Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"The Name of the Rose"

Day by day, lately, I am dog-paddling through "The Name of the Rose," a first novel written by Umberto Eco. The book was published in Italian in 1980 and in English in 1983. I first read it when it came out and created the kind of glittering splash that books receive when readers don't quite understand the book but want to jump on the popularity bandwagon.

"The Name of the Rose" is an intellectual handful, not just for the stretches of Latin that go untranslated, but for its intricate syntax and apparently profound knowledge of Roman Catholic Christianity in 1327. The book is pegged to a couple of deaths at a monastery and to the investigator sent to sort things out... William of Baskerville ... no kidding.

Why I keep reading this book is not entirely clear to me. I don't recommend it. It's 500 pages long (length of a decent novel is a plus in my lexicon) and weighs too much to hold up for long. The sentences are nothing short of filigreed. Since the scene is set in a monastery, naturally the place is full of cat fights, all of them couched in theological references and intellectual sword-play. Characters try to out-virtue each other at every turn while all the time cloaking themselves in a requisite humility. There are asides into cooking and magic and printing and animal husbandry tart exchanges about the role of laughter in a proper religious outlook.

I think what I find tantalizing -- and why I don't just grab some juicy, biff-bam-boom, tits-and-ass, page-turning mystery off the shelf -- is the implicit longing to be part of something greater so that, by extension, greatness or peace or heaven or whatever the local brass ring is will touch the participant/desciple/devotee/well-versed: Join the group; join the widely-held-belief; learn to applaud and disdain in unison ... life will be better.

What is that all about ... being party to something "greater?" Learning the lingo, ingesting the moves, talking the talk, making erudite support structures or questioning those structures. What's so off-putting about having a personal view that is just that -- a personal view that does not seek out struts and props and nuts and bolts and invariable cat fights? I suppose the coziness of social interaction is part of it. And another part is learning from others. But the line between learning and relying is peculiar and fraught. Is the price worth the blowback -- comfortable accommodations within a cozy asylum that can overwhelm a scene which rests on personal preference or understanding? How would it be if religion did not rely on "religion?" What's the matter with your point of view -- even if it agrees with some cheering, cat-fighting majority?

On these cold winter days, I suppose it's nice to have a muffler. But shall that bit of coziness guarantee that anyone is not, as always, naked and that that nakedness is hardly unique?

1 comment:

  1. Entertainment that isn't boring, isn't that enough? We've probably earned some "calgon moments".