Traducere // Translate

Is the real problem the lazy-reading of the Prague Cemetery?

Overrated: Umberto Eco

Who said: "When men stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing: they believe in anything"? The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations attributes it to G.K. Chesterton, but it cannot be found in any of his works and appears to have begun life as a paraphrase by his biographer Emile Cammaerts. One does not need to be a scholar to trace this cliché to its origin. Yet on the home page of the extensive website of Umberto Eco, one is greeted with the following quotation by the great man: "When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything." Undergraduates who tried to palm off such a hackneyed misquotation as their own might expect to be laughed at or even reprimanded by their teachers. But Eco is Europe's most celebrated living writer, with countless academic honours to his name. Why does a man so feted, who boasts that he owns 50,000 books (including 1,200 rare titles) "in my various homes", seek to appropriate Chesterton's gnomic wisdom? Is it possible that Umberto Eco is, as Henry IV of France said of James I of England, "the wisest fool in Christendom"?

In his own eyes, at least, Eco is the opposite: the most disillusioned of men, "fascinated by error, bad faith and idiocy", and thus perfectly equipped to expose everyone else as a fraud. In his recent published conversation with Jean-Claude Carrière, This is Not the End of the Book, he reveals that his vast library consists entirely of "books whose contents I don't believe"; these "lies" include a first edition of Joyce's Ulysses. Eco makes no distinction between fiction and forgery. He also assumes that most of his readers are hopelessly ignorant: "The current generation is probably tempted to think, as the Americans do, that what happened 300 years ago no longer matters..."

This pose of the learned sceptic, even the arch-cynic, has stood Eco in good stead. Without it he could never have written The Name of the Rose, the medieval whodunnit that became a film vehicle for Sean Connery and has gone on to sell more than 50 million copies. The novel is an exercise in debunking the monks to whom he owed his education and who immunised him from fascism. Eco's first book, based on his doctoral thesis, is his best: The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas. He still recalls the joy of being surrounded by old books and manuscripts at the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris. Then he lost his faith and has spent the rest of his life in search of a substitute.

Eco found his pseudo-religion in the pseudo-science of semiotics, which he has taught for many years. His novels are case studies in postmodernism, which elides all categories of truth, beauty, morality and politics into an esoteric game. The Plan, which forms the theme of Foucault's Pendulum, his second bestseller, shows Eco was already obsessed with conspiracy theories, involving everything from the Knights Templar to Kabbalah. But the subversive message of the novel is that conspiracy theories may after all be true, and secret societies may actually exist. The dissolution of reality into mere "narratives" lends the conspiracy theory new life.

In Eco's latest novel, The Prague Cemetery, his idée fixe mutates into a gothic fantasy embracing Jesuits, Freemasons and above all Jews, culminating in the most pernicious conspiracy theory of them all: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Eco claims that he has invented only one character, the protagonist Simone Simonini, whose fictitious diaries record how he forges the Protocols, frames Dreyfus and infects Europe with anti-Semitism. "But on reflection," he adds, "even Simone Simonini ... did in some sense exist. Indeed, to be frank, he is still with us." In other words, Eco deliberately confuses fact and fiction. Having immersed his readers in conspiracy theories against the Jews, he then leaves them wondering whether some of these vile slanders might, after all, be true.

New Umberto Eco Book!
The trouble with what his publisher calls "an inspired twisting of history and fiction" is that Eco is playing with fire. This time it is not a game. There is nothing esoteric about the Protocols, millions of copies of which circulate in the Muslim world. Anti-Semitism is on the march, not only in the Middle East but across the globe, including the West, fuelled by that multiplier of conspiracy theories, the internet. The leaders of Iran have made Holocaust denial state policy and signalled that they plan a second Holocaust, using nuclear technology supplied by, among others, Germany and Russia — the two worst persecutors of Jews in the recent past. Eco's frivolous treatment of Jew-hatred as a cloak-and-dagger mystery, to fund his collection of incunabula, while real Jews are targeted by terrorists from New York to Mumbai and from London to Buenos Aires has left many readers feeling queasy.

