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《巴黎评论》:安伯托·艾柯访谈--小说的艺术

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2012年访谈,附原文
艾柯 文学评论

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译者:独眼一点五等 原文作者:Lila Azam Zanganeh 
发布:2014-06-09 20:58:56挑错 | 查看译者版本 | 收藏本文

译者:五月撄宁 arlene163 香香落野 sibyl玥 独眼一点五(负责人)

我第一次打电话给安伯托·艾柯(Umberto Eco)时,他正坐在自家十七世纪庄园内的桌旁。庄园坐落于意大利亚得里亚海岸附近乌尔比诺城外的山间,艾柯一面盛赞庄园内漂亮的泳池,一面又担心我是否能应付乌尔比诺地区迂回的山路。因此,最后我们决定约在他位于米兰的寓所见面。我抵达的那天,恰好是去年意大利的八月节,是整个夏季最为欢乐沸腾的日子,也是天主教堂庆祝圣母玛利亚升天的节日。米兰灰色的建筑在热气中闪着微光,人行道上轻覆着薄薄的尘埃,街上鲜少听到汽车引擎的声响。我步入艾柯的寓所大楼,走进一架"世纪之交"时的老式电梯,随后便听到顶楼传来的嘎吱的门响,不久, 便看见艾柯气宇轩昂的身影出现在电梯铁门之后。"啊哈!"他微微皱了皱眉。

艾柯的寓所内布满了迷宫似的回廊,回廊上排放着高及屋顶的书架。据艾柯所言,这里共有三万卷书,而在他的庄园里还有另外两万卷。在这些书中,我看见有托勒密的科学论著、卡尔维诺的小说、关于索绪尔与乔伊斯的评论研究以及几书架中世纪历史书籍与神秘晦涩的手稿。艾柯的图书馆充满生机,许多书因经常翻阅已经陈旧磨损。他阅读速度飞快,记忆力惊人。在他的书房里错落放置着一些书架,上面摆放着他自己作品的全部译本(阿拉伯语、芬兰语、日语......在数了三十多种语言之后,我已然无法计数了)。艾柯饱含深情地向我一一指出他的作品,将我的注意力吸引到他一卷又一卷的著作上:从他早期的批评理论里程碑著作《开放的作品》(The Open Work)到他的新著《丑的历史》(On Ugliness)。

 

最初,艾柯以中世纪研究和符号学学者的身份开始了他的事业。接着,他在48岁时(1980年)出版了小说《玫瑰之名》(The Name of the Rose)。小说销量逾一千万册,在世界出版界内引起了轰动。这位大学教授摇身一变成为了文学界的明星。记者们蜂拥而至,询问他对文化的看法,敬服于他的博学,一时间,他被视为仍在世的最重要的意大利作家。自那以后的数年间,他陆续写作了主题奇特的随笔、学术论文和四部更为畅销的小说,包括1988年的《傅科摆》(Foucault's Pendulum)和2004年的《罗安娜女王的神秘火焰》(The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana)。

 

艾柯挺着肚子,双脚在地板上缓缓挪动着,在他的带领下,我们来到了客厅。彼时的窗外,米兰的天空正映衬着中世纪城堡的巨大轮廓。我原本期待看见满屋的挂毯与意大利古董,没想到映入眼帘的却是现代式家具、几个陈列着贝壳与珍稀漫画的玻璃橱柜、一把鲁特琴1、一叠收藏的唱片以及一幅画笔主题的拼贴画。"你看,这是阿曼2专门为我创作的......"

 

我在一张宽大的白色沙发上坐下,而艾柯则将自己埋在他低矮的扶手椅里,手里夹着雪茄。他告诉我,他曾经一天抽60根雪茄,而现在,他只是夹在手中把玩而已。我开始问第一个问题时,他的眼睛眯成了一条缝,然而轮到他说话时,他却突然睁开了眼睛。"我爱上中世纪的过程,"他说,"同有些人爱上椰子的过程如出一辙。"在意大利,他以谈话时富于韵律的节拍、颇具喜剧色彩的俏皮话而闻名。在他蜿蜒曲折的长句中,几乎每一个拐弯处都藏着一个俏皮的包袱。 当他说得越来越长时,他的声音似乎也越来越洪亮。很快,他便像对着一教室全神贯注的学生讲课一样,概括起要点来:"首先,我在写《玫瑰之名》时,当然不知道亚里士多德的《诗学》中著名的已散轶的喜剧卷宗中的内容,因为没有人会知晓,然而,在写作过程中,我通过某种方式竟然发现了它们。其次,侦探小说中的疑问同时也是哲学上的核心问题:谁干的?"当他认为他的谈话者足够聪明时,他会迅速展开专业的评析:"这的确不错,但如果是我,我会补充说明......

 

在我们历时两小时的首轮访谈结束后,艾柯的意大利出版商马里欧·安德利欧塞(Mario Andreose,亦为意大利邦皮亚尼出版社的文学主任)前来带我们去吃晚饭。与艾柯结婚四十五年的妻子瑞纳特·拉姆什(Renate Ramge)与安德利欧塞坐在车子前排,我则与艾柯坐进了后座。几分钟前还闪耀着智慧与活力光芒的艾柯,现在却显得有些沉郁冷淡。不过当我们进入餐厅后,面对着摆在桌前的面包时,他的情绪很快高昂了起来。起初他盯着菜单,犹豫不决,然而当服务员过来点单时,他却很快点了意大利烤奶酪馅饼和苏格兰威士忌。"是的,是的,我不应该,不应该......"一位读者兴高采烈地跑到我们桌前:"请问您是安伯托·艾柯吗?"这位教授挑了挑眉毛,咧嘴笑了笑后,摆了摆手。之后,我们的谈话重新开始,艾柯兴奋地谈论起教皇本笃十六世、波斯帝国的衰落和詹姆斯·邦德的新片来。"你知道吗?",艾柯边用叉子叉着他的烤奶酪馅饼,边说道:"我曾经出版过一部对伊安·弗兰明3的情节原型进行结构分析的书。"

                *              *              *

 

采访者:请问您在哪儿出生?

