Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

The Name of the Rose

Finished reading The Name of the Rose today. An excellent book I can’t recommend highly enough. It is a book about perversions. Perversions of faith, of knowledge, and of sex, and the ways in which these perversion lead to bad ends. It is about the conflict between faith and reason (this theme was the main focus in the movie version), between religious and temporal power, between the learned and the unlettered, between the powerful and the weak.

In many places, the book touches on matters of current interest, and it is rife with eerily relevant quotes.

The conflict between faith and reason is still with us in the fight between creationism and science. The stalwart conservative of the book, Jorge, polemicized:

“Preservation of, I say, and not search, because it is a property of knowledge, as a human thing, that is has been defined and completed over the course of the centuries, from the preaching of the prophets to the interpretation of the fathers of the church. There is no progress, no revolution of ages, in the history of knowledge, but at most a continuous and sublime recapitulation.”

Contrast with the progressive protagonist, William:

“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept the commentators of holy books had very clearly in mind.”

This has some resonances with the position of the right wing that dissent is somehow unpatriotic, and questioning the government intolerable. And despite the lapdog media’s reluctance to call the government on its shit, we are seeing some of G.W.’s whoppers coming back to bite him. The narrator, Adso, hopefully observed

Such is the power of truth that, like good, it is its own propagator.

Some unpatriotic churls have wondered why we invaded Iraq on the suspicion that it had WMDs, when North Korea was openly admitting they had them. Adso was told by the nomadic heretic Salvatore that

…when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. I reflected this is why the simple are so called.

It’s been noted in a few places that the difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats see the world in shades of gray, and believe in compromise; Republicans see the world in black and white, and don’t. In a showdown, William accused Jorge:

“…the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came. You are the Devil, and like the Devil, you live in darkness. If you wanted to convince me, you have failed. I hate you, Jorge, and if I could, I would lead you downstairs, across the ground, naked, with fowl’s feathers stuck in your asshole and your face painted like a juggler and a buffoon, so the whole monastery would laugh at you and be afraid no longer.”

2 Comments

  1. I agree it’s an excellent book. Relevance to Iraqgate can be discussed, but Eco wasn’t concerned primarily with political issues.

    There is a book out there somewhere called something like “A Skeleton Key to ‘The Name of the Rose'”, which explains many things that would otherwise go over your head if you’re not a medieval scholar.

    The only other thing of Eco’s that I have read, beside a few short essays, is “Foucault’s Pendulum”. This too is interesting, but overlong; fully 300 of its 800 or so pages is devoted to the details of various secret societies since the time of Christ. The secret-society stuff is there for a reason; but on the whole I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are interested in that sort of thing.

  2. I’ve heard about “the key to…” and I might pick that up. What I’d really like is an annotated edition of the book, sort of like the Annotated Lolita (without which I’d have missed 9/10ths of the references).

    I’ve read Foucault’s Pendulum. I found the Brazil section the most tedious, actually, although it was also integral to the finished product.

    And I certainly don’t mean to set up Eco as some sort of latter-day Nostradamous, but I do think the book explores issues that have a habit of popping up in human affairs.

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