Milan says a tender goodbye to Umberto Eco in high style: let’s hope that someone put his confession about The Da Vinci Code into a eulogy

Umberto Eco funeral, Sforza Castle inner courtyard

Photographs of mourners at Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle): Comune di Milano, with thanks to our peerless detective MIL22

Photographs of mourners at Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle): our thanks to Comune di Milano and our peerless detective MIL22

[ an earlier post on the same subject: here ]

Have we ever seen a novelist or scholar given anything resembling a state funeral before? Probably not, and if Umberto Eco was a typical humbug-hating scribbler — as we suspect, not just from his work but the many descriptions of his large form shuffling along the corridors of his house in ancient slippers and baggy, comfortable clothes — we would expect him to have been vastly amused as well as touched by the sendoff he was given in Italy’s capital of book publishing. He would probably also agree with Flannery O’Connor’s belief that …

[The writer’s] concern with poverty is with a poverty fundamental to man. I believe that the basic experience of everyone is the experience of human limitation….[I]n the sight of the novelist we are all poor, and the actual poor only symbolize for him the state of all men.

Even though Dottore Eco died immensely rich, and even if he took a certain pride in that, no remorseless realist like him would disagree with O’Connor’s take on the philosophical core of all good writers — which rings deeply true.

On a lighter note, … we went looking for fresh experiences of what he offered us — which was a long-running ‘feast of intelligence and intellectual sparkle,’ far more so than technically perfect novels. And never mind if the quotation is a clip from the Libération review on the back cover of The Name of the Rose.

How did Eco explain the sales of Foucault’s Pendulum? Our last post admired Alexander Stille’s review of it in Harper’s, which contains this revelation:

One Italian magazine reported that only 20 percent of the people who bought the book have bothered to read it. Finding even that figure suspiciously high, the magazine quizzed people who claimed to have read the book and found that most could not recall key incidents in the novel.

Now, here are two delectable excerpts from a Paris Review interview with the author. The first seems a flawless encapsulation of the reasons why he was so successful. As for the second, what would-be reader of Foucault and the American blockbuster Eco was asked about — that we must admit we have not read but only listened to, in helpless convulsions, on a long car journey — could possibly disagree with him?

INTERVIEWER

In Foucault’s Pendulum you write, “The more elusive and ambiguous a symbol is, the more it gains significance and power.”

ECO

A secret is powerful when it is empty. People often mention the “Masonic secret.” What on earth is the Masonic secret? No one can tell. As long as it remains empty it can be filled up with every possible notion, and it has power.

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.

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