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This exhibitionism, Eco suggests, stems from anomie and fear of anonymity.In a 2010 piece he cites his friend, the Spanish writer Javier Marías, who posited that such desperate public displays must owe, at least partly, to a widespread loss of religious faith.Organizing a false attack on the Twin Towers would have demanded “the collaboration of hundreds, if not thousands, of people,” Eco writes.
Now, however, it generally doesn’t take much to merit a legion of “followers,” a profusion of “likes.” It often just means laying claim to a parcel of media space.
In a 2002 piece Eco already spotted this trend, pointing to the endless procession of untalented people rushing to appear on television reality shows to air their scandals and sins; or who, when a camera appears in public, jostle to position themselves before its lens, eager to “wave ” to those watching at home.
, his 1980 murder mystery set in a medieval monastery.
For the most part Eco’s hefty novel clips along agreeably, even though it’s replete with Latin quotes, literary allusions, and rather complex philosophical themes.
Eco was at his best addressing scholarly subjects in an engaging, accessible way.
In his 1989 collection of essays, , he noted that “the fact that what I do is called ‘semiotics’ should not frighten anyone.” That book, which included pieces on Disneyland, the World Cup, and Thomas Aquinas, was without jargon and pretense, and sometimes showed Eco joking at his own expense.
The Jesuits also created the CIA, of course, and pulled the strings during Richard Nixon’s presidency.
The wide appeal of crackpot history prompts concern about our culture’s continuing inability to know the difference between the imaginary and the real.
At the very least, for children, a more rigorous schooling in the history of religion would seem to be in order, particularly since the media environment that envelopes them “is now transmitting less and less useful information, and more and more that is entirely useless.” Early in this collection Eco admits that he might occasionally appear “apocalyptic.” In fairness, though, isn’t entirely bleak.
It includes appreciative pieces on the Harry Potter novels and the mystery novels of Rex Stout.