Saturday, September 19, 2015

Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo


See my childhood? Now that I am separated from it by many decades, my farsighted eyes might perhaps reach to it if the light were not obscured by so many obstacles. The years like impassable mountains rise between me and it, my past years and a few brief hours in my life.

The doctor told me not to obsess too much looking so far back. Recent events, he says, are equally valuable to him, and above all my fancies and dreams of the night before. But I like to do things in order; as soon as I left the doctor (who was going to be away from Trieste for some time) I bought and read a book on psychoanalysis, so that I might begin from the very beginning and make the doctor’s task easier.

It is not difficult to understand, but very boring.

I stretched myself out after lunch in an easy chair, pencil and paper in hand. All the lines disappeared from my forehead, my mind completely relaxed. I seemed to be able to see my thoughts as something quite apart from myself. I an watch them rising, falling, their only form of activity. I seize my pencil to remind my thoughts that it is their duty to manifest themselves. At once the wrinkles gather up on my brow as I think of the letters that make up every word. The present surges up dominating me; the past is blotted out.

Yesterday I tried to let myself go completely. The result was that I fell into a deep sleep, experiencing nothing but a great sense of refreshment, together with an odd sensation of having seen something important while I was asleep. But what it was I could not remember; it had gone forever.

Today, though, this pencil will prevent my going to sleep. I dimly see certain strange images that seem unrelated to with my past; an engine puffing up a steep incline dragging endless coaches after it. Where can it all come from? Where is it going? How did it get there at all?

In my half-waking trance I remember it is stated in my textbook that this system will enable one to recall one’s earliest childhood, even when one is in long clothes.

At once I see an infant in long clothes  but why should I assume it is me? It does not bear the faintest resemblance to me, and I think it is probably my sister-in-law’s baby, which was born a few weeks ago and displayed to us as such a miracle because of its tiny hands and enormous eyes. The poor child!

Yeah – remember my own infancy, indeed!

Why it is not even in my power to warn you, while you are still an infant, how important it is for your health and your intelligence that you should forget nothing. When, I wonder, will you learn that one ought to be able to call to mind every event of one’s life, even those you would rather forget?

Meanwhile, poor innocent, you go exploring your tiny body in search of pleasure; and the exquisite discoveries you make will bring you in the end disease and suffering, to which those who least wish it will contribute. What can one do? It is impossible to watch over your cradle.

Mysterious forces are at work within you, child, strange elements combine; each passing moment contributing its own reactive elements.

Not all this moments can be pure, with such numerous chances of infection. And then – you are of the same blood as some I know well. Perhaps the passing moments may be pure; not so the long centuries that went into your making.

But I have come a long way from the images that announce sleep. I must try again tomorrow.  .  .


When the doctor gets the last part of my manuscript, he will have to give me back the whole. I should be able to write it all over again with absolute certainty now; how was it possible for me to understand my life when I did not now what this last part was going to be? Possibly I only lived all those years in order to prepare for it!

I am not so naïve as to blame the doctor for regarding life itself as a result of disease. Life is a little like disease, with its crises and periods of quiescence, its daily improvements and setbacks. But unlike other diseases life is always mortal. It admits no cure. It would be like trying to plug up the orifices of our body, thinking them to be wounds. We should die of suffocation almost before we were cured.

Our life today is rotten to the root. Man has ousted the beasts and trees, has poisoned the air and filled up the open spaces. Worse things may happen. That melancholy and industrious animal – man- may discover new forces and harness them to his chariot. Some such danger is in the air.

The result will be a great abundance – of human beings!

Every square yard will be occupied by man. Who will be able then to cure us of the lack of air and space? The mere thought suffocates me.

But it is not only that: every effort to procure health is in vain. Health can only belong to the beasts, whose sole idea of progress lies in their own bodies. When the swallow realized that emigration was the only possible life for her, she enlarged the muscles that worked her wings, and which became by degrees the most important part of her body. The mole went underground, and its whole body adapted itself to the task. The horse grew bigger and changed the shape of his foot. We know nothing of the development of certain animals, but it must have existed, and can never have injured their health.

But spectacled man invents implements outside his body, and if there was any health of nobility in the inventor, it will surely be absent in the user.

Implements are bought and sold or stolen, and man goes on getting weaker and more cunning. It is natural that his cunning should increase in proportion to his weakness.

The earliest tools only added to the length of his arm, and could not be employed except by the exercise of his own strength. But today a machine bears no relation to the body. The machine creates disease because it denies what has been the law of creation throughout the ages. The law of the strongest disappeared, and we have abandoned natural selection.

We need much more than psychoanalysis to help us.

Under the law of the greatest number of machines, disease will prosper and the diseased will grow ever more numerous.

 It’s possible, too that some incredible disaster caused by machines will lead us back to health.

When all the poison gases are exhausted, a man, an ordinary man of flesh and blood, will in the quiet of his room invent an explosive of such potency that all the explosives today in existence will seem like harmless toys beside it.

And another man, made in his image and in the image of al the rest, but a little weaker than them, will steal that explosive and crawl to the center of the earth with it, placing it just where he calculates it would have the maximum effect. There will be a tremendous explosion, but no one will hear it, causing the earth to return to its nebulous state and go wandering through the heavens, free at last from parasites and disease.

No comments:

Post a Comment