A brief note on Umberto Eco’s death today.
Umberto Eco’s famous and ground-breaking novel The Name of the Rose, published in 1980, imagines the existence of Aristotle’s lost book on Comedy, the forgotten second part of the Poetics. Eco speculates about what these lost pages would mean and what radical effects their rediscovery might have . It is no coincidence that Aristotle’ book has been hidden and buried in the archive, Eco suggests, and its rediscovery would cause catastrophic problems for the official society that has for so long hidden the text. Eco’s book somewhat comically but also very seriously suggests that discovery of the text would undo the Western traditions of thought that have been set on their course by Aristotelian philosophy, destroying order and official culture.
The novel plays with ideas of the ‘archive’ and even with Jacques Derrida’s idea of ‘archive fever,’ the idea that within an archive (what Walter Benjamin would call ‘the documents of civilization’) there exists a drive to implode and destruct. In other words, a powerful subversive force is found not outside the archive and banished into the world of the ‘other,’ but within the deep unconscious of the official archive itself, always waiting to re-emerge and burn up everything from within.
On Eco’s death it seems both obvious and important to see the connection between this powerful conceptual idea so wonderfully explored by The Name of The Rose and Eco’s own literary work. Embraced and accepted by the literary culture of the past several decades, Eco became a household name and a staple part of the modern ‘literary canon.’ Yet, his work, from the novels to the reams of literary criticism and essays, always retained that powerful threat of exploding officialdom from within, burning up things as we know them and forcing us to begin again. Umberto Eco, always a threat to the official archive, will be sorely missed.
The image above is a pen drawing by Roy Christopher. For his details click here.