08 October 2008

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco is a multi-disciplinary Italian scholar and a novelist. He is often mentioned in the context of the Nobel Prize for literature. I had the great honor to meet him last night at Emory University. He was here to deliver the ninth in the biennial series of The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature. His topic: Confessions of a Young Novelist. The lectures, which spanned three separate sessions, will be published in book form next year by Harvard Press. Last night he gave a reading of an autobiographical snippet from his second novel, Foucault's Pendulum.

The title of his lecture series is wryly ironic. Eco's first and most famous novel, The Name of the Rose (subsequently made into a competent film starring Sean Connery), was published in 1980 when Eco was 49 years old. In his own accounting, he is only a 28 year old novelist. (I guess that makes me a novelist in utero. Indeed, when does life begin?)

He entitled his three lectures as follows: (1) "How I Write;" (2) "Author, Text, and Interpreters;" and (3) "On the Advantages of Fiction for Life and Death." The first lecture (near and dear to my heart) was a subjective account of himself and his processes as novelist. The second was a more objective look at his work from the standpoint of the critical interpreter. The third magically expanded out to an account of the ultimate subject of literature (which, I must say, coincided nicely with our own series of posts on what we called the Ur-Story). The form of the series of lectures was unconventionally narrative, less a thesis statement with proofs than an exploration working toward a grand solution.

Over the next series of posts, I shall try to set out some of Eco's major way-posts on the way toward his conclusion. Stay tuned.

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