DE OTROS MUNDOS
FOTOS DE TRIUNFO ARCINIEGAS
What is love? There is nothing in the world, neither man nor Devil nor any thing, that I hold as suspect as love, for it penetrates the soul more than any other thing. Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does. Therefore, unless you have those weapons that subdue it, the soul plunges through love into an immense abyss. ― The Name of the Rose
I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it. I was always defined as too erudite and philosophical, too difficult. Then I wrote a novel that is not erudite at all, that is written in plain language, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and among my novels it is the one that has sold the least. So probably I am writing for masochists. It’s only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things. People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged. – interview with the Guardian in 2011
All the stories I would like to write persecute me when I am in my chamber, it seems as if they are all around me, the little devils, and while one tugs at my ear, another tweaks my nose, and each says to me, ‘Sir, write me, I am beautiful’.
On the morning of July 27, 1943, I was told that, according to radio reports, fascism had collapsed and Mussolini was under arrest. When my mother sent me out to buy the newspaper, I saw that the papers at the nearest newsstand had different titles. Moreover, after seeing the headlines, I realized that each newspaper said different things. I bought one of them, blindly, and read a message on the first page signed by five or six political parties – among them the Democrazia Cristiana, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Partito d’Azione, and the Liberal Party. Until then, I had believed that there was a single party in every country and that in Italy it was the Partito Nazionale Fascista. Now I was discovering that in my country several parties could exist at the same time. – from his 1995 essay UR-Facism, from the New York Review of Books
Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means. - The Name of the Rose
I should be at peace. I have understood. Don’t some say that peace comes when you understand? I have understood. I should be at peace. Who said that peace derives from the contemplation of order, order understood, enjoyed, realized without residuum, in joy and truimph, the end of effort? All is clear, limpid; the eye rests on the whole and on the parts and sees how the parts have conspired to make the whole; it perceives the center where the lymph flows, the breath, the root of the whys... ― Foucault’s Pendulum
The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.
The [Da Vinci Code] author Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist. – interview with the Paris Review in 2008
Charlie Brown has been called the most sensitive child ever to appear in a comic strip, a figure capable of Shakespearean shifts of mood; and Schulz’s pencil succeeds in rendering these variations with an economy of means that has something miraculous about it. The text, always almost courtly (these children rarely lapse into slang or commit anacoluthon), is enhanced by drawings able to portray, in each character, the subtlest psychological nuance. Thus the daily tragedy of Charlie Brown is drawn, in our eyes, with exemplary incisiveness. –Eco on the comicstrip Peanuts, for the New York Review of Books in 1985
How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see... We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die. – interview with Der Spiegel in 2009
|Umberto Eco in 2002 at Bologna University, where he taught for many years at professor of semiotics. |
Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian
Umberto Eco obituary
Italian writer and philosopher known for his medieval whodunnit The Name of the Rose
Ian ThomsonSaturday 20 February 2016 12.43 GMT
Umberto Eco, who has died aged 84, was a polymath of towering cleverness. His novels, which occasionally had the look and feel of encyclopedias, combined cultural influences ranging from TS Eliot to the Charlie Brown comic-strips. Linguistically technical, they were at once impishly humorous and robustly intellectual. For relaxation, Eco played Renaissance airs on the recorder, and read dictionaries (he was a master of several foreign languages).
Eco’s first, watershed novel, The Name of the Rose, was published in 1980. An artful reworking of Conan Doyle, with Sherlock Holmes transplanted to 14th-century Italy, the book’s baggage of arcane erudition was designed to flatter the average reader’s intelligence. In some ways, as Eco was the first to admit, his medieval whodunnit was upmarket Arthur Hailey with ingenious modernist fripperies. Subsequently translated into 30 languages, it sold more than 10m copies worldwide, and was made into a film starring Sean Connery as the monk-detective, William of Baskerville.
Not since One Hundred Years of Solitude had there been such a consensual success in the book market. Joggers in Central Park listened to The Name of the Rose on their Walkmans. Eco’s gifted English translator, William Weaver, built an extension on to his Tuscan home with the proceeds (which he called the Eco chamber).
|Sean Connery, left, and Christian Slater |
in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 film adaptation of Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose.
Yet the success of The Name of the Rose weighed heavily on Eco. When the French director Jean-Jacques Annaud released his film of the novel in 1986, Eco refused to speak to the newspapers about it. Each night when he returned to his flat in Milan he said he could “barely open the door” for the accumulation of interview requests. In private, Eco judged Annaud’s film a travesty of his novel, and found the monks (apart from the one played by Connery) “too grotesque-looking”. Yet Eco approved of Annaud’s Piranesi-like sets, which he concurred were “marvellous”.
