Il nome della rosa

Umberto Eco
Painting - The Mocking of Christ, Detail by Fra Angelico (1438)
The Mocking of Christ, Detail · Fra Angelico ( 1438)
Fresco · 159 x 195 cm ·Convent San Marco, Florence

“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…”

A precious masterpiece. A book about all other books; about signs laying dormant in all these books, and about meaning laying dormant in all these signs.

“True learning must not be content with ideas, which are, in fact, signs, but must discover things in their individual truth.”

Already in our first encounter with William of Baskerville and novice Adso von Melk, Umberto Eco has the former negotiate between the signified on the “plane of content” and the signifier on the “plane of expression” (Ferdinand de Saussure), in order to unravel the first of many mysteries to come: A runaway horse, which William is able to locate without ever having layed eyes on it, since “the world speaks to us like a great book.”

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

Enourmous, intellectually rewarding treatise on medieval politics and religion, exploring the boundaries between knowledge and secrecy, between sacred and profane, between judgement and absolution. At times, the staggering, dense text becomes utterly hilarious – in the middle of half a dozen murders, as if nothing had happened, a disputation takes place to ascertain if Jesus had ever laughed, even if this is never mentioned in the Bible; another sign of a sign.

“Then why do you want to know? Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.”

An almost endlessly rich labyrinth of recursive signs, which leaves the reader with nothing but anticipation for the next return to this literary monument – certainly to come, and certainly to be as, if not more, bright and gratifying as the previous visits.

“Show not what has been done, but what can be. How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.”

Small sketch - Book Review - Il nome della rosa
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