“Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.”
―from THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco in 9 Quotes: Remembering His Greater Truths
By TOM BLUNT
February 22, 2016
Umberto Eco, 1984 © Rob Bogaerts
If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.
The world lost more than a great author this weekend; Umberto Eco’s death at the age of eighty-four also marked the passing of a philosopher, one who spent decades teaching and exploring the fields of semiotics and critical theory.
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Eco’s career as a scribbler of fictions only began in his late forties, but these are the words most of us will end up turning to time and again whenever we miss that distinctive literary voice, spending quiet moments in thrall to that highly-organized mind playfully obscuring and revealing itself through a dense cloud of words — often in several languages at once. Here are a few highlights from the author’s bibliography, all the way up through Numero Zero, released just this past year.
1. Travels in Hyperreality, 1973
“The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”
2. The Name of the Rose, 1980
“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means.”
3. The Name of the Rose, 1980
“What is love? There is nothing in the world, neither man nor Devil nor any thing, that I hold as suspect as love, for it penetrates the soul more than any other thing. Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does. Therefore, unless you have those weapons that subdue it, the soul plunges through love into an immense abyss.”
4. Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988
“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
5. The Island of the Day Before, 1994
“It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once.”
6. Baudolino, 2000
“Yes, I know, it’s not the truth, but in a great history little truths can be altered so that the greater truth emerges.”
7. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2004
“Nothing can shake my belief that this world is the fruit of a dark god whose shadow I extend.”
8. The Prague Cemetery, 2010
“You don’t love someone for your whole life – that impossible hope is the source of adultery, matricide, betrayal of friends … But you can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart.”
9. Numero Zero, 2015
“Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.”
How to Travel with a Salmon
February 22, 2016 | by Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco’s essay “How to Travel with a Salmon” first appeared in our Summer 1994 issue; it was later the title piece in a collection of Eco’s essays. Eco died last Friday at his home in Milan. He was eighty-four. In an interview with The Paris Review in 2008, he said, “I like the notion of stubborn incuriosity. To cultivate a stubborn incuriosity, you have to limit yourself to certain areas of knowledge. You cannot be totally greedy. You have to oblige yourself not to learn everything. Or else you will learn nothing.”
According to the newspapers, there are two chief problems that beset the modern world: the invasion of the computer, and the alarming extension of the Third World. The newspapers are right, and I know it.
My recent journey was brief: one day in Stockholm and three in London. In Stockholm, taking advantage of a free hour, I bought a smoked salmon, an enormous one, dirt cheap. It was carefully packaged in plastic, but I was told that, if I was traveling, I would be well-advised to keep it refrigerated. Just try.
Happily, in London, my publisher made me a reservation in a deluxe hotel, a room provided with minibar. But on arriving at the hotel, I have the impression of entering a foreign legation in Peking during the Boxer rebellion.
Whole families are camping out in the lobby; travelers wrapped in blankets are sleeping amid their luggage. I question the staff, all of them Indians, except for a few Malayans, and I am told that just yesterday, in this grand hotel, a computerized system was installed and, before all the kinks could be eliminated, it broke down for two hours. There was no way of telling which rooms were occupied or which were free. I would have to wait.
Towards evening the computer was debugged, and I managed to get into my room. Worried about my salmon, I removed it from the suitcase and looked for the minibar.
As a rule, in normal hotels, the minibar is a small refrigerator containing two beers, some miniature bottles of hard liquor, a few tins of fruit juice and two packets of peanuts. In my hotel, the refrigerator was family size and contained fifty bottles of whisky, gin, Drambuie, Courvoisier, eight large Perriers, two Vitelloises and two Evians, three half-bottles of champagne, various cans of Guinness, Pale Ale, Dutch beer, German beer, bottles of white wine both French and Italian and, besides peanuts, also cocktail crackers, almonds, chocolates and Alka-Seltzer. There was no room for the salmon. I pulled out two roomy drawers of the dresser and emptied the contents of the bar into them, then refrigerated the salmon, and thought no more about it. The next day, when I came back into the room at four in the afternoon, the salmon was on the desk, and the bar was again crammed almost solid with gourmet products. I opened the drawers, only to discover that everything I had hidden there the day before was still in place. I called the desk and told them to inform the chambermaids that if they found the bar empty it wasn’t because I had consumed all its contents, but because of the salmon. They replied that the information had to be given to the central computer, but because most of the staff spoke no English, verbal instructions were not accepted. All orders had to be given in BASIC.
I pulled out another two drawers and transferred the new contents of the bar, where I then replaced my salmon. The next day at four P.M., the salmon was back on the desk, and it was already emanating a suspect odor.
The bar was crammed with bottles large and small, and the four drawers of the dresser suggested the back room of a speakeasy at the height of Prohibition. I called the desk again and they told me they were having more trouble with the computer. I rang the bell for room service and tried to explain my situation to a youth with his hair in a bun; he spoke only a dialect that, as an anthropologist colleague explained later, was heard only in Kefiristan at about the time Alexander the Great was wooing Roxana.
The next morning I went down to sign the bill. It was astronomical. It indicated that in two and a half days I had consumed several hectoliters of Veuve Clicquot, ten liters of various whiskies, including some very rare single malts, eight liters of gin, twenty-five liters of mineral water (both Perrier and Evian, plus some bottles of San Pellegrino), enough fruit juice to protect from scurvy all the children in UNICEF’s care, enough almonds, walnuts and peanuts to induce vomiting in the attendant on the autopsy of the characters in La grande bouffe. I tried to explain, but the clerk, with a betel-blackened smile, assured me that this was what the computer said. I asked for a lawyer, and they brought me an avocado.
Now my publisher is furious and thinks I’m a chronic freeloader. The salmon is inedible. My children insist I cut down on my drinking.
Translated from the Italian by William Weaver.