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Day 9

Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo

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

September 21, 2022 by Claire Messud

Zeno, having upset Augusta on their honeymoon by imagining his possible death from gangrene (!), observes that “health doesn’t analyze itself, nor does it look at itself in the mirror. Only we sick people know something about ourselves.” Self-consciousness and illness are inseparable— or, to put it another way, philosophy is neurosis.

In married life, Zeno finds the pleasure of ordered time: “I adhered to the strictest schedule” with “excellent results.” In this spirit, he went to work, with the hypochondriac’s belief that “obviously those who have less time for sickness are less sick.”

Enrico Copler and Giovanni, both genuinely sick, scoff at Zeno, described by Augusta as “an imaginary sick man”—“a ridiculous monstrosity,” says Copler “in a virile fashion,” for whom “there are no medicines”—whereas the “really ill” can be cured. Poor Zeno is emasculated even in his illness.

When he meets Carla Gerco, Zeno is struck by the “musical quality in her voice when she spoke”; but when she sings—although he longs to admire her—she has no talent. Once again, he has tried to project onto her what he desires—“How beautiful it would have been to behold her clad in genius!”—but reality will perforce intrude.

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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