All entries for Tuesday 09 May 2006

May 09, 2006

The Name of The Rose

4 out of 5 stars

Many, many moons ago, a relative gave me The Name of The Rose to read. I read it, enjoyed it, and put it away on the shelf, not thinking very much more about it. Some time later I was looking for something to talk about for my Italian oral exam, and decided to dig it up again, and do a more in depth analysis of it in relation to Eco's work as a semiotician.

This really highlights the nature of this book: you can read it, and you can study it, and either way you get a lot out of it.

Basic level: it's a medieval mystery set in a monastery in which a Franciscan monk tries to solve a series of murders, and find a mysterious book that seems to lie at the heart of all the conflict. If you read it at this level, the pacing may seem a bit odd,as various theological and philosophical interludes are cut into a quest to find the Truth.

More "sophisticated" reading: just about anything in the book can be analysed as a commentary on some level or other, from references to other authors and works, (William and his helper/narrator Adso are fairly obviously nods to Holmes and Watson), to references to contemporary events (the theological dispute is arguably a reference to Italian political situation at the time Eco was writing). It's quite possible to read the book playing spot the reference, coming up with all sorts of links. Eco has always refused to comment on these linkages, so no one can ever prove you wrong, either….

Then there's a whole new level of meaning that opens up when the book is considered in light of Eco's semiotics. The book is rife with the references to signs and sybology, meanings and interpretations. These are not just interjections, for the whole plot is driven by William passing through stages of understanding, advanced when he and Adso successfully recognise not just a sign in its physical sense, but the significance of this on a wider scale. For instance: a horse is identified, and William shows the nature of horse the concept versus a horse the object. A word puzzle is solved, and in doing so William highlights the self referential nature of language….

The disadvantage of all this is that I read the book feeling I wasn't really getting everything out of it that I could. Many, many books of comentary have been written on it, and no doubt they haven't exhausted the subject. Despite this, however, it's perfectly possible to read the book and enjoy it without once considering it at more than a superficial level.

So, a book for everyone? Not quite. I think there's still quite a bit of fluff in the book, regardless of what level you read it at, and Eco openly admitted he made the first couple of hundred pages deliberately difficult to put off the casual reader. The minutia of medieval monastic theology can also get a little tedious fior the non–specialist. So, on this rather simplistic rating system, 4 stars.

(Oh yes, and you should of course read it in the original italian…)

entering the blogosphere

Amazing, I discovered today that I'm not the last person in the world to get a blog, as I'd previously thought. I might as well be, though, as the person even less in touch than me is actually my dad. Says something about my family, I know.

Anyway, I launched into a half–hour lecture on blogging and New Media, shifting paradigms of communication and all that, and continued for quite some time before realising I didn't really have much more of clue about what I was talking about than he did. Which lead me to ask – what the hell is a blog and what's the point, for god's sake?

(This is of course, one of the old favourites for people starting out blogging, isn't it? Stay tuned for a) angst about my life, with particular attention paid to details of my diet; and b) a detailed description of my cat.)

Now, both these questions could lead to long, pseudo–intellectual discussions on the nature of communication, changing modes of social interaction and the call to a new Digital Democracy: but you, dear reader, have heard all that many times before. Instead I shall answer both questions briefly: a) a blog is a body of random writings placed online in an attempt to deny the division between people who get professsionally published: i.e. those who have something interesting to say, and the rest of us: i.e. those who don't; and b) it serves to reinforce one's fragile ego and waste some time – without resorting to internet snooker, which is what the guy on the computer in front of me is doing right now.

So – that's how I define what I'm doing. I'm not playing internet snooker. Everything else is up for grabs.

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