The Name of Umberto Eco

Umberto EcoAs I made some mention of back a few weeks ago, I had entered into a depressive phase. I always say that I am lucky because in general, my manic-depressive cycle is minor compared to many people who suffer greatly from it. And I also claim that my depressive phases tend to be short. All of that is true, but it isn’t always true. I think my writing of the last few weeks shows that I’m not that into it. I keep hoping that this ends, but I’m afraid it is seeping out in my normal relationships. Yesterday, my older sister was grilling me about signs she has seen of my depression. I denied it all. There’s nothing so tiresome as talk about all that. Writing about it, however… Given that things are more anonymous and that generally, most people didn’t think I’d last this long, I have the opportunity of being more honest. I’m not the suicide type, but I have been fantasizing about dying recently. I rather think it will come to pass. The idea that I might live another 30 years is unthinkable. Of course, just imagine my living to be 100. It would be the ultimate proof of an evil God. What could I possibly have done that is so bad as to justify such punishment? Anyway, I tell you all this as an apology and a reminder. I’m sorry if my writing of late has been uninspired. But remember (you and me, both): soon I will be feeling better and have more to say that is worth listening to. Until then, here is another (Insert: exhausted yawn) birthday post!

On this day in 1762, Constanze Mozart was born. I was inclined to give her the day, but alas, that idea only echoed in my brain for a while. (Note: pun!) There are two things I find really interesting about her. One is that Mozart loved her. She wasn’t anything especially great, but then, when they met, neither was the great composer. By that time, he had lost all the boy genius allure and few people wanted to see him perform. And he still wasn’t the great composer that he would become—although still greater than most composers of his time. The other thing is that for the longest time, Mozart biographers blamed Constanze for all of the couple’s financial problems. It was said that she didn’t know how to run the household and all kinds of other garbage. Of course, after Mozart died, she managed his estate extremely well and actually became rather wealthy. Here is the Requiem (which she was responsible for getting finished with Mozart’s student—and a great composer in his own right—Franz Xaver Süssmayr) just for her:

This one’s fun. I get to tell a secret. When Andrea was a little girl, she had a crush on Mr. Green Jeans on the television show Captain Kangaroo. In one of the episodes that I’ve written of The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour, I use that fact for what I think is a very funny joke. Now that I think about it, the whole show has a lot of references to that kid’s show that I never really liked. In particular, I’ve used Mr. Bunny Rabbit, although in my version, he writes poetry and is the reincarnation of William Wordsworth. I like my comedy erudite, damn it!

Anyway, Hugh Brannum was born in 1910. He is best known for playing the part of Mr. Green Jeans. But he was a very accomplished musician. He was associated with the singer Fred Waring, for whom he wrote and arranged gobs of music. Leave it to Andrea to have a crush on a guy who, without her knowledge, was actually really cool.

I had no idea that Walter Mondale was still alive. He’s 86 years old today. I bring him up only to say that he didn’t lose the 1984 presidential campaign because he was too liberal. He lost because the economy was good and that you can credit to Paul Volcker. And we smart Americans re-elected a president who was clearly in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Aren’t you proud to be an American?

Other birthdays: French surrealist Yves Tanguy (1900); the great novelist Stella Gibbons (1902); highly successful charlatan Jeane Dixon (1904); I don’t care what they say, proto-abstract expressionist Nicolas de Stael (1914); actor Jane Wyman (1917); great record producer and finder of talent Sam Phillips (1923); poet W D Snodgrass (1926); great actor Robert Duvall (83); animator Hayao Miyazaki (73); actor Diane Keaton (68); and actor Clancy Brown (55).

The day, however, belongs to Umberto Eco (Eco! Echo!) who is 82 today. I most like him because of The Name of the Rose, which is one of the best novels I have ever read. I’ve also read a number of his essays. He’s a brilliant man. What I couldn’t do was read Foucault’s Pendulum. I tried. I’m sure it’s good. But the beginning really made me think that this might be an “unreliable” narrator and I really don’t much like that. But I will always love him for The Name of the Rose. If you haven’t read it, please do. And if you have seen the movie, forget it. The movie is pathetic. (Yes Bob, the sex scene with Valentina Vargas and Christian Slater is really great.) Anyway, he’s a great thinker and a great writer.

Happy birthday Umberto Eco!

Afterword

I don’t think of myself as suffering from depression. Clearly, I suffer from some manic-depression kind of thing because my highs are much higher than those of others and my lows are lower—sometimes frighteningly so. The most clear problem in my life is a high level of anxiety. And some day, I might have the money to get that treated. Regardless, I don’t wish I were someone else. The devil you know…

Update (5 January 2014 8:17 pm)

Okay, maybe I was too harsh. I found the movie The Name of the Rose on youtube. It is nowhere near as good as the book, but the film is not too bad. And it has a bunch of great European actors. Check it out if you like:

[You know YouTube! The film is no longer available. But here is a very good scene from it, although the aspect ratio is screwed up. Still quite good. -FM]

Update (5 January 2014 11:10 pm)

One big difference between the book and the movie is that the movie kills off Bernardo Gui at the end. And he is just as vile in the book. As I recall, he simply flees when the peasants revolt. Eco couldn’t kill him off in the book, because he was a real guy who lived to be about 70. As Inquisitors go, he probably wasn’t particularly bad. But we know about what those people did because of all his writing on the subject. In fact, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis (Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness) is pretty much an early 14th century how-to book for aspiring Inquisitors. Here is a good example of his thinking, On the Albigensians. What you see is the same thing I see with Christians today. Different Christian sects just hate each other over the most minor theological differences. You can well imagine what kind of “Christian love” Gui meted out to these “Manichaean heretics.”

3 thoughts on “The Name of Umberto Eco

  1. Thing about "Foucault’s Pendulum" — it’s a joke. It’s an elaborate joke on conspiracy buffs. That the conspiracy buffs, in the story, turn out to be right is Eco’s warped sense of humor.

    You may not have read it. But somebody did. That somebody’s name is Dan Brown, and he has become very, very rich by publishing kiddie versions of Eco books.

    Years ago a then-friend (not anymore!) made me read "The Da Vinci Code." I couldn’t believe it; somebody had actually ripped off Eco baldfaced, using no humor and no intelligence. Brown mashed up the "church hides its secrets" shit from "Rose" and the scholars-obsessed-with-lore shit from "Pendulum" and sold, like, 100 million copies. To dingbats. Apparently, a lot of people like their "Indiana Jones And The Temple of Hidden Old Things" in novel form, and without cool stunt work.

    Whenever I’m on the verge of believing Americans might actually have some semblance of a brain, there goes Dan Brown onto the bestseller lists, reminding me that No, They Don’t. Reliable as the late, unlamented Tom Clancy.

  2. @JMF – It reminds me of whenever a new apocryphal Gospel is discovered. Everyone wants to know, "Is it true?" No. None of the Gospels are true. But taken as a group, they show that the early Christians were having a big fight about what the Church would be. The reason that Brown’s book took off is that it claims to be true. People want to believe that not only was Jesus real but that the story is a whole lot more sexy than we had known.

    But to be fair, it is more likely that Brown was ripping off Lewis Perdue’s [i]The Da Vinci Legacy[/i] published all the way back in 1983, which itself may have been one of the targets of Eco.

    As I wrote before, had I made it to page 100, I’m sure I would have loved the novel. And I may try reading it again. If I do, I’m sure it will show up here.

  3. Pingback: Public Intellectual Umberto Eco | Frankly Curious

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