 

安伯托·艾柯:亚历山德里亚,那儿以出产博尔萨利诺帽而闻名。

 

采访者:您来自一个怎样的家庭呢? 

 

艾柯:我的父亲是一位会计师,祖父是一名印刷工人。我祖父有十三个孩子,我父亲是老大。而我又是我父亲的长子,我的儿子刚好也是我的第一个孩子,他的第一个孩子也还是男孩。所以,如果某人偶然发现艾柯家族是拜占庭皇帝的后裔的话,那么我的孙子就是皇太子了!

 

我的祖父对我的人生有着尤为重要的影响,即使我小时候并没能经常见到他,因为他住在镇外大约三英里的地方,而且他在我六岁时就过世了。我祖父对这个世界有着异常充沛的好奇心,而且他读过很多书。他做过的一件了不起的事情是他在退休之后开始装订书本。他家里因此铺满了未装订的书籍--那些老版的、带有精美插图的戈蒂耶4和大仲马创作的十九世纪流行小说--这些便是我最早接触到的书籍。当祖父于1938年过世后,许多书主并没有索回那些未装订完的书籍,我家人就把这些书收进了一个大箱子里。很偶然地,这个箱子被放进了我父母的地窖里。我经常被派去地窖里拿些煤或者酒之类的杂物,有一次,我偶然打开了这个箱子,发现了这个满是书本的宝藏。自那以后,我就经常到地窖里去看书。我发现我祖父还收藏有一种配有插图的海陆旅游与探险杂志,讲述些奇特残忍的异国故事。那是我第一次闯入小说的领域,意义重大。不过很可惜,之后我把这些书本和杂志都弄丢了。但后来的几十年间,我渐渐从旧书店里和跳蚤市场上找回了一些。

 

采访者:如果在您探访您祖父之前没有见过任何书的话,这是不是就说明您父母家里一本书也没有呢?

 

艾柯:这是一个很奇怪的现象。我父亲年轻时,曾如饥似渴地读书。我祖父家有十三个孩子,一家人努力工作才能勉强维持温饱,父亲根本买不起书。于是,他就到街边的书报摊去,站在那儿看书。当报摊老板表露出不耐烦的神色时,他就换一家报摊,继续读上本书的第二部分......这是我视若珍宝的一幕,它体现了父亲对书本的不懈追求。成年之后,父亲只有在傍晚时分才有闲暇阅读,那时他主要看些报纸杂志。我们家也只有几本小说,而且不是摆在书架上,而是放在壁橱里。有时,我也看见父亲在读从朋友那儿借来的小说。

 

采访者:您父亲是怎么看待您这么年轻就成为学者这件事的呢?

 

艾柯:唔,他早在1962年就去世了。但在他去世之前,我就已经出版了一些书,都是些学术作品,书里的内容可能会让我父亲感到困惑。但有时在傍晚很晚的时候,我发现他在努力阅读这些书。《开放的作品》一书恰好在我父亲去世前三个月出版,并且获得了伟大诗人埃乌杰尼奥·蒙塔莱5的评论。评论刊登在《晚邮报》6上,是一篇混合着好奇、友善与污言的评论。但不管怎样,那是蒙塔莱的评论呀!我觉得,这点对我父亲来说,就是最难以想象的事情了。从某种意义而言,我还清了债务,并且满足了他的所有期望,尽管我觉得我的小说应该会让他读起来更开心。我母亲比我父亲多活了十年,所以她知道我写了许多其他类型的书籍,并且受邀至国外大学讲课。虽然她身体很虚弱,但看到我的这些成就时,她很开心,虽然我觉得她实际上并不了解我所做的事情。而且,你知道的,母亲总是会为儿子感到骄傲,即使她的儿子是个蠢货。

 

采访者:当您还是个孩子时,法西斯主义在意大利兴起,接着二战爆发。那么当时您是怎么看待这一切的呢?

 

艾柯:那是一段反常的岁月。墨索里尼极具领袖魅力,而且他喜欢每个意大利学校里的孩子。当时我参加了法西斯青年运动,我们被要求穿着统一的军式制服参加星期六的集会。而我们也很乐意去做这些事情,这就像今天让一个美国男孩穿上水手服一样,他会觉得这是 一件很有趣的事儿。整场运动对我们这些孩子来说是一件十分自然的事情,就像冬天的雪花夏日的酷暑那样自然,我们根本想象不到还有另外的生活方式。当我回想起那段日子时,我心里便会满溢起一种温柔,与人们回忆起童年时生出的温柔一样。甚至当我想起那些轰炸和那些在避难所度过的夜晚时,也同样带着温柔亲切。当1943年一切结束的时候,伴随着法西斯主义的初步瓦解,我在民主报纸上发现了不同政治党派与观点的存在。1943年9月至1945年4月间,也是意大利历史上最为伤痕累累的年月里,为了躲避轰炸,我与母亲、姐姐迁居乡村,住在卡萨莱蒙费拉托镇7里一个皮埃蒙特人8村庄里,那里是抵御空袭的中心。

 

采访者:您目睹过战斗场面吗?

