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Italo Svevo and Charlie Chaplin: Dramatic Irony and the Psychoanalytic Stance

From: American Imago
Volume 63, Number 2, Summer 2006
pp. 183-200 | 10.1353/aim.2006.0026


The article takes off from a revealing slip in an article about Italo Svevo's novel, Zeno's Conscience, in which the Italian critic, Massimo Verdicchio, attempts to show that the novel is fundamentally philosophical, not psychoanalytic. In doing so, he misreads Svevo's indebtedness to Charcot as a debt to Charlie Chaplin's character Charlot. But when are we justified in calling such a misreading a Freudian slip? Can one legitimately claim to have insight into the workings of a literary critic one has never met? Invoking Daniel Dennet's notion of the "intentional stance," as well as the inherently intersubjective notion of dramatic irony, the author argues that there are times, clearly definable, in which one is obliged to adopt a "psychoanalytic stance," and both Verdicchio's article and Svevo's novel present such an occasion. Although the name of Svevo's protagonist links him to the ancient philosopher, Zeno of Elea, known for his paradoxes, he is likewise a "stranger to himself," and thus a quintessentially psychoanalytic subject.

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