Framing Narratives of Irony in Italo Svevo’s La coscienza di Zeno and Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften

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  • Author / Creator
    Tomuța, Sorin
  • This dissertation examines the use of irony in Italo Svevo’s La coscienza di Zeno and Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. While both these novels can be said to be ironic, the manner in which the two writers choose to employ irony differs substantially. For the purposes of this study, Svevo’s tropological irony will be distinguished from Musil’s representational irony. Tropological irony consists in a series of dramatic reversals that the protagonist’s views of himself and of the world undergo in the course of the novel. The analysis of tropological irony exposes Svevo’s powerful critique of psychoanalysis, both as a theory of the psyche and more importantly, as a therapy designed to identify and treat various neuroses. I argue that this critique starts with Svevo’s ironic subversion of the two meanings of coscienza, “consciousness” and “conscience,” and constitutes the background against which Zeno’s most important reversal, from illness to health, unfolds. Unlike tropological irony, representational irony is primarily formal in nature. Dissatisfied with the illusory sense of order and cohesion that the narrative conventions governing the historical-realist novel of the nineteenth century create, but aware at the same time that no writer can completely step outside the existing patterns of narrations, Musil resorts to representational irony as a way out of this impasse. His strategy entails a double movement, of simultaneous affirmation and negation, which can be shown to replicate, on a larger scale, the same paradoxical dynamics present in the structure of irony as a trope. To illustrate how representational irony operates in Musil’s novel, my dissertation proves how the notion of narrative frame is concomitantly affirmed and undermined.

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    Doctor of Philosophy
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    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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    University of Alberta
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  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Harrison, Thomas (Italian, UCLA)
    • Sywenky, Irene (Modern Languages and Literatures)
    • Burch, Robert (Philosophy)
    • Braz, Albert (English and Film Studies)
    • Anselmi, William (Modern Languages and Literatures)
    • Whitinger, Raleigh (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)