In late 1986, when I visited Eco at Bologna University, where he taught as professor of semiotics, an abstruse branch of literary theory, he appeared unsettled, and confessed that he felt “trapped” by his fame. Shuffling grumpily round his office, he lifted up and slammed down books. He was wearing a tweed deerstalker and a large digital wristwatch-cum-calculator.
Italian Vogue had just claimed that Eco was writing a novel based on the life of Mozart. “Not true! I feel blackmailed by journalists, by myself, by my publisher. I don’t feel free any more. When I wrote The Name of the Rose it was half for fun – a free act. Now I ask myself: ‘Am I writing a new book because I want to, or because it’s expected of me?’” Eco was a polite, if oddly formal interviewee (“May I be permitted to offer you another whisky?”); he preferred to call his English, spoken with a discernible American accent, “fluent pidgin”.
Bologna University had been a hotbed of Italian red activism, and the philosophy faculty, where Eco had his office, was often spray-gunned with political slogans and crude attempts at action painting. Eco was not impressed by the artwork. “The graffiti isn’t as witty as it was in the 60s,” he complained. Nevertheless, Bologna provided Eco with invaluable first-hand experience of political extremism and conspiracy.
His second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), was a thriller set amid shadowy cabals and conventicles such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucian Society. Eco saw modern-day political parallels with these and other sects; indeed, the P2 masonic lodge and the far-left fringe of the Red Brigades indulged a similar secrecy and fanaticism. Eco was fond of the Italian term dietrologia, which translates, not very happily, into “behindology” and presumes that secret cliques, camarillas and consortia are everywhere manipulating political scandals. In all his work, fiction and non-fiction, Eco displayed a classically Italian enthusiasm for conspiracy and arcana.
Though Foucault’s Pendulum offered a splendidly macabre denouement (with a principal character left hanging from a pendulum devised to demonstrate the rotation of the earth), the novel was reckoned to be rather too long, with opaque stretches. Reviewing it for the Observer, Salman Rushdie confessed: “Reader, I hated it.”
Many wondered where Eco would go next. His third novel, The Island of the Day Before (1994), was written to strict literary formulae and contained more scholastic hair-splitting and arcane erudition. Overall, it read like an exercise in style, with the accent on formal composition, rather than feeling and expression.
Son of Giovanna (nee Bisio) and Giulio Eco, he was born in Alessandria, a small city in the north-western Italian region of Piedmont. His father came from a family of 13 children and was an accountant in a local metalworks factory. Eco spent his formative years in the Piedmont capital of Turin, where he graduated from the university in 1954 in medieval philosophy and literature. His first published book, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (1956), was written during the author’s military service. It was an elegant examination of the principal aesthetic ideas of medieval Latin civilisation.
Already, the young Eco saw the world as a web of signs and symbols waiting to be deciphered. His passion for medieval culture strengthened over the years, and later he gleefully decoded what he called “the avalanche of pseudo-medieval pulp” books and strip-cartoons such as Camelot 3,000 and The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. No text or film was ever too lowly or trivial that it could not be analysed semiotically.
On leaving university, Eco worked in Milan for several years as a journalist, editing cultural programmes for Italy’s state-owned RAI television network. In 1959 he became senior non-fiction editor for the Milan-based publisher Bompiani, a position he held until 1975.
In Milan, Eco mingled with avant-garde writers, musicians and painters, and developed a love for late James Joyce, as well as the atonal asperities of Karlheinz Stockhausen and the hermetic symbolist verse of Stéphane Mallarmé. The fierce inaccessibility of these modernist works seemed to excite Eco. And in the autumn of 1963, with some like-minded experimentalists, he helped to set up Group 63, a cultural association which rejected “conservatism” in the arts and aimed to produce ultra-modern novels and poems of its own. Group 63’s literary efforts now look slightly prolix and pedantic; but Eco, to his credit, understood early on that a fiction without a story was not worth its weight in paper. His novels would not have gone on to become bestsellers otherwise.
In 1966, Eco was appointed professor of semiotics at Milan Polytechnic, and two years later, in 1968, he brought out The Absent Structure, which accompanied his earlier text, The Open Book (1962), as a classic of the genre. His cultural writings began to appear in a variety of national publications; the Italian public came to know Eco through his witty weekly column, La Bustina di Minerva, for L’Espresso magazine.