 

艾柯:我记得曾目睹过法西斯军队和同盟军的枪战,而且当时很希望自己能加入战斗。某些时刻,我甚至能回想起自己躲避子弹、从高处跳落到地面的情形。那时,从我居住的村子里,可以看见他们每周都在轰炸亚历山德里亚9,那是我父亲工作的地方。当时,天空被轰炸染成了橘黄色,电话线路被炸毁,我们只能等到周末父亲回到家时才能确定他还活着。那段时期的乡村生活迫使一个年轻男人学会了如何存活下去。

 

采访者:您走上写作道路和二战有关系吗?

 

艾柯:不,两者之间没有直接的联系。我在战争之前就开始写作,和战争无关。在少年时代,我创作了一些连环漫画,因为我读过很多漫画。我还创作了以马来西亚和中非为背景的奇幻小说。我是个完美主义者,希望这些书看起来像已经印出来一样。因此写作时我用了大写字母,并编写了扉页、摘要,还配了插图。这些工作都很累人,我没有一次能做到有始有终。我在那时候是创作未完巨著的大文豪哟。然而,显然在我开始写作小说的时候,对战争的记忆就起了一定的作用。但是每个人都更留恋自己年轻时的回忆。

 

采访者:您给别人看过这些早期作品吗?

 

艾柯:有可能爸妈瞧见了我正在做什么,但我想我没给别人看过。这就是我独处时的自娱自乐10罢了。

 

采访者:你曾经谈过在这个时期你也试着写作诗歌。在一篇论写作的文章中,你说过:"我的诗在功能起源和形式构造上都和青春痘差不多。" 

 

艾柯:我想在某个特定的年龄,比如说十五、六岁,诗就好像手淫一样 。但是长大一些之后,优秀的诗人就会把早期的诗作烧掉,而拙劣的诗人则把它们发表出来。幸好我及早抽身了。

 

采访者:谁鼓励你进行这些文学尝试呢?

 

艾柯:我的外婆。她是个热切的读者。她只上到小学五年级,但她是市图书馆的会员,她一星期给我带回家两三本书。有情节诱人的肤浅小说,也有巴尔扎克的巨著。在她的眼里,它们并没什么差别--都是引人入胜的故事。而我的母亲,曾经接受过打字员培训,她一开始学过法语和德语,尽管她在年轻的时候博览群书,随着年岁渐长,她变得有些懒散,只读读浪漫小说和妇女杂志。因此我不看她读的书。但是她谈吐优雅,有一种高贵的意大利范儿,她写作很有文采,她的朋友都请她代笔写信。她的语感极佳,虽然她很早就不上学了。我想,我从她那里继承了纯正的写作品味,以及我最初的文风。

 

采访者:你的作品有多大的自传成分?

 

艾柯:我认为在某种意义上每部小说都是我的自传。当你虚构一个人物的时候,你就会赋予他或她自己的个人回忆。你把自己的部分性格给了一个角色,另外一部分性格给了另外一个角色。在这个意义上,我并没有写过任何自传,但是我创作的小说就是我的自传。两者之间还是有区别的。

 

采访者:是不是很多形象是从生活中直接移植到小说里面去的呢?我想到了《傅科摆》里面在墓地里吹喇叭的贝尔勃。

 

艾柯:这个场景绝对带有自传性质。我不是贝尔勃,但是这件事确实发生在我身上,并且它意义非凡,所以现在我要告诉你我从未提起过的事情。三个月前我花了大概2000美元买了一把高端大气的喇叭。要演奏喇叭,你必须长时间地训练嘴唇。在十二、三岁的时候我吹得还不错,可是我现在已将技艺忘却,吹得不堪入耳。即使是这样,我还是每天都吹,因为我希望回到童年。对于我来说,喇叭见证了我曾经是个什么样的小伙子。我对小提琴没什么感觉,但是看见喇叭我就觉得血脉贲张。

 

采访者:您觉得您还能吹奏童年时的曲子吗?

 

艾柯:我吹得越多,我便越能清晰地回忆起儿时的曲调。当然也有一些乐章音调太高太过艰难,我就会反复吹奏好几次。我努力练习,但是我知道我的唇形并不太正确。

 

采访者:同样的,你是不是也难以找回儿时的回忆了呢?

 

艾柯:很奇怪,随着年龄的增长,我反而能够想起更多的往事。给你举个例子:我们那里的方言是亚历山德罗方言,一种混杂了隆巴德、艾米兰和吉诺维斯口音的皮埃蒙特地区方言。我不说这种方言,因为我来自资产阶级家庭,我的父亲觉得我和姐姐应该只讲意大利语。然而在父母对话的时候,他们却讲这种方言。所以我完全能够听懂这种方言,但是不会说。半个世纪之后,它却突然从我的身体深处,或从我的无意识中,冒了出来。当我遇到亚历山德的老朋友时,我竟然会说这种方言了!所以随着我人生的时光流逝,我不仅能够记起我忘掉的事情,而且还能忆起我自认为从未学习过的事。

 

采访者:为什么你决心研习中世纪美学? 

 

艾柯:我接受的是天主教教育,大学时我还是一个全国天主教学生组织的负责人。因此我对中世纪学术思想和早期基督教理论很是着迷。我还曾着手写一篇关于托马斯·阿奎那的美学理论的论文,但是在我完成之前,我的信仰遭受了一次震荡。这和复杂的政治事件有关。我属于该学生组织中较为激进的一方,对社会问题和社会正义比较关注。而右翼势力则受到教皇十二世的庇护。某天,有人指责我们那一方是异端、是共产主义。甚至梵蒂冈的官方报纸也攻击我们。这场事件使我从哲学的角度对我的信仰进行了修正。但是我还是怀着崇敬之心继续研究中世纪和中世纪哲学,更不用说我深爱的阿奎那了。

 

采访者:在《玫瑰之名》的附录中你写道:"我在每个地方都能看见中世纪的影子,显而易见地,它们覆盖了我的日常生活,那些看起来与中世纪完全不搭调的生活琐碎,实际上都沾染着中世纪的色彩。"您的那些生活琐事,是怎么沾染上中世纪色彩的呢?

