Author Umberto Eco Dies Aged 84

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Scepticalscribe, Feb 21, 2016.

  1. Scepticalscribe, Feb 21, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2016

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
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    The Far Horizon
    #1
    Just spotted a few news stories reporting the death of Umberto Eco, from cancer, at the age of 84.

    An erudite and subtle Italian academic, polymath, and scholar, - and already quite well known in his native Italy as an elegant essayist, Umberto Eco acquired an international reputation with the publication of his extraordinary and entirely original book "The Name Of The Rose".

    This work was an examination and interrogation of language, attitudes, religion, medieval culture, truth and who has the right to define it, conformity, knowledge, and the sometimes fraught relationship between power, politics and belief systems, - and it used (very successfully) the device of a murder mystery (well, a series of murders) to tell this tale.

    In essence, The Name Of The Rose served to make murder mysteries, above all medieval murder mysteries, intellectually respectable. And, from an academic author's point of view, to be both popular, (and best selling) and intellectually respectable is about as good as it gets.

    The combination of high philosophy, astounding erudition and a neat and complex murder mystery (which worked on its own terms, as the subsequent movie/film adaptation made abundantly clear) turned this into a tour de force and an international best seller.

    I was an undergrad when it was first published in the early 80s. This was an intellectual tour-de-force - and one which became a best seller, and a talking point in every campus across Europe. No academic with his salt (there weren't all that many female academics in the early to mid 80s) and none of the academics who taught me - from a variety of nationalities - could face having coffee with one another without being able to admit that they had finished this book - although the more usual complaint was "Gosh. My Latin is rather rusty, so, I struggled a bit with the Latin passages."

    More to the point, it was a shock to some of the people that I knew that one could be high brow, and write a superbly-researched book that told a tale well on a number of different levels, not least that of a gripping thriller and a rather compelling murder mystery, without sacrificing intellectual heft.

    The medieval thriller, and murder mystery was never the same after The Name Of The Rose - it became elegantly fashionable and a lot more accessible to a popular (rather than simply an elite) audience. And it became commercial, too. People were happy to buy books set in medieval worlds.

    After the stunning (and possibly unexpected) success of The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco could write whatever he wanted; his essays remained excellent, but none of his subsequent novels ever reached the pinnacle of The Name of The Rose.

    Anyway, his death was reported today; a tolerant, humorous, erudite European intellectual, who loved life and a good intellectual argument, RIP Umberto Eco.
     
  2. Limey77 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2010
    #2
    He definitely was a very intellectual and erudite writer, and In The Name Of The Rose was an awesome book (and pretty good movie) but his other works were tough reads.

    Not that they weren't good, but they certainly weren't easy to read and a mind like his will be missed.
     
  3. Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #3
    Agree re some - not all - of his later works - I'll not disguise the fact that I found Foucault's Pendulum tough going.
     
  4. CrickettGrrrl macrumors 6502a

    CrickettGrrrl

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    #4
    I enjoyed Name of the Rose too, but I also loved Foucault's Pendulum, I thought it was quite creepy and still think of it from time to time. Those times when I think of human beings & the nature of evil... o_O

    I bought Island of the Day Before as a birthday gift for my husband --who wanted me to read it also and held off discussing it until I had, but I haven't cracked the book yet, & unfortunately now it's too late. I should still put it on my to-read list though. My dad also read it but I don't think he liked it.
     
  5. riscy macrumors 6502a

    riscy

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    #5
    Sad news indeed, a great writer - RIP. I have tackled quite a few of his books and loved them all, now I feel like re reading them as it has been many years since I last read them.
     
  6. Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
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    #6
    Two things - no, three, actually - are worth noting about The Name Of The Rose.

    The first is the obvious one that it made medieval mysteries - or books set in a medieval world - fashionable, and acceptable.

    And the second is fairly obvious, too, but also carries an element of almost baffled surprise: The movie adaptation of The Name Of The Rose was one of the few movie adaptations of a book I loved that didn't murder, or otherwise, traduce the book it was based on. In other words, the movie adaptation actually worked and was quite faithful to the story the book told, on the level of a thriller and murder mystery.

    But the third element is even more interesting. It is not that The Name of the Rose was a dense philosophical exploration of the medieval world, it was that it used the device, or format, or a murder mystery - and thriller - to explore and interrogate medieval philosophy, and both as a philosophical study and a story which told a murder mystery, it worked exceptionally well on both levels. That is relatively rare.
     

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