Collections of the column were later published in English as Faith in Fakes, Travels in Hyperreality (1986) and How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays (1994). In these books, Eco’s interests veered from pre-Raphaelite forgeries to counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags, from the World Cup to the US porn star and vice-presidential candidate Marilyn Chambers. This is what Eco did best: applying literary judgment to ephemera.
In 1971, Eco became the first professor of semiotics at Bologna, Europe’s oldest university. Bologna is the undisputed gastro-erotic heart of Italy, and Eco relished the city’s rich cuisine as well as its lewd medieval street names (via Fregatette, “Rub-Tits Street”, was one of his favourites). Portly, with a great black beard and husky voice (the result of 60 cigarettes a day, in later years reduced to the occasional cigar), he was a lifelong trencherman.
His lectures at the university, avidly attended by semioticians, analysed the James Bond novels, the Mad comic magazines and, with equal fizz-bang, photographs of Marilyn Monroe. Throughout his Bologna professorship, Eco denied that he was “intellectually slumming it” by speaking of Donatello’s David in the same breath as, say, plastic garden furniture.
When the entire world is a web of signs, he said, everything cries out for exegesis. Marginal manifestations of culture should not be ignored, he explained: in the 19th century, Telemann was considered a far greater composer than Bach; by the same token, in 200 years, Picasso may be thought inferior to Coca Cola commercials. (And who knows, Eco added jokingly, one day we may consider The Name of the Rose inferior to the potboilers of Harold Robbins.)
In his mandarin analysis of the outwardly mundane, Eco was influenced by the French essayist and counterculture guru Roland Barthes. However, while Barthes wrote about washing powder, Greta Garbo’s face, or the new model Citroen in a subtle, teasingly paradoxical style, Eco’s essays showed a certain crude braggadocio and swagger; in Italy, he was not always considered a writer of very distinguished literary prose. (I myself observed that his mind worked like a kitchen blender: “In go a dash of Thomas Aquinas, a pinch of Borges, some diced semiotics and – presto! – out pours an ‘interesting’ essay’.”) Eco was at his best when composing bookish parodies and spoof sequels to famous novels. (In one of these, the narrator of Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu dies in Dublin after reading Joyce’s Ulysses and drinking too much Guinness.)
Italian university professors are expected to enter public debate, and Eco did not disappoint. “Journalism,” he announced with characteristic self-confidence, “is my political duty.” Furthermore: “I believe it is my job as a scholar and citizen to show people how we are surrounded by messages.” In this, Eco was not so different from other campus media commentators, such as Susan Sontag and Marshall McLuhan. Like them, he could sometimes appear pseudo-cerebral. In one essay, Eco discussed the figure-hugging comfort of his own denim Levi’s. “Well, with my new jeans life was entirely exterior: I thought about the relationship between me and my pants, and the relationship between my pants and the society I live in … I had achieved epidermic self-awareness.”
Eco’s fourth novel, Baudolino, which appeared in Italy in 2000, was set in Byzantine Constantinople. An enjoyable quest-story, it was freighted with the author’s by now familiar typographical eccentricities, footnotes, numerological games and inventories. The book was a great success in Italy, though some critics enviously objected that Eco had sold out to fame. In the days before he became the emperor of international bestsellerdom, he wrote a sneering critique of the 007 novels in which Ian Fleming emerged as a high-end Mickey Spillane, cynically devising entertainments for a reading public both “popular and serious”. Yet Baudolino, not unlike The Name of the Rose, appealed to a remarkably similar readership. Whatever his merits as a novelist, Eco was an exceptionally shrewd self-promoter: it is not often that an academic keeps company in the book charts with Jackie Collins and Dick Francis.
When his next novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, drawing on his youth in wartime Italy, was published in 2004, he declared it would be his last: “Five is enough”. The novel’s title was taken from a fascist-era comic book, La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana, which Eco had enjoyed as a pro-Mussolini child growing up in north-west Piedmont. He continued to read and enjoy strip cartoons (not least the superb Italian Diabolik series) on his retirement from Bologna University as professor emeritus in 2008. His literary output continued to be prolific and included two further novels, The Prague Cemetery (2010), in which characters voiced disturbing antisemitic diatribes, and Numero Zero(2015), a razor-sharp thriller set in Milan in 1992, in which Eco explored the darker side of 20th-century Italy and the so-called “strategy of tension”, where Italian secret-service chiefs allegedly connived with cabinet ministers to implicate the left in acts of terrorism and bring back fascism. The novel, its pacy and sparsely written pages happily free of Eco’s occasional verbosity, topped the bestseller charts in Italy.
