Umberto Eco Interview

 He is the most un-pretentions modern writer. In an interview in the last issue of the «Paris Review», he openly admits that he watches TV, that poetry is really a teen habbit and that he is still obsessed with middle ages. It’s a pitty we don’t have more like him: a fiction writer with a unique charisma, but also a man of his age that he tries to interpret (vs just criticise) his era.

INTERVIEWER Did the war have any impact on your decision to write?

ECO No, there is no direct connection. I had started writing before the war, independently of the war. As an adolescent I wrote comic books, because I read lots of them, and fantasy novels set in Malaysia and Central Africa. I was a perfectionist and wanted to make them look as though they had been printed, so I wrote them in capital letters and made up title pages, summaries, illustrations. It was so tiring that I never finished any of them. I was at that time a great writer of unaccomplished masterpieces. Obviously, however, when I began writing novels my memories of the war played a certain role. But every man is obsessed by the memories of his own youth.

INTERVIEWER To what extent are your novels autobiographical?

ECO In some way I think every novel is. When you imagine a character, you lend him or her some of your personal memories. You give part of yourself to character number one and another part to character number two. In this sense, I am not writing any sort of autobiography, but the novels are my autobiography. There’s a difference.

INTERVIEWER In the postscript to The Name of the Rose you wrote, “I see the period everywhere, transparently overlaying my daily concerns, which do not look medieval, though they are.” How are your daily concerns medieval?

ECO My whole life, I have had innumerable experiences of full immersion in the Middle Ages. For instance, in preparing my thesis, I went twice for monthlong trips to Paris, conducting research at the Bibliothèque Nationale. And I decided in those two months to live only in the Middle Ages. If you reduce the map of Paris, selecting only certain streets, you can really live in the Middle Ages. Then you start to think and feel like a man of the Middle Ages. I remember, for instance, that my wife, who has a green thumb and knows the names of just about all the herbs and flowers in the world, always reproached me prior to The Name of the Rose for not looking properly at nature. Once, in the countryside, we made a bonfire and she said, Look at the embers flying up among the trees. Of course I didn’t pay attention. Later on, when she read the last chapter of The Name of the Rose, in which I describe a similar fire, she said, So you did look at the embers! And I said, No, but I know how a medieval monk would look at embers.

INTERVIEWER Are you still obsessed with television?

ECO I suspect that there is no serious scholar who doesn’t like to watch television. I’m just the only one who confesses. And then I try to use it as material for my work. But I am not a glutton who swallows everything. I don’t enjoy watching any kind of television. I like the dramatic series and I dislike the trash shows.

INTERVIEWER Are there any shows that you particularly love?

ECO The police series. Starsky and Hutch, for instance.

INTERVIEWER That show doesn’t exist anymore. It’s from the seventies.

ECO I know, but I was told that the complete series was just released on DVD, so I am thinking of acquiring it. Other than that I like CSI, Miami Vice, ER, and most of all, Columbo.

INTERVIEWER Have you read The Da Vinci Code?

ECO Yes, I am guilty of that too.

INTERVIEWER That novel seems like a bizarre little offshoot of Foucault’s Pendulum.

ECO The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist.

Read more in the latest issue of the Paris Review along with articles about Elroy & Rilke (who can say no?).

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