 

艾柯:我的整个一生,有无数沉浸在中世纪之中的经历。比如说,在我准备论文的时候,我有两次在巴黎住了一个月,在国家图书馆里搞研究。我决定,在那两个月里面只在中世纪里生活。如果你简化巴黎的地图,只选择特定的街道,你真的可以生活在中世纪之中。然后你就可以开始像中世纪的人那样去思考、去感觉。比如说,我记得,我的妻子精通园艺,知道世界上几乎所有花花草草的名字,在我写作《玫瑰之名》前她就经常训斥我,说我没有正确看待自然。曾经有一次在乡间,我们生了一堆篝火,她让我去看在树林间飞舞的余烬。当然了,我怎么会在意这种事呢。过了不久,她读到了《玫瑰之名》的最后一章,在此章中我描述的篝火和那天晚上很相似。她说,那天你真的看了那些树林间的余烬呢!我说,我没看,但是我知道一个中世纪的修道士是怎么看余烬的。

 

采访者:你觉得你会真的很享受中世纪的生活么? 

 

艾柯:如果我真的生活在中世纪,我就活不到现在这把年纪了。我想如果我真的生活在中世纪,我对这段历史的感受将会与现在有很大不同。我宁愿只是想象一下。

 

采访者:对于一个门外汉来说,中世纪弥漫着神秘遥远的气息。你怎么会对中世纪感兴趣呢? 

 

艾柯:很难说。你为什么会坠入爱河?如果非要我解释,我会说因为这段历史和人们想象的完全不同。对于我来说,它不是一段"黑暗时期",而是一段光明的时期,是孕育了文艺复兴的肥沃的土壤。这是一段虽混乱无序却又生机勃勃的过渡时期--从中诞生了现代城市、银行体系、大学、关于现代欧洲及其语言、国家和文化的理念。

 

艾柯:是的,但是人们必须谨慎地对待类比。我曾经写过一篇论文,对中世纪和我们的时代做过某些类比。但是如果你给我50美元,我也会给你写一篇文章来研究我们的时代和尼安德塔人11的时代的相同点。找到类似之处总是很容易的。尽管如此,我还是认为对历史的关注还是意味着对历史和当下进行旁征博引的对类比。我承认我守旧到了古怪的地步,但我仍旧相信,正如西塞罗相信的那样,现实生活要以史为鉴。

 

采访者:作为一名研究中世纪的年轻学者,你怎么突然搞起语言研究了呢?

 

艾柯:自从我记事起,我就对交流的意义感兴趣。在美学领域,这个问题是:艺术作品的本质是什么?艺术作品是怎么和我们交流的?我对于后一个问题尤其感兴趣。此外,人类的特有属性之一便是拥有创造语言的能力。结果,我的论文完成之后,我立刻开始在意大利国家电台工作。那时候是1954年,仅在第一个电视广播台出现几个月之后。这就是意大利大众视觉传媒时代的肇始。因而我开始怀疑我是不是人格分裂的那种怪人。一方面,我对实验性文学和艺术中语言表现出来的最先进的功能感兴趣。另一方面,我又对陶醉于电视、连环画、侦探小说。自然,我会扪心自问,我的各种爱好之间是不是差别太大了呢?

 

采访者:你曾经说过符号学就是研究谎言的理论。

 

艾柯:我本应该说:"道出了事实的反面",而非"谎言"。人类可以讲故事、想象全新的世界、犯一些错误,并且我们还可以说谎。语言使这些成为可能。

 

说谎是专属于人类的能力。一只狗追踪着气味就能追踪痕迹,可以说狗和气味都不会说谎。但是我可以对你撒谎,让你偏离原本计划的方向,然而你却相信了我,就走向了错误的方向。这可能是因为我们依赖符号。 

 

采访者:一些反对符号学成为一个研究领域的人宣称,符号学最终会使一切现实都烟消云散。 

 

艾柯:这种立场我们称之为解构主义。解构主义者们不仅假设所有的事物都是文本--甚至这张桌子也是文本--而且认为人们对每种文本都能加以无限的解释,但是他们仍旧遵循着尼采开创的理念,尼采认为没有事实,只有阐释。相反,我继承了查尔斯·桑德斯·皮尔士的思想,毫无疑问,他是美国最伟大的哲学家,也是符号学与阐释学之父。他说过通过符号,我们可以阐释事实。如果没有事实而只余阐释,那还有什么可阐释的呢?这就是我在《阐释的界限》(The Limits of Interpretation)一文中所论述的。

 

采访者:《傅科摆》中您写道:"一个符号越晦涩越模棱两可,它就越具意义和力量。"

 

艾柯:空洞的秘密是强大的。人们经常提到共济会的秘密。到底什么是共济会的秘密?无人知晓。 只要它保持着这个空洞的状态,人们就能用各种可能的概念将它填满,它就具备了力量。

 

采访者:您觉得你符号学学者和小说家这两个身份是完全分离的吗?

 

艾柯:这看起来可能很不可思议,但写小说时我从不去想符号学,之后我让其他人去做这部分工作。 而他们的成果总令我惊异不已。

 

采访者: 您依然对电视着迷吗?

 

艾柯:我怀疑没有一个严肃的学者不喜欢看电视,我只是唯一坦白承认这点的学者而已。我设法利用它作为工作的素材。但我不是来者不拒的,并不是所有类型的电视我都喜欢,我喜欢扣人心弦的电视剧而不喜欢垃圾节目。

 

采访者:您有特别喜爱的电视剧集吗?

