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Friday, April 15, 2016

The Trials of Living In a Cultureless Society -- Umberto Eco's Death

The death of Umberto Eco on February 19th was no big event in the United States.  I did not hear anything in the news.  It was not even covered in "The New York Times Book Review" for that week.  In this society, entertainment is valued over culture, and, hoping not to sound like a long-nosed snob, I dare say we, as a society, are doomed because of it.  I just learned that Umberto Eco died; it's been almost two months since his passing.
I was always a big fan, and will remain so forever.  Years ago, I tried to explain to people who fell in love with a certain (unmentionable) novel about Knights Templar and obscure mysteries, that almost the entire affair had been "plagiarized" from "Foucault's Pendulum."  Most of the people I told this admittedly conspiratorial theory seemed interested and told me they would read the book, since the topic was so fascinating and anything dealing with it would no doubt be engaging... most came back telling me the book was "too long."  The fact that I am not a lawyer puts me in a position of advantage.  I can make these accusations about plagiarism as easily as I can declare Paul Auster the best writer in the world, pound for pound.  Sue me.

I also read much of Eco's non-fiction.  I did  have a particularly difficult time with "Kant and the Platypus: Essay on Language and Cognition," but enjoyed "Serendipity" and "Five Moral Pieces" tremendously.  Believe it or not, I have not read "The Name of the Rose," which will be top on my list in 2017.

The day that Gabriel Garcia Marquez died, it seemed the entire world went on mourning.  The front page of most European newspapers online were dedicated to his passing for a week or more.  "El Mundo" in Spain kept a picture of Garcia Marquez on their home page for a month.  Of course, Garcia Marquez was a Nobel laureate... Umberto Eco was not.  But Eco had a different aura, an in-depth facility of making highly intellectual and academic topics palatable to the common reader  (most which are so elevated by their proponents that the rest of the world is excluded).  Umberto Eco was a minor celebrity in Italy and most of Europe, but not in the United States.  As a nation we are losing something important, something irreplaceable.  I remember one of my professors in graduate school saying that the day James Baldwin died she felt a terrible sadness knowing she could never again pick a new book by her favorite author.  Her statement never left me.  It is the same with me, I suppose, with some of the authors I hold in high praise.  Death takes everything with it... everything.  Rest in piece, Maestro Eco.

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