Umberto Eco, 1932-2016

Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher, writer and semiotics professor, is dead at 84, reports the BBC.

Eco is most famous as the author of elaborate historical novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but my favorite is his book of shorts, Misreadings.

From it, here is his summary of the Bible, presented as an internal memo at a publishing house written by an editor rejecting the manuscript.

The Bible:

I must say that the first few hundred pages of this manuscript really hooked me. Action-packed, they have everything today's reader wants in a good story. Sex (lots of it, including adultery, sodomy, incest), also murder, war, massacres, and so on.

The Sodom and Gomorrah chapter, with the tranvestites putting the make on the angels, is worthy of Rabelais; the Noah stories are pure Jules Verne; the escape from Egypt cries out to be turned into a major motion picture . . . In other words, a real blockbuster, very well structured, with plenty of twists, full of invention, with just the right amount of piety, and never lapsing into tragedy.

But as I kept on reading, I realized that this is actually an anthology, involving several writers, with many--too many--stretches of poetry, and passages that are downright mawkish and boring, and jeremiads that make no sense.

The end result is a monster omnibus. It seems to have something for everybody, but ends up appealing to nobody. And acquiring the rights from all these different authors will mean big headaches, unless the editor takes care of that himself. The editor's name, by the way, doesn't appear anywhere on the manuscript, not even in the table of contents. Is there some reason for keeping his identity a secret?

I'd suggest trying to get the rights only to the first five chapters. We're on sure ground there. Also come up with a better title. How about The Red Sea Desperadoes?

Notable Replies

  1. tropo says:

    Foucault's Pendulum was one of my favorites. The layers of conspiracy on top of conspiracy, woven together in a very intellectually playful manner. It was a dense read, but loads of fun. So passes another great.

  2. Eco's rejection letter for Joyce is great:

  3. So January was performance artists (musicians, actors), and now February is writers. I don't want to know what March will bring.

  4. tropo says:

    I made the arrogant statement one time, when asked what the book was about: "Picture The Da Vinci Code but smart, and with meaning."

  5. It is a sad day for semiotics.

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