 

艾柯:警察片系列,例如《警界双雄》。

 

采访者: 这是70年代的影片,现在已经完结了。

 

艾柯:我知道,但我听说完整剧集的 DVD才刚发行,我正想着弄它一套。此外,我还爱看《灭罪鉴证科》,《迈阿密风云》《仁心仁术》,尤其是《神探科伦坡》。

 

采访者:您看过《达·芬奇密码》吗?

 

艾柯:看过,同时也有一种犯罪的感觉。

 

采访者: 这部小说好像是《傅科摆》的一个奇异衍生品。

 

艾柯:作者丹·布朗简直就是《傅科摆》中我创造的一个人物! 他与我笔下的人物有着共同的痴迷:蔷薇十字会、共济会、耶稣会的世界阴谋;圣殿骑士团的角色;炼金术的秘密;一切都相互关联的原理。我甚至怀疑丹·布朗可能根本不存在。

 

采访者: 要认真对待小说的虚构前提,这一理念似乎体现于您很多的小说中。虚构能以它的某种方式获得实体和真实。

 

艾柯:是的,虚构能够创造真实。《波多里诺》我的第四部小说写的正是关于这一点。在神圣罗马帝国腓特烈一世的朝代,生活着一个名叫波多里诺的小男孩骗子。他大编特编--从圣杯传奇到波伦亚陪审员对巴尔巴罗萨(德意志国王腓特烈一世)统治的合法化。结果他引发了真实的后果。捏造和错误能够创造真实的历史事件。就像祭司王约翰的信,它是捏造的--在我的小说中它正是由波多里诺编造出来的--然而,它描述的一个在神秘的东方兴起繁荣的美妙绝伦的基督教王国却真实激发了中世纪的人们对亚洲的探索。或者以克里斯多弗·哥伦布为例,他对地球的看法完全失实。就像当时的人们包括他的对手那样,在他看来地球是圆的。但他认为要小得多。在这个错误观念的指导下,他发现了美洲。 另外一个著名的例子是《锡安长老会纪要》,它纯属子虚乌有,但它支持了纳粹意识形态,在某种意义上为大屠杀铺平了道路,因为希特勒利用这文献为毁灭犹太人做辩护。他也许知道这是捏造的,但在他心中它描述了他希望的犹太人下场,于是将其视为真实。

 

采访者: 波多里诺在最后宣称:"神父王国是真实的,因为为了寻找它,我和我的同伴们耗费了我们三分之二的生命。"

 

艾柯:波多里诺捏造文献,构想乌托邦,构建未来的假想格局。当他的朋友欢乐地踏上往传说中的东方的征程时,他的谎言成了现实。但这只是叙述手法的一个方面,另一方面在小说的框架中,你可以运用看似不可思议和纯属虚构的事实来进行叙述。小说里我使用了数不尽的真实故事和真实情形,因为我发现比起我所看过的所谓小说,这些真实更浪漫多情,更具小说味道。例如在《昨日之岛》,有部分内容是父亲卡斯帕制作了一个奇特的仪器用来观看木星的卫星,结果纯粹变成了闹剧。这仪器在伽利略的信中有所描述。我只是想象,假如加利略的仪器真的创造了出来会发生什么。但我的读者却将其视为滑稽的发明。

 

采访者: 是什么令您根据历史事件去写小说?

 

艾柯:与其说历史题材小说,还不如说真实事件的小说化更能真正地让我们更好地理解真实的历史。我也喜欢将教育小说的元素结合到历史题材小说。在我所有的小说中,总会有一个年轻的人物在成长,在学习,以及历经一系列的磨难。

 

采访者: 为什么直到48岁您才开始写小说?

 

艾柯: 并非像大家所想的那样这是一个大飞跃,因为甚至在我的博士论文中,在我的理论形成过程中,我已经在创作故事。长期以来我一直认为大多数哲学书籍的核心是在讲述他们调查研究的故事,正如科学家们解释他们如何获得重要的发现。所以我感觉一路以来我都在讲故事,只不过 风格稍有不同而已。

 

采访者:但是什么促使您感觉您必须要写一部小说?

 

艾柯:1978年的一天,一个朋友告诉我说她想监督出版一系列由业余作家写作的短篇侦探小说。我说我不可能写侦探故事的,但如果写,它将会是一部以中世纪修道士为人物的500页的长篇。那天回到家,我着手列出了一张虚构的中世纪修道士名单。随后一个遭毒害的修道士形象突然浮现在我心头。所有的一切就从那里开始,从那个人物形象开始,它成了无法抗拒的推动力。

 

采访者:您的很多小说似乎都依靠了富有智慧的思想。 这对您而言,是否是一种自然的手法来沟通理论研究与小说创作之间的差异呢?您曾说"对于那些不可以理论表达的,我们必须讲故事。"

 

艾柯:这是来自维特根斯坦(Wittgenstein)的一句半开玩笑的话。事实上关于符号学我写了无数的论文,但我认为与这些论文比较,在《傅科摆》中我反而能更好地表达我的观点。你的某个想法也许不是独创的--阿里士多德总会早在你之前已经想到。但基于那个想法创作出小说,你能令其成为独创。男人爱女人,这不是什么创见。但如果你围绕这一思想终究创作出精彩的小说,那么借由文学的巧手,这个想法便完全成为一种新奇的见解了。我完全相信,在最终故事总是更为丰富多彩--在故事里,想法在事件中再现、由人物传达、并在精心雕琢的语言中擦出火花。所以自然而然地,当一种想法变成了鲜活生动的个体时,它便成为了完全不同的事物,很可能变得更为传神。

 

另一方面,矛盾可以是小说的核心。杀害老妇人是能引起人兴趣的。持着这个想法的伦理学论文会被判为不及格。在小说里它却变成《罪与罚》,这散文力作中的人物不能辨别杀害老妇人是好是坏,他的这种正反感情--正是我们在说的矛盾--成为了富有诗意的和引起挑战兴趣的事物。

 

采访者: 您如何着手研究您的小说?

