Italo Svevo as a young man. The author created the anti-hero Zeno

Trieste celebrates centenary of literary anti-hero Zeno

By Region Culture News North-east Italy

From October to December, Trieste is celebrating its ‘inadequate’ literary hero Zeno Cosini. Zeno is the protagonist of Italo Svevo’s great modernist masterpiece Zeno’s Conscience, which came out 100 years ago.

The slightly inept, chronically procrastinating, and chain-smoking Zeno is a stark contrast with the bustling modern trade hub he lived in. He is one of the great anti-heroes of modern fiction. James Joyce, who resided in Trieste, first lauded him as such. Joyce also taught English to the author Italo Svevo.

From October to December, Trieste has laid on a panoply of events to celebrate Zeno, including conferences, theatrical debuts, literary walks and tourist narratives. Join a coffee house meeting, reading marathon and “transpositions of memes from students all over Italy”, organisers urge. 

Trieste monument to Svevo

One such event is being held at Ugo Carà Museum of Modern Art in Muggia. ‘The city of Zeno: the signs and dreams of Svevo’ is by the Art Collection of the CRTrieste Foundation. It includes selected works by about thirty 20th century artists.

What is Zeno’s Conscience about?

Zeno, always smoking ‘my last cigarette,’ suffers from ineptitude. In a bid to cure himself, he has a bout of the brand-new science of psycho-analysis.

The psychoanalyst tells him to write an autobiography, with all his memories and troubles written down. Zeno, however, stops his therapy after a while, convinced he is already cured.

In the last chapter of the book, written as a diary, he confesses to being cured thanks to the arms trade he undertook during the First World War. Once “healed”, Zeno learns, however, that his apparent illness is an illness that afflicts the whole of society. He comes to realise that “current life is polluted at the roots”, and his discovery of this is a sign of health, and not of illness as previously thought.

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