20

Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo

p. 394—p. 418 (“…I must throw away these playthings.”)

October 2, 2022 by Claire Messud

When Ada puts forward her (highly plausible) understanding of events—that Zeno never loved Guido, indeed hated him; and that she herself, in envying Zeno and Augusta’s marriage, also failed to love her husband—Zeno initially cannot accept it. But hearing her creates in him uncertainty: “I saw that her words had created a new world, like all words that are not true.” 

Elias Canetti writes in his memoirs of early 20th-century Vienna, of Freud’s Oedipus complex, “the Oedipus complex had turned into a hackneyed prattle that no one failed to drone out”; and indeed, Zeno seems to feel the same way: in his diary entries of 1915, rejecting Dr. S, he scoffs that his “sickness” has been diagnosed as an Oedipus complex: “The best proof that I never had that sickness is supplied by the fact that I am not cured of it!” 

When he was a “believer” in psychoanalysis, Zeno marveled at the vividness of the childhood memories he was able to retrieve; but now, “I believe no longer,” and he considers the visions invented. Contemporary neuroscientists might offer interesting commentary on these passages… 

When Zeno, frustrated with psychoanalysis, returns to Dr. Paoli, who analyzes his urine “in my presence,” he delights: “Here, finally, was a real analysis and not a psychoanalysis… Here… all was truth.” The body, he believes, does not lie; and yet we know that his physical and psychic pains have always been linked! Indeed, Zeno briefly suffers an imaginary diabetes, while waiting for his test results…

Daily Reading

Day 1

p. 3 (Preface)—p. 20 (“I was too busy missing other things.”)

Day 2

p. 20—p. 37 (“But I would have been amazed to see him really happy, alone and old as he was.”)

Day 3

p. 37—p. 60 (end of “My Father’s Death”)

Day 4

p. 61—p. 80 (“It’s surely easier to change oneself than to reshape others.”)

Day 5

p. 80—p. 98 (“On the crowded Via Cavana, therefore, I had thought more purposefully than in my solitary study.”)

Day 6

p. 98–p. 117 ("'Good for you, Zeno. You’ve earned your keep.’”)

Day 7

p. 117—p. 139 (“all the flotsam accumulated in my nerves would have been swept away by it.”)

Day 8

p. 140—p. 162 (“unless it was crushed beneath an entire speeding train.”)

Day 9

p. 162—p. 185 (“I had found something more than a mere pretext for doing what it was my desire to do.”)

Day 10

p. 185—p. 209 (“I continued acting the sick man.”)

Day 11

p. 209— p. 232 (“wine shouts it, overlooking whatever life has subsequently added.”)

Day 12

p. 232—p. 253 (“but on some crowded city street”)

Day 13

p. 253—p. 271 (end of chapter)

Day 14

p. 272–p. 296 (“I would not torment myself any more for having wanted to play that false role of Mentor.”)

Day 15

p. 296—p. 318 (“the Ada who had scornfully repulsed me no longer existed, unless my medical books were mistaken.”)

Day 16

p. 318—p. 336 (“But did that axiom apply also to Guido?”)

Day 17

p. 336—p. 357 (“…unless I was supported by all the members of the family.”)

Day 18

p. 358— p. 378 (“I would say this to Ada herself at the first opportunity.”)

Day 19

p. 378—p. 394 ("I would find, at tomorrow’s opening, the high level of that morning.”)

Day 20

p. 394—p. 418 (“…I must throw away these playthings.”)

Day 21

p. 418—End

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