 

艾柯:对《玫瑰之名》而言,因之前我已对中世纪 拥有浓厚的兴趣,手头上已有数百份相关资料,仅用两年我就完成了小说的写作。而《傅科摆》则用了我八年时间去研究和写作!并且由于我没有告诉别人自己在做着什么,现在想起来我居然在自己的世界里生活了近十年。我走到街头,看到这辆车和那棵树,心想,啊,这可以写入我的故事里。所以 就这样我的故事一日一日地发展着,我做的每件事,生活中每一处琐碎,每次交谈都能给给予我一些写作的灵感。然后我实地探访我所写到的地方--圣殿骑士在法国和葡萄牙生活的所有区域。这就像在玩视频游戏,在其中我可能化身为一个战士进入一个神奇王国。唯一的区别在于,在视频游戏中你完全神志恍惚沉溺其中,而在写作中你总会在某个关键时刻跳离当下的小说情境,为的是第二天早上能够再度进入小说的世界 。

 

采访者:您的工作是否有条不紊地开展的呢?

 

艾柯:不,完全不是这样。 一个想法随即会召唤出另一个。一本随意翻看的书会让我想去阅读另外的书。有时我读着一份毫无用处的文献,却会突然想到了一个继续故事的绝妙想法,或者只是想到要将一个小插图盒收进我的插图盒收藏中。

 

采访者:您说过写作一部小说之前您必先创造一个世界,随后"千言万语便会自然涌现。"您是说一部小说的风格总是由主题来决定的吗?

 

艾柯:是的 ,对我来说主要就是着手构造一个世界--住着受毒害修道士的十四世纪的修道院、在墓地吹喇叭的青年和受困于君士坦丁堡的骗子。而接下来的写作研究就是在为这些世界设定具体的条件限定:螺旋梯有多少层台阶?洗衣单上有多少衣物?一个任务要几个人执行?语句则会围绕这些限定展开。在文学领域,我感觉我们经常错误地认为风格只与语法和词汇有关。其实叙述风格也属于风格的一种,它影响着文段堆砌和情境创建的方式。以倒叙为例,它就是写作风格内的一种结构元素,而与语言没有丝毫关联。所以风格远比单纯的写作复杂得多。 对我而言,风格之于创作,就如蒙太奇之于电影。

 

采访者:您是如何努力去做以获得恰如其分的写作口吻?

 

艾柯:一页文字我要重写几十次。有时候我喜欢高声读出一段文章。我对文字的口气有着惊人的敏感。

 

采访者:您会像福楼拜那样,发觉只是创造一个好句子就已经很痛苦吗?

 

艾柯:不会,对我而言那不痛苦。我的确会反复改写一个句子,但现在有了电脑,我的文字处理方法改变了。以前,我手写完成《玫瑰之名》后,我的秘书再用打字机将它打印出来。这种情况下,当一个句子重写十遍之后,再拿去重新打印就会变得十分困难。虽然那时候已经有碳式打印机了,但是我们也需要用到剪刀和胶水来处理。但是有了电脑之后,在一天之内就可以轻而易举地对某页文字检查十遍、 二十遍, 进行修改或重写。我想我们天生就难以对自己的工作成果感到满意。但如今修改完善是那么的容易,也许是太过容易了。因此在某种意义上我们变得更为苛求。

 

采访者:成长小说通常会涉及一定程度的情感和性的教育。在您所有的小说中,您只描述过两次性场景--一次是在《玫瑰之名》中,另一次是在《波多里诺》中。您这样做有原因吗?

 

艾柯:我觉得比起描写做爱,我还是更愿意做爱。

 

采访者:在《玫瑰之名》中,阿德索与乡村少女做爱时,为什么会引述《所罗门之歌》?

 

艾柯:那只是小说风格上的趣味性,因为在描述一个年轻的修道士怎样通过他的文化敏感性体验性爱时,我对性爱过程本身并不太感兴趣。因此我将至少50篇关于神秘主义者描写他们自己体验过的极乐之感的文章进行整合,同时也援引了《所罗门之歌》的文字。在描述他的性爱过程的整整两页的文字中,几乎没有我自己的语言。阿德索只有通过他自己的文化视角才能理解性。正如我定义的那样,这是一种风格。

 

采访者:一天中您在什么时候写作?

 

艾柯:没有定例。对我来说,定一个日程表是不可能的。有时我可以从早上7点开始写到半夜3点才停下来吃块三明治。有时我根本就没有写作的欲望。

 

采访者:您写作的时候,每天会写多少呢?这也没有规律吗?

 

艾柯:写作不是必须要在纸上写。一个人走路和吃饭时也能在脑子里想出一个章节。

 

采访者:那对您来说每一天都不同喽?

 

艾柯:我住在蒙泰费尔特罗区的山顶的乡村时,我就有一定的生活规律了。我打开电脑,查看邮件,浏览页面,然后一直写作写到下午。之后我会到村里的酒吧喝上一杯,读读报纸。然后回家看电视或DVD看到晚上11点,接着工作到凌晨一两点。在那里我有一定的生活规律是因为我不受打扰。我在米兰或者大学里时,我不能主宰自己的时间--总是有其他人来决定我该做什么。

 

采访者:当您坐下写作时有哪些焦虑呢?

 

艾柯:我没有什么焦虑。

 

采访者:没有焦虑,您只是觉得很兴奋?

