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Sunday, August 02, 2009

More Umberto Eco: Serendipities, Language and Lunacy

I know that perhaps I drove some of you crazy with my entries on Eco's "Kant and the Platypus," but I can't help it when I find another slim volume by the Italian master of semiotics. "Serendipities: Language and Lunacy" offers more of the challenges that linguistics, semantics and semiotics in general present. I find that Eco covers a great deal (with much more humor, too) more on this short book regarding (to be put simply) "why things are what they are and how they become what they are." So, historical events, for example, can in fact change the course of humanity by virtue of a small "mistake" or "coincidence." Eco begins with Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the New World by what can indeed be considered happerstance. "Though they were right, the sages of Salamanca were wrong; and Columbus, while he was wrong, pursued faithfully his error and proved to be right--thanks to serendipity." The challenge to understand the difference between an error and simply being "wrong," and certainty and the belief of being "right" becomes topsy-turvy. The New World was there even without Columbus stumbling into it; yet, the Heideggerian idea of "Being" again shows its ugly face little by little. If a massive piece of land sits there and no one is there to stumble upon it, does it exist?

Eco and his fascination with the Medieval occult (as explored in "Foucault's Pendulum") is in display here once again. Serendipity, while not entirely responsible for the vast conspiracy of the Jewish Protocols (Elders of Zion, etc.), might be connected to the idea that the protocol conspiracy as it developed from a work of fiction (Rodolphe de Gerolstein's "Les Mysteres de Paris"). And if you think that's enough, consider that this was all the plan of Jesuits and the ever-present evil-mindedness of the, you guessed it, the Rosicrucians, the Jacobins, and (amazingly enough) Cagliostro! This is the reason (over-simplified presently because there are many, many reasons) why I think Umberto Eco is a genius... his capacity for research and historical connections is amazing, and, to make it all readable and enjoyable is an added task in and of itself. Read this book if you want to be both entertained and challenged.

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