This is one of those unexpected articles I read that is filled with things I am unfamiliar with, but which I enjoyed learning. I never read one of Umberto Eco’s books, and in fact I don’t remember ever hearing his name before. I immediately took a liking to him because he loves words, and books.
He read voraciously and still does. His two libraries, at the homes he shares with his German-born wife Renate Ramge in Milan and Rimini, contain 50,000 books, including 1,200 rare titles.
I especially found his ideas about conspiracies and their importance interesting.
Conspiracies in general, and the Protocols in particular, have been recurrent themes in Eco’s work, notably in his second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, where as a joke three nondescript book editors concoct a grand conspiracy that comes to take over their lives. Why do the Protocols preoccupy him? “As a scholar I am interested in the philosophy of language, semiotics, call it what you want, and one of the main features of the human language is the possibility of lying. A dog doesn’t lie. When it barks, it means there is somebody outside.” Animals do not lie; human beings do. “From lies to forgeries the step is not so long, and I have written technical essays on the logic of forgeries and on the influence of forgeries on history. The most famous and terrible of those forgeries is the Protocols.
I had to look that up:
“Eco says it is not conspiracies that attract him, but the paranoia that allows them to flourish. ‘There are many small conspiracies, and most of them are exposed,’ he says. ‘But the paranoia of the universal conspiracy is more powerful because it is everlasting. You can never discover it because you don’t know who is there. It is a psychological temptation of our species…. It’s a way not to feel responsible for something. That’s why dictatorships use the notion of universal conspiracy as a weapon. For the first 10 years of my life I was educated by fascists at school, and they used a universal conspiracy – that you, the Englishman, the Jews and the capitalists were plotting against the poor Italian people. For Hitler it was the same’…..
He has called books ‘the corridors of the mind’ and recently co-wrote an extended love letter to the printed text called This is Not the End of the Book. But that does not make him a digital counter-revolutionary. Indeed, to save having to carry a bag full of books, on this trip he has instead brought along an iPad with 30 titles downloaded. He nevertheless stands by his contention that this is not the end of the book. Reading devices are fine for long journeys and have advantages for reference books, but committed readers will always crave physicality – ‘not just Peter Pan but my Peter Pan, as he puts it.”