 

艾柯:我坐下来写作前,我非常高兴。

 

采访者:您的学术著作数量惊人,五部小说篇幅也不短。您这样多产有什么秘诀吗?

 

艾柯:我总是说我能利用时间的空隙。原子与原子,电子与电子之间存在大量空隙,如果我们通过消除这些空隙来缩小宇宙的物质,那么整个宇宙会被压缩成一个球。我们的生活也充满了空隙。比如今天早上你按了门铃,然后得等电梯,再过数秒才能到门口。在等你的这几十秒里,我就在思考自己正在写的新作品。我在厕所里,在火车上都可以工作。游泳时,特别是在大海里游泳时我创作了很多东西。洗澡时我创作的东西要少些,不过还是有的。

 

采访者:您有不工作的时候吗?

 

艾柯:不,没有这样的情况。 哦,有,曾经有两天我没工作,我当时接受了一个外科手术。

 

采访者:您现在最大的乐事是什么?

 

艾柯:在晚上读小说。有时候,我会想如果我不再信奉天主教,我脑中可能就不会有一个清晰柔和的声音向我低语:白天读小说是过于享受了。因此我白天通常都是写论文,努力工作。

 

采访者:谈谈有罪的乐事吧?

 

艾柯:我不是在忏悔!好吧,自我爆料一下好了。到三年前我戒掉烟为止,抽烟算是一项有罪的乐事。我一天大概可以抽60根雪茄。但是我之前是用烟斗吸烟的,所以当我写作的时候我习惯把烟吸进去再呼出来。我没有吸进去很多。

 

采访者:您一直因您在作品中展现的知识受到批评。一个评论家甚至曾说对于一个普通读者而言,您的著作的主要吸引力就是让他为自己的无知感到羞耻,换句话说就是天真的敬佩您的炫耀。

 

我是个施虐狂吗?我不知道。我是一个暴露狂吗?也许是。我是开玩笑的。当然不是。我一生这么努力,当然不是为了把知识摆在我的读者面前。我的知识确实影响了我的小说的复杂构成,但是最后是由我的读者来探索这些小说是什么。

 

采访者:您认为作为一名小说家,您广为人知的成就改变了您对读者的看法吗?

 

艾柯:作了这么久的学者,对我而言,写小说就像是一个戏剧评论家突然间登上了舞台,你以前的同事--那些评论家--盯着你。刚开始时这让我茫然不知所措。

 

采访者:写了小说之后,您对一位作者能对读者产生多大影响的看法改变了吗?

 

艾柯:我一直认为一本好书比它的作者更具智慧。书能讲述作者没有意识到的事情。

 

采访者:您现在是最畅销的小说家,您认为在全球这是否贬低了您作为一位严肃的思想家的名誉?

 

艾柯:自从我的小说发表以后,我收到了来自全球35所大学的荣誉学位。根据这个事实,我给你的回答是不会。在大学里,教授们对叙事和理论间的变化很感兴趣。他们经常会发现我的作品在这两个方面的联系,甚至比我自己认为的还要多。如果你想看,我可以向你展示一堵墙,上面都是学术刊物上发表的关于我的文章。

 

而且,我没有放弃撰写理论论文。我还是像一个在周末写小说的教授一样生活,而不是像一个在大学教学的作家那样生活。我参加科研讨论的次数多于参加国际笔会的次数。事实上,有人会反着说:也许是我的学术工作扰乱了我在大众媒体眼中的作家形象。

 

采访者:天主教会着实和您过不去啊。教廷的报纸称《傅科摆》"充满了亵渎上帝的语言、粗俗的插科打诨和下流话,它们在傲慢和愤世嫉俗的研钵中搅在了一起。"

 

艾柯:奇怪的是我刚刚收到鲁汶(Leuven)和洛约拉(Loyola)两所天主教大学的荣誉学位。

 

采访者:您相信上帝吗?

 

艾柯:为什么一个人某天会爱上某个人,第二天就会发现这种爱已经消失了?哎,感觉消失的毫无理由,并且通常会消失的无影无踪。

 

采访者:如果您不相信上帝,那为什么您要用那么长的篇幅去论述宗教呢? 

 

艾柯:因为我相信宗教。人类是笃信宗教的动物。人类行为中的这样一个特点不能被忽视或者被否定。 

 

采访者:除了学者和小说家的身份,您还有第三个身份--译者。您是一位作品被广泛翻译的译者,您详尽地论述了翻译的难题。 

 

艾柯:我编辑了不计其数的译作,翻译了我自己的两部作品,我的小说有多种语言的译本。我发现每次翻译都是一次谈判。如果你卖给我某样物品,我要买,那么我们会进行谈判--你将会失去一些东西,我也会失去一些东西,但是最后我们双方或多或少的都会觉得满意。在翻译中,风格和词汇不一样。词汇可以通过阿塔维斯塔12翻译出来,但是韵律不可以。研究人员对曼佐尼(Manzoni)的《订婚夫妻》(The Betrothed)中的词汇频率进行了一个测试,《订婚夫妻》是19世纪意大利文学的名作。曼佐尼使用的词汇十分贫乏,也没有创造出创新性的隐喻,采用的形容词"好"的次数多的吓人,但是他的风格明显、典型、简单。和所有伟大的翻译一样,要想翻译这部作品,你得找到那个时代的灵魂、那个时代的呼吸、那个时代精确的节奏。

 

采访者:您会参与多少您作品的翻译工作?

