Uninspiring read

2007-12-19 00:00

In the essay “On the Disadvantages and Advantages of Death” that ends this collection, Umberto Eco notes that death will see all of one’s experience lost: “What a waste, decades spent building up experience, only to throw it all away”. One remedy is to write: “You die, but most of what you have accumulated will not be lost.” Which could be read as a justification for collating this rather uninspiring collection of essays and articles written for assorted magazines, newspapers and conferences.

Subtitled Hot Wars and Media Populism, they mainly deal with current affairs and global politics post-9/11 and come grouped under such headings as “War, Peace and other Matters” and “The Return of the Crusades”. They find Eco addressing everything from the return of the Hot War (after the Cold War) to the rise of fundamentalism. Polymath that he is, Eco liberally sprinkles cultural references, from Ingmar Bergman to Mickey Mouse. Often these are rather imposed on the proceedings, as if he’s trying to impress us with his wide reading. On one occasion Eco gets caught with his pants down: quoting the dialogue from the first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and then declaring that the conversation took place in Baker Street — in fact (or rather fiction) it took place at the laboratory at St Barts hospital. There is even a plaque to commemorate the event.

He will be forgiven this lapse for the entertaining and exasperated essay “Hands off My Son!” dealing with Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. The essay predictably fired up a lively debate on the L’espresso website. Responding, he notes that many of the writers seemed unable to “to distinguish between the Christ of the Gospels and the one of the film. They saw not an actor portraying Christ but Christ himself in the flesh … In any case, I am grateful to the reader who wrote, ‘Dear Umberto, I’ll never forgive you for giving away the end of the film’.”

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