Zeno's Conscience

Zeno's Conscience

Book - 2001
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The modern Italian classic discovered and championed by James Joyce, Zeno's Conscience is a marvel of psychological insight, published here in a fine new translation by William Weaver-the first in more than seventy years.

Italo Svevo's masterpiece tells the story of a hapless, doubting, guilt-ridden man paralyzed by fits of ecstasy and despair and tickled by his own cleverness. His doctor advises him, as a form of therapy, to write his memoirs; in doing so, Zeno reconstructs and ultimately reshapes the events of his life into a palatable reality for himself-a reality, however, founded on compromise, delusion, and rationalization.

With cigarette in hand, Zeno sets out in search of health and happiness, hoping along the way to free himself from countless vices, not least of which is his accursed "last cigarette!" (Zeno's famously ineffectual refrain is inevitably followed by a lapse in resolve.) His amorous wanderings win him the shrill affections of an aspiring coloratura, and his confidence in his financial savoir-faire involves him in a hopeless speculative enterprise. Meanwhile, his trusting wife reliably awaits his return at appointed mealtimes.

Zeno's adventures rise to antic heights in this pioneering psychoanalytic novel, as his restlessly self-preserving commentary inventively embroiders the truth. Absorbing and devilishly entertaining, Zeno's Conscience is at once a comedy of errors, a sly testimonial to the joys of procrastination, and a surpassingly lucid vision of human nature by one of the most important Italian literary figures of the twentieth century.

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2001.
ISBN: 9780375413308
Branch Call Number: Fic
Characteristics: xlix, 437 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.
Additional Contributors: Weaver, William 1923-2013


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Mar 11, 2016

The fictional autobiography and journal of Zeno Cosini proves to be full of comic contradictions, highlighting his own unreliability. Yet Zeno can be observant and perceptive, although not always at the same time. As he says at one point about his abilities, “For all my efforts I achieved the result of that marksman who hit the bullseye, but of the target next to his.” What gives Zeno’s ‘writings’ additional meaning centers on why he’s keeping these journals: he is following the orders of his analyst, supposedly helping cure himself through this exercise. Except…Zeno thinks psychoanalysis is a fraud and makes him sicker. He resists any help from his analyst while laughing at the diseases ascribed to him. In addition, Zeno believes "A confession in writing is always a lie.” So what are we to make of his book-length confession, the ramblings of his conscience?

In the end Svevo has his character turn on much of what he wrote earlier, all but declaring psychoanalysis a false religion. Fortunately Zeno can declare (and believe in) his innocence and ultimately his health, eventually exercising the freedom he incorrectly believed he had to this point. Even at the end of the book Zeno invests himself in his ultimate passion—confession.

I highly recommend this deceptively simple appearing celebration of an ordinary and convoluted life. There are slow spots, but even they add dimensions to the conclusion.

Apr 28, 2015

"Present-day life is polluted at the roots. Man has put himself in the place of trees and animals and has polluted the air, has blocked free space."
Sometimes translated as "Confessions of Zeno," this is a classic, if obscure, modern novel by Italo Svevo (real name: Aron Ettore Schmitz), an Italian who was friends with Joyce and died in a car crash in 1928. Is the name Zeno a reference to the famous paradox? We don't find out. Will appeal to readers of Stefan Zweig, Kafka, Joyce (duh), and Nabokov. Translated by William Weaver and introduced by Elizabeth Hardwick and Weaver. Set in Trieste, the city where Joyce spent time and met Svevo.

Ian1 Apr 26, 2015

Deep, complex, and a great storyline to bend the ear of the psychonalyst or define the unease of an analysand. No wonder Joyce and Freud loved it.

keknight Mar 03, 2014

The library's copy is covered in underlining and notes from some tacky patron. Perhaps considering replacing this copy?


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