Eco is survived by his wife, Renate (nee Ramge), whom he married in 1962 and with whom he had a son, Stefano, and daughter, Carlotta.
• Umberto Eco, writer, born 5 January 1932; died 19 February 2016
• This article was amended on 21 February 2016. The Absent Structure, published in 1968, was not Eco’s first study of semiotics; this has been corrected, and the piece has been expanded.
‘Real literature is about losers’
In his only UK public appearance to mark publication of his new novel, Numero Zero, the Italian novelist explored the nature of conspiracies and why great characters are never successful
Thursday 12 November 2015 08.00 GMT
Since the publication in 1980 of his first novel, The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco’s work has come to be defined by a curious paradox – you never quite know what to expect but you can be absolutely sure that it will will bear the unmistakable stamp of Umberto Eco.
Plots will unfold with grand conspiracies at their centre, where the obscure details of history mingle with the unknown. Those truly directing proceedings will always remain in the shadows and further intrigue is never more than a few pages away.
“I don’t know what the reader expects. I think that Barbara Cartland writes what the readers expect,” he said at a Guardian Live event in London, hosted by UCL head of English John Mullan.
The aim is to produce the reader you want for each story
“I think an author should write what the reader does not expect. The problem is not to ask what they need, but to change them … to produce the kind of reader you want for each story.”
In his latest work, Numero Zero, a hack journalist, Colonna, is hired by a property and communications mogul to work on an as yet unpublished newspaper, Domani. Charged with creating a paper that will probably never be published, Colonna and his editors form an agenda to suit their boss, nicknamed “The Commendatore”, who plans to use the paper to blackmail his way into Italy’s political and financial elite through a mix of tabloid innuendo and pseudo-intellectual commentary scandalising the establishment.
Along the way, Collona is made aware of a vast potential conspiracy in which Mussolini – having been replaced by a body double before his execution - survived the fall of his wartime regime and continues to live in exile in Argentina, where he may or may not have been behind various postwar plots to destabilise Italy, such as the kidnapping and assassination of prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
50% of public opinion is shaped by fakes
“I am a philosopher; I write novels only on the weekends,” said Eco. “As a philosopher I am interested in truth. Since it is very difficult to decide what’s true or not I discovered that it’s easier to arrive at truth through the analysis of fakes.”
“I would say that 50% or more of public opinion is shaped by fakes. We are blackmailed by them,” he said.
Numero Zero also references a shadowy real-world organisation, known as Gladio, which operated in Italy and across Europe during the Cold War as a network of potential underground resistance cells to fight in the event of an invasion by the Soviet bloc.
“Immediately after the second world war, they tried, in order to stop a possible invasion of Europe, to establish a sort of secret society of people who were trained to engage in a partisan war – even some former fascists. Gladio was operating in the whole of Europe and no one knew,” he said.
“In all my novels I use a lot of real facts that were believed to be an invention of mine. In The Island of the Day Before there is a strange machine for observing the satellites of Jupiter that is very comic. It was invented by Galileo and they tried to sell it to the Dutch. It didn’t succeed because it was absolutely crazy, but when you tell it as a story you laugh.”
“Reality is fascinating because it’s more inventive than fiction.”
Imagined conspiracies are the most powerful ones
But what of the existence of conspiracies in the real world? Much of Eco’s work explores the territory where healthy suspicion gives way to paranoia – an impulse which he believes we should guard ourselves against if we are to arrive at the truth.
“I am not denying that conspiracies exist, but the real ones are discovered. The assassination of Julius Caesar was a conspiracy – it was a success, it was well known … the Gunpowder plot was a conspiracy. So the real conspiracies are always discovered. The powerful ones are the ones which do not exist; you cannot demonstrate that they are not there so they continue to flow in the public mind and they can nourish a lot of naïve people.”
Real literature is always about losers
Mullan later quoted one of his favourite lines from Numero Zero – “the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers” – before going on to ask Eco why he chose to tell the story from the point of view of a thwarted character.
“Because that’s literature,” said Eco. “Dostoevsky was writing about losers. The main character of The Iliad, Hector, is a loser. It’s very boring to talk about winners. The real literature always talks about losers. Madame Bovary is a loser. Julien Sorel is a loser. I am doing only the same job. Losers are more fascinating.
“Winners are stupid … because usually they win by chance.”
