Saturday, March 28, 2009

Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus laughing...



Mmm, do you think
He had a beautiful smile?

A smile that healed
-Why Should I Love You, Kate Bush, The Red Shoes


I finally read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It seems funny that I hadn't read it before now, but I remember deciding to read Foucault's Pendulum many years ago, and then being so overwhelmed that I put off TNOR.



Part of the hesitation was the existence of the movie. The movie, for various reasons, the cast, the time, was printed on my mind. I don't think that Sean Connery was particularly well cast as William of Baskerville (yes, named for both William of Ockham--he allegedly of Ockham's razor--and Sherlock Holmes) but I don't hate him in the part. He made it his.



From the description in the book I could almost picture James Cromwell in the role, but at the time the movie came out, Cromwell was best known for playing the nerd dad in Revenge of the Nerds, so probably wasn't a prime contender. F. Murry Abraham was delightfully well cast, particularly bringing the memory of his Salieri to it. He plays obsessives well.



What is certainly missing from the movie is Ecco's remarkable knowledge and description of the religious/political turmoil of the time and what it meant for the everyday souls.



As Wikipedia puts it:


The Name of the Rose, a novel by Umberto Eco, is a historical
whodunnit
— a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in
the year 1327. It is an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical
analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.


I didn't annotate it because it was my husbands, and I read it now, over a month ago so much I would like to point out is lost (fitting, perhaps for a post-modern novel and Eco's general points about memory and reality).



One of the central thoughts, and what prompted my use of the Kate Bush lyric above is the possible existence of Aristotle's Comedy. A work that has never been found and which forms the core of the mystery--the killing of people to prevent anyone from reading it.



The curious position of the church on knowledge is described well in the monastery's purpose--which is to copy manuscripts, but also their mission which is to hide those manuscripts which might conflict with church doctrine. One character says that the perfect illuminator would be the one who could not read, but only copies the letters--preserving the object, but ignoring the content.



And comedy, they believe, is a sin--a leading away from God, because if we can laugh at all things, we can laugh at authority--up to God himself. Jesus did not laugh, the blind librarian Jorge cries.



What is truth without context, but doesn't context shape the truth? An easier read than Foucault's Pendulum, it is still as intricate, and dare I say it, labyrinthine?

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