Zeno’s Conscience: quotes (7)

He reproached me for two other things: my absentmindedness and my tendency to laugh at the most serious matters. When it came to absentmindedness, he differed from me because he kept a little notebook in which he jotted down everything he wanted to remember, reviewing its pages several times daily. In this way he thought he had overcome his ailment and didn’t suffer from it anymore. He imposed that notebook method also on me, but in mine I jotted down nothing except a few last cigarettes.

As for my contempt for serious matters, I believe his great defect was to consider serious too many things in this world. Here is an example: When, after having transferred from the study of law to that of chemistry, I sought his permission to return to the former, he said to me amiably: “The fact remains that you are certifiably crazy.”

I wasn’t in the least offended, and I was so grateful to him for his acquiescence that I thought to reward him by making him laugh. I went to Dr. Canestrini for an examination and a certificate. It wasn’t an easy matter because I had to submit to long and thorough tests. When I was given a clean bill of mental health, I triumphantly carried the document to my father, but he couldn’t laugh at it. In a heartbroken voice, tears in his eyes, he cried: “Ah, you really are crazy.”

And that was my reward for the laborious and innocuous little farce. He never forgave me and so never laughed at it. To persuade a doctor to examine you as a joke? To have a certificate drawn up, as a joke, complete with tax stamps? Madness!

In short, compared with him I represented strength, and at times I think that the disappearance of his weakness, which had strengthened me, was something I felt as a reduction.