The Echo of Eco in The Name of the Rose

Leif Søndergaard

Abstract


Even if Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose (1980) is a historical novel with a medieval plot, even if it was published long ago, it still resounds today. Eco wrote his novel not in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but in the name of the Rose. In his epilogue of the novel Eco argues that a title should confuse the reader rather than bring order and in fact The Name of the Rose opens up for multiple interpretations. Eco has a lot to tell his age (and a later audience) and the best way he can do that is by means of fiction and more specific in a historical novel. The High Middle Ages is a sort of projective time and space for Eco's actual ideas. All literature is written out of and into the society where it has its offspring, no matter how hermetic, autonomous and fantastic it claims to be. Novels may be located in the past or the future, in a fairy world or a utopian society. Under all circumstances they bear witness of the temporal ethnic, national, social, cultural etc. context they are written in, one way or the other. They always have relations to society, even though their relations might be very complex. In fiction the social reality and the historical events are always interpreted, transformed, construed etc,. according to certain procedures of artistic kind, i.e. narrative, structural, symbolic, metaphoric, stylistic, and cognitive devices. This is abundantly the case in The Name of the Rose. Eco has several intentions built into his novel. He wants to challenge and revise the usual ideas of the Middle Ages as a cultural monolithic unity. He uses his semiotic approach first to suggest, and then to deconstruct religious explanations, in casu with the starting point in the Apocalypse. Instead he proposes a postmodern model to give an adequate understanding of society today. There is no single exclusive point of view from where the world can be surveyed and described. At the same time he states the hermeneutic situation of the historians: they are left with only fragments of the past. He gives a fictional explanation of the disappearance of Aristotle's book on the comedy and defends laughter and liberation (William) in contrast to seriousness and control (Jorge). He gives the Bachtinian bodily grotesque figure the name Salvatore (savior). He plays an intertextual game with Jorge Luis Borges (the blind librarian Jorge from Burgos) and others. And finally his anti- authoritarian critique of the power elite in Avignon anno 1327 reminds of Rome anno 1980 - and in fact today.

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