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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Max Brooks

The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco, William Weaver I'm in two minds about this book. On the one hand, it often gets immensely boring, making something as INTERESTING as medieval theo-politics a real chore to read through, due to the way in which it presents it (the "seven-day" format is unbelievably limiting; giving the narrator more leeway to go off on tangents would have been much better - as Eco seemed to have learned later, at least in Baudolino). Also, its philosophical underpinnings seem pretty run-of-the-mill Bakhtinian: the liberating power of comic inversion and the ability of laughter to arrive at a deeper truth - of the arbitrariness of order - than "seriousness". But on the other hand, there's also a more radical undertone to the whole thing: after all, it is Jorge who prevails in the end, the epitome of seriousness, the guardian of gravity and the non-comic truth; and, moreover, not because seriousness would have greater power than comedy, but because he is able to APPROPRIATE comedy - literally, devour it. If this is not a clear explication of the ability of authority to appropriate and limit its own apparent subversion, I don't know what is. And I think that William's final failure signals that we must not abandon the search for "truth", even if laughter appears to be more liberating; because if we do so, downfall ensues. (I.e., defending laughter results in failure, since it is unable to defeat authority.) Chipping away at authority is always necessary, and the scraps of the 'true' that we encounter on the way are crucial for our survival as human beings. True, laughter is what makes us human, but what makes us human is not necessarily what we should be looking for...

In other words: a structurally somewhat awful book with some interesting philosophical ideas, which only emerge if one reads the novel "deeply", rather than remaining at the shallow level of its apparent postmodern universe (what Slavoj Žižek called "spaghetti structuralism"). Truth be told, Eco doesn't help very much here - for instance, he "name-drops" Lyotard at some point in the novel - but whether he is aware of it or not, the book enables us to go beyond the vanities of postmodernity. But to do this, we must abandon the valorization of William of Baskerville - which I'm not sure many people are prepared to do. I see him as being ultimately defeated in the book - not because the "world of signs" allows no victory (which would be the classic postmodern interpretation), but because he is searching in the wrong place - he remains too fascinated by the "world of signs" to chip away at the true problems of human existence. His disillusionment with politics is equally indicative of the failure of this approach. For me, the "murder mystery" bit is the less exciting part of the novel, at least in terms of ideas. Its political and theological elements could hardly be seen just as part of the "backdrop" - since they do, in fact, take up the majority of the book (to its detriment, since they're definitely not written as well).