Umberto Eco: thoughts

From today’s Writer’s Almanac email, two quotes from Umberto Eco:

I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.


Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.


25 Thoughts on “Umberto Eco: thoughts

  1. The first quote is jabbing at me, because I am at the moment going through a thing. (Ginny calls it depression; I am not so sure.) Yesterday I went to walk the labyrinth and found that I needed to give up all pretense of “untangling” anything. I deliberately focused on its being aimless wandering, and I found it much more comforting, if not productive.

  2. Dionysus has you by the balls, now! brawahahahaha….

  3. I think Doris Day said it best… (and likely misspelled it as well)

    Que sera, sera…

  4. Jeff, you say that like it’s a bad thing.

  5. Whenever I was able to walk the labyrinth it was a very liberating experience for me. Much like during meditation the rational side of my brain shut down allowing me to sense things in a different way, so that sights and smells were different and thoughts were very freeing.

    I am not sure I could agree with Eco that the world was a “harmless enigma” for there is great beauty as well as terrible suffering to be experienced, but that may be the very point he is trying to express for it is all harmless from a certain point of view.

    And I have also found that when I let go of my search for the truth is when I have the greatest success in gaining insights.

  6. “if not productive” is a wonderfully equivocal phrase. Can mean “also productive” and “not productive.”

    “I am not so sure” is a great summary of your situation, it seems.

    “give up all pretense” seems to contain the new path.

    “deliberately focused” and “aimless wandering” produce a nice contradiction.

    World as an enigma is still too totalizing for me, too essentialist. I would emend by saying that the “world” is full of enigmas. We begin encountering them very early, even before we have the equipment to know them as such. Others know them for us at the outset. Then we acquire them and add our own. It’s a madness, but it can be a motivating madness as well as a destructive one.

    Laughter is what happens when the particles assert themselves.

  7. in conclusion
    I would like to say
    there is no conclusion
    but there is
    there is a conclusion

  8. Although… “unfortunately” is one of those enigma/truths, isn’t it?

  9. Enigmas emerge with any attempt to editorialize.

  10. I find myself most tickled with having embedded the word “fortun(e).” Find the hidden fortune.

  11. A fortune we are due. Our inheritance.

  12. Maybe it’s not a contradiction. Maybe he can be deliberately focused on his aimless wandering.

  13. I guess one question I have is whether we can find Eco’s first quote to be a comfort, if we decide it’s true.

  14. “If we decide that it’s true?” That becomes a difficult thing to talk about, given Eco’s framing. I mean, if there really is no underlying truth to reality itself, which Eco seems to imply, then should we even really care if some tossed-off statement from a single observer / participant about the possible nature of that reality is true or not? Does Eco intend to include his own personal assessment in the category of “mad attempts?” But, okay, let’s go there. “Harmless?” There are at least six million dead Jews who might argue that point. (If only skeletons could be given the floor.) And, really, bottom line, isn’t it our nature to probe, to ask questions, to sniff about, to propose solutions, offer interpretations? What’s the alternative? Sit on a rock and contemplate the universe? (which Eco has already said would be “mad” to try to contemplate?)

    But, more to the point, does the Universe have some kind of “underlying truth?” If that truth exists, is it accessible to us?

    Don’t know.

  15. Are we back to Wallace Stevens’ jungle/garden metaphor, where we acknowledge that the universe has no form or truth, but that we form our own from that? (I think the answer to that is ‘yes.’)

    Having agreed to that… Should we find it comforting that we feel compelled to do that, or is that compulsion the source of our madness?

  16. Been reading a collection of articles by Fredric Jameson, which includes a nice little primer on “ideology.” In that primer, he makes reference to some really interesting sociological research on education in France. Also touches upon the work of some anthropologists in France (you know those French…). The work might be worth looking into as a way to start discussing issues of culture and education and transmission. It occurs to me that we have many in our number who have taught or teach (including the esteemed chair of the Joseph Campbell Society…who is also married to an educator..and those of us who have guided youth via church, etc). I’m proposing we devote some of our rapidly diminishing powers, before they dim utterly, to a radical engagement with such matters…Let me pull precise references from the Jameson and get back to you.

  17. In other words, in response to our current question, such as it is:

    Engagez, mes amis, engagez.

  18. And so … the work begins.

  19. Sorry, no need to hold breath. It will probably be after we take boy to Murfreesboro…

  20. Here’s link to begin with:

    and then immediately scroll down to:

    Renée Balibar: Class Domination and the
    Literary Effect

    I have not yet read this account, so don’t sue me if it’s full of too much Theoretical Verbiage. And since it’s an asian link, I don’t know if it’s a translation.

  21. No, it’s original English. From a book on the history of literary analysis by someone named Robert Resch

  22. Before I set aside the kid’s book about a one-legged samurai boy to read this thing, direct my reading. What is my focus in the piece? (I am in fact unclear as to whether this strand springs from my original post or is a conversation altogether.)

  23. You are still at the center, Dale, never fear.

    I cannot direct your reading until I read it. Time is not my own. I do what I can. Piecemeal.

    Best to stay with your one-legged boy at present.

    I did a quick search for references to Balibar’s work, and that was all I could find in English that seemed to offer a summary discussion.

    Yes, a change of subject to a certain extent. I thought, Please, not Wallace Stevens again…


    All of the above, as well as the material on Balibar, is merely a noting of citations I’ve encountered in my reading of a particular book by Jameson. I offer them as so many singular attempts on my part to enlarge our sphere of enquiry.

    I haven’t read any of what I’m referencing. I’m merely sharing my list of stuff I’m eager to look into. (And what does it mean that I continue to experience anxiety over ending sentences in prepositions, sociologically speaking…)

    Education, religion, anthropology, politics, art, effluvia, trying to touch on our favorite topics…

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