Il nome della rosa (1980; English translation: The Name of the Rose, 1983)
Il pendolo di Foucault (1988; English translation: Foucault's Pendulum, 1989)
L'isola del giorno prima (1994; English translation: The Island of the Day Before, 1995)
Baudolino (2000; English translation: Baudolino, 2001)
La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (2004; English translation: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005)
Il cimitero di Praga (2010; English translation: The Prague Cemetery, 2011)
Numero zero (2015; English translation: Numero Zero, 2015)
La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea, 1993(en)
Il problema estetico in San Tommaso (1956 – English translation: The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, 1988, revised)
"Sviluppo dell'estetica medievale", in Momenti e problemi di storia dell'estetica (1959 – Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, 1985)
Opera aperta (1962, rev. 1976 – English translation: The Open Work (1989)
Diario Minimo (1963 – English translation: Misreadings, 1993)
Apocalittici e integrati (1964 – Partial English translation: Apocalypse Postponed, 1994)
Le poetiche di Joyce (1965 – English translations: The Middle Ages of James Joyce, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos, 1989)
La Struttura Assente (1968 – The Absent Structure)
Il costume di casa (1973 – English translation: Faith in Fakes: Travels in Hyperreality, 1986)
Trattato di semiotica generale (1975 – English translation: A Theory of Semiotics, 1976)
Il Superuomo di massa (1976)
Dalla periferia dell'impero (1977)
Lector in fabula (1979)
A semiotic Landscape. Panorama sémiotique. Proceedings of the Ist Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, Den Haag, Paris, New York: Mouton (=Approaches to Semiotics, 29) (with Seymour Chatman and Jean-Marie Klinkenberg).
The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (1979 – English edition containing essays from Opera aperta, Apocalittici e integrati, Forme del contenuto (1971), Il Superuomo di massa, Lector in Fabula).
Sette anni di desiderio (1983)
Postille al nome della rosa (1983 – English translation: Postscript to The Name of the Rose, 1984)
Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio (1984 – English translation: Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, 1984)
De Bibliotheca (1986 – in Italian and French)
Lo strano caso della Hanau 1609 (1989 – French translation: L'Enigme de l'Hanau 1609, 1990)
I limiti dell'interpretazione (1990 – The Limits of Interpretation, 1990)
Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992 – with R. Rorty, J. Culler, C. Brooke-Rose; edited by S. Collini)
Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994)
Incontro – Encounter – Rencontre (1996 – in Italian, English, French)
In cosa crede chi non crede? (with Carlo Maria Martini), 1996 – English translation: Belief or Nonbelief?: A Dialogue, 2000)
Cinque scritti morali (1997 – English translation: Five Moral Pieces, 2001)
Kant e l'ornitorinco (1997 – English translation: Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition, 1999)
Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (1998)
How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays (1998 – Partial English translation of Il secondo diario minimo, 1994)
La bustina di Minerva (1999)
Experiences in Translation, University of Toronto Press (2000)
Sulla letteratura, (2003 – English translation by Martin McLaughlin: On Literature, 2004)
Mouse or Rat?: Translation as negotiation (2003)
Storia della bellezza (2004, co-edited with Girolamo de Michele – English translation: History of Beauty/On Beauty, 2004)
A passo di gambero. Guerre calde e populismo mediatico (Bompiani, 2006 – English translation: Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, 2007, Alastair McEwen)
Storia della bruttezza (Bompiani, 2007 – English translation: On Ugliness, 2007)
Dall'albero al labirinto: studi storici sul segno e l'interpretazione (Bompiani, 2007 – English translation: "From the Tree to the Labyrinth: Historical Studies on the Sign and Interpretation", 2014, Anthony Oldcorn)
La Vertigine della Lista (Rizzoli, 2009) – English translation: The Infinity of Lists
Costruire il nemico e altri scritti occasionali (Bompiani, 2011) – English translation by Richard Dixon: Inventing the Enemy (2012)
Storia delle terre e dei luoghi leggendari (Bompiani, 2013) – English translation by Alastair McEwen: The Book of Legendary Lands (2013)
Books of children
La bomba e il generale (1966, Rev. 1988 – English translation: The Bomb and the GeneralHarcourt Children's Books (J); 1st edition (February 1989)
I tre cosmonauti (1966 – English translation: The Three Astronauts Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd; First edition (3 April 1989)
Gli gnomi di Gnu (1992 – English translation: The Gnomes of Gnu Bompiani; 1. ed edition (1992)
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