The doubts sown by the book fall on fertile soil, for ours is a culture that long ago lost its bearings, thanks to the prestige of postmodernists such as Umberto Eco. He stands for the intellectuals of the 21st century who, like those of the last century, commit trahison des clercs by flirting with anti-Semitism when their duty is to take a clear stand against it.

Luckily, British common sense has not come to pass with the likes of Daniel Johnson.

Mr. Johnson might want to take a look at Eco's "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods" and pay particular attention to the sixth chapter, "Fictional Protocols".

Oh, I get it - the whole article is itself a post-modernist joke. Otherwise the factual inaccuracies (Foucault's Pendulum doesn't suggest that "secret societies may actually exist", rather that people want them to exist despite the fact that they don't) don't make sense - surely no-one can intentionally misunderstand Eco this much, can they?

It appears you have misread Foucault's Pendulum. The message is not "that conspiracy theories may after all be true, and secret societies may actually exist" -- in fact, it is quite the opposite.

"for ours is a culture that long ago lost its bearings, thanks to the prestige of postmodernists such as Umberto Eco" (!?) This article is the most naive rant Ive read in the past few months...

Andrew Martino
I am in disbelief at how wrong Johnson got Eco. This article reads really like a lament for an earlier, more ignorant time when God ruled the world. Where has God gotten us but centuries of bloodshed and destruction? Umberto Eco is not always right, but the prime function of an intellectual is to speak the truth to power, even when that power comes in the guise of a non-existant God.

My god! With enemies like that, long live to H. Eco! Sleep well D. Johnson.

'The Name of the Rose' isn't really about monks-it's a sort of allegory about Italian left-wing factions, brilliantly bringing out the parallels between Communist ideals and Medieval religious factions. Of course,the rest of his work is over-rated.

George Balanchine
There's a more interesting article buried within this one, maybe about post-Modernism, deconstruction and anti-Semitism(properly called Jew-hating). For example, Paul de Man was a collaborator during WWII. I've heard, or read in passing, that a lot of what's taught as "theory" today, as in literary theory, Foucault, etc. started in the 1930s from people associated with fascist movements in France, for example. But this article attempts to tie in Eco somehow to this...maybe? Not sure. I don't think he's that significant a figure. I mean I pay him no attention at all. He's kind of like Luciano Pavoratti, or a famous chef, but as a "peg to hang this tale on" maybe not so good. And yes, anti-Semitism is no joke. For example, it has destroyed the "Left" here in the US, and the danger from Iran is very real, in my opinion. To sum up: where was the editor?

Well said, Daniel Johnson. PS. Who is Daniel Johnson?

To quote a comment which I read yesterday: "My, what alarmist blather. Yawn."

If it's not a joke, this entire essay is an inane exercise in speculation and misleading, cherry-picking criticism. To begin with, Johnson's faux outrage at Eco's failure to debunk the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is clearly done in bad faith, as it presents standard practices as aberrations. One may take issue with the CONTENT of the (apparently apocryphal) quote, but lifting it from an institutionally reputable secondary source isn't a crime on Eco's part. Rather, passing it off as accurate is an error on the Oxford editors' part. Eco is hardly the only one to use this quote, by the way. The other criticisms, so far as I can tell, are ad hominems based on speculation about why Eco wrote the sort of fiction he did. E.g., semiotics is a "pseudo-religion" that replaced his old faith; he must dramatize anti-Semitic conspiracy theories because he is himself anti-Semitic; and so on. In reality, this sort of "criticism" is nearly effortless to pull out of one's ass, because there's no need to establish anything on the basis of evidence. All you need to do is snidely insinuate lowly motives to get attention. On second thought, all this may be a parody of shitty literary criticism. In which case, I salute you, Mr. Johnson. But if it's serious, fire this man pronto!

this is one of the most ridiculous articles that i have read.


If you can't tell the difference between the chestreton quote and eco's, it seems natural you wouldn't understand the point of saying simone simonini is still around. And yet, all your article from then on is based on the premise that simonini is still around. In general, your irony radar seems to be in dire need of an upgrade.

Umberto Eco

Da click aici ca sa vezi totul!

VREI SA-I INTALNESTI? cin s-aseamana s-aduna pe lista de discutii peromaneste

Niciun comentariu: