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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 46 | volume IX | January-February, 2006



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 46January-February, 2006

A True Lover of Literature

On Literature by Umberto Eco, translated by Martin McLaughlin (Vintage, £8.99)

p. 1
Nicolas Lezard

Umberto Eco demonstrates a fierce love of writing in his collection of essays, On Literature

    This'll keep you busy. For a start, the title is a little misleading. It's about more than just literature – although there's plenty of that, which I'll get back to. Here are 18 essays, which cover subjects from the influence of Aristotle's Poetics, to Dante's Paradiso, to a history of Italian anti-Americanism, to “How I Write”. Even if your knowledge of Eco's works stopped (and began) with The Name of the Rose, that last chapter should hold your interest. But what, you may wonder, is the appeal of a piece about the Paradiso, which, I strongly suspect, you have not got around to finishing? (Neither have I.) “To strike the imagination of young readers,” Eco concludes his “A Reading of the Paradiso”, “or of those who are not particularly interested in God or intelligence” (a nice swipe, that) “Dante's Paradiso is the apotheosis of the virtual world, of nonmaterial things, of pure software … [it] is more than modern; it can become, for the reader who has forgotten history, a tremendously real element of the future. It represents the triumph of pure energy, which the labyrinth of the web promises but will never be able to give us …” and so on, at too great a length to quote here in full, but an exciting, ecstatic work of criticism that may even get you (or me) to read it.
    Not having read de Nerval, I will not be able to say how good his essay on him is (Eco advises us to be familiar with the work), but Eco, who is nothing if not cultured, writes elsewhere about things that should not be unfamiliar to the reasonably cultured Brit. There is plenty on Borges, as you might imagine, and also on Joyce, to whom he is devoted; there is also a chapter on Wilde, whom he suspects of being overvalued – “to be true to his own principles he should have been sent to prison not for having loved Lord Alfred Douglas but for having sent him letters with lines like this: 'It is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should have been made no less for music of song than for madness of kisses [sic].'” You have to admit he has a point.
    “The Power of Falsehood” is an extra-literary piece. It examines

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