Ice Friday: Svevo’s “Zeno’s Conscience”

Zeno’s Conscience, by Italo Svevo, is a masterfully rendered novel,¬†developing the essence of our self-obsession¬†with expertise and wit:

An idea came to me. I told how, for those dizzy spells that had caused me such suffering in the past, I had discovered a remedy. When I saw a gymnast performing his feats at too great a height, or when I witnessed the descent from a tram of a person too elderly or too awkward, I freed myself from all anxiety by wishing them harm. P1000605I actually came out and said in so many words that I wished they would fall and be shattered. This had an enormously calming effect on me and enabled me to observe the threat of an accident with total detachment. If my wish then didn’t come true, I could consider myself even more satisfied.

The Fantasy of Reality

Luis Bunuel wrote in his autobiography My Last Sigh, “Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths.” bell_de_jourGreenlandic explorer Knud Rasmussen reflected in his journals from the Fifth Thule Expedition, “Here on this lonely spit of land, weary men had toiled along the last stage of their mortal journey. Their tracks are not effaced, as long as others live to follow and carry them farther; their work lives as long as any region of the globe remains for men to find and conquer.” knud Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “A geographer is too important to go wandering about. He never leaves his study. But he receives the explorers there. He questions them, and he writes down what they remember. And if the memories of one of the explorers seems interesting to him, then the geographer conducts an inquiry into that explorer’s moral character.”¬† geogAnd finally Italo Svevo offered these musings from Zeno’s Conscience: “Simply, I believed I had made an important scientific discovery. I thought I had been called upon to complete the whole theory of psychological colors. My predecessors, Goethe and Schopenhauer, had never imagined what could have been achieved by deftly handling complementary colors.” zeno's conscience“I should say that I spent my time sprawled on the sofa opposite my study window, from which I had a view of a stretch of sea and horizon.”