There is a passage midway through Contempt in which Battista, a movie producer intent upon producing a highly profitable film version of the Odyssey, rails against the neo-realistic film trend he presumably fears his writers will embrace.
"When I say that the neo-realistic film is not healthy, I mean that it is not a film that inspires people with courage to live, that increases their confidence in life. The neo-realistic film is depressing, pessimistic, gloomy. ...[I]t insists too much on the negative sides of life, on all that is ugliest, dirtiest, most abnormal in human existence. It is, in short, a pessimistic, unhealthy type of film, a film which reminds people of their difficulties instead of helping them to overcome them."
The protagonist, Riccardo, looks quickly at both the producer and the director, uncertain if the producer "really believed the things he was saying or only pretended to believe them." Battista has described Riccardo's life view. It is one of the darkly comical moments in the book in which optimism is equated with commercialism, inferiority in culture and breeding, and an obtuse level of self-deception. The greatest irony is that all three men in the room are outstanding practitioners of the arts of self-deception but recognize it only in each other, in individualized attachments to psychoanalytic tripe, false intellectualism and crass consumerism.
Riccardo's career as a professional script writer and the deterioration of his marriage coincide in the novel, the contempt he feels for his new profession and the contempt he feels inexplicably directed at him by his wife driving his "unhealthy" ruminations that form this first person narrative. He can't really say when his beautiful wife, Emilia, turned on him. He feels that he has given this uncultivated typist from the working classes everything she requires for happiness - his love and the flat for which he has taken script work to support, abandoning his beloved theatre career. He openly admits to forcibly handling her on multiple occasions, to choking her, to kissing his typist in her view and yet fails to link any of these occurrences to Emilia's disgust with him. Woman is simply "a bizarre creature, full of caprices and all sorts of unexpected things." He wonders why he does not receive the unqualified devotion he sees from the wife of a director with whom he works.
This is a brilliant but suffocating text. The reader does not feel the comfort of aligning one's sympathies with our unreliable narrator for even a moment. His brutality and inability to recognize that in himself is evident from the start. But there is the end when in two brilliant instances of hallucinatory happiness, we are brought closer to an unexamined, unquestioned hope. And yet this happens divorced from intentionality for the narrator. Ultimately, in this book, people have no control of emotions, of love no matter how closely observed. They do not even own their own actions at times [small spoiler] even in the ultimate sense of not knowing that they have died. Happiness is a construct woven like the producer's vision for his film. Alienation is inevitable.
Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos
Ally at Snow Feathers
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza
Grant at 1streading's Blog
Scott G.F. Bailey at Six Words for a Hat