 

艾柯:我会读所有我能读懂的译本。通常我会很开心,因为我和译者一起工作,而且我很幸运,我一生中能有一些固定的译者翻译我的作品。我们现在合作时已经有了一种相互的理解。有些译者的语言我不懂,如,日语、俄语和匈牙利语,我偶尔也会和这样的译者一起工作。因为他们很聪明,他们可以用他们自己的语言解释真正的问题,这样一来,我们就可以讨论如何解决这些问题。

 

采访者:是否有优秀的译者提出过建议,而这样的建议开启了某种你在原文中没有发现的可能性? 

 

艾柯:有,会出现这样的情况。我再说一次,一篇文章比其作者更具有智慧。有时候,文章可以表明作者没有在意的思想。将某篇文章转换成另一种语言的译者发现了这些新思想,并向你揭示出来。

 

采访者:您有时间阅读和您处于同一时代的作家的小说吗? 

 

艾柯:我没有那么多时间。自从我成为小说家后,我发现我怀有偏见。我要么就觉得一本新小说不如我的,因此不喜欢它;要么我就怀疑一本新小说比我的好,因此也不喜欢。

 

采访者: 您认为现今意大利的文学怎么样?是否还有我们在美国没有听说过的伟大的意大利作家?

 

艾柯:我不知道意大利是否有伟大的作家,但是意大利提高了中等作家的水平。你看,美国文学的力量不仅仅拥有福克纳或者海明威或者贝娄,而且还有一群优秀的中等作家,他们写出了令人满意的商业文学。这样的文学需要良好的技巧,特别是在推理小说这一富饶的领域,这对我而言也是一个国家文学产量的晴雨表。普通作家群也意味着美国可以产出足够的作品以满足美国读者。这就是美国翻译如此之少的原因。在意大利,这种类型的文学作品在很长一段时间内都处于缺失状态,但是现今终于出现了了一批年轻的作家,他们开始创作这类型的文学作品。我认为,我不是一个势利的知识分子,而且我也承认这类型的文学作品是一个国家文学文化的一部分。

 

采访者:但是为什么我们没有关于意大利作家的消息?您可能是现今唯一一位在全球范围内有读者,至少在很大的范围内有读者的意大利作家。 

 

艾柯:翻译是个问题。在意大利,市场上有超过20%的作品是译作。而美国只有2%。

 

采访者:纳博科夫(Nabokov)曾说:"我把文学分为两类,我希望是我写的书和我写的书。"

 

艾柯:那样的话我会把库尔特·冯内古特(Kurt Vonnegut)、堂·德里罗(Don DeLillo)、菲利普·罗斯(Philip  Roth)和保罗·奥斯特(Paul Auster)的作品归为前一类。不过总的来讲,我喜欢美国当代作家胜于法国当代作家,虽然由于地理原因我接受的主要是法国文化。我出生于意大利和法国接壤处附近,法语是我学习的第一门语言。我甚至更了解法国文学而非意大利文学。

 

采访者:那如果必须让你说,你觉得谁对你有影响?

 

艾柯:通常我会回答乔伊斯(Joyce)和博尔赫斯(Borges)来让采访者无话可说,不过这并不完全正确。几乎每个人都对我有影响。乔伊斯和博尔赫斯当然对我有影响,但是亚里士多德、托马斯·阿奎那(Thomas Aquinas),约翰·洛克(John Locke)等等你能说出的学者都对我有影响。

 

采访者:你在米兰这里的图书馆简直就是个传奇。你喜欢收藏什么样的书籍呢?

 

艾柯:我一共拥有大约五万册书籍。但是作为一个珍藏本收藏者,人类对离经叛道思想的偏爱让我着迷。所以我收集那些关于我不相信的主题的书籍,比如古犹太神秘哲学卡巴拉(kabbalah)、炼金术、魔法、虚构的语言。我喜欢那些说谎的书籍,虽然它们并不是故意说谎。我有托勒密的书,但没有伽利略的,因为伽利略所说的是真理。我更喜欢疯人的科学。

 

采访者:你有这么多书,那当你走到书架前你是如何挑选要读的书的呢?

 

艾柯:我不会走向书架挑选想读的书,而是找出一本我知道我在那一刻需要读的书。这是有区别的。例如,如果你问我有关当代作家的问题,我就会查看关于罗斯(Roth)或唐·德里罗(Don  DeLillo)的藏书以帮助自己回忆我爱的是哪个作家。我是一名学者。在某种程度上我得说我永远没有选择的自由。任何时候我都是根据实时工作需要来做选择。

 

采访者:你会不会把书赠与别人?

 

艾柯:每天我都会收到大量的书,都是一些小说和我已经拥有了的书的新版本。所以每周我都会装几箱子书送到我的大学去,放在一张带指示牌的大桌子上,牌子上写着随便拿。

 

采访者:你是世界上最为著名的公共知识分子之一,你如何定义"知识分子"这一术语?它是否仍有特殊的意义?

 

艾柯:如果你所说的知识分子是那些只靠脑袋不靠双手工作的人,那银行职员是知识分子而米开朗琪罗不是。如今只要有台电脑,每个人都是知识分子。所以我 并不认为这一身份与人们的职业或社会地位有关。我认为,任何创造了新知识的人都是知识分子。一位明白了新嫁接技术可以种出新品种苹果的农民在那一刻就算从事了智力活动,而一位终其一生都在重复关于海德格尔的讲座的哲学教授则不能算是一名知识分子。批判性创造力,即批判我们现今所做之事或创造出更好的做事方法,是智力功能的唯一标志。

 

采访者:如今的知识分子是否和萨特和福柯时代的知识分子一样仍热衷于政治活动?

 

艾柯:我并不认为为了参与政治,一个知识分子必须加入某个政党,或做更糟的事--只写有关当代社会问题的作品。知识分子的政治参与度应与其他任何公民一样。一名知识分子至多只能运用他的名望来支持某一事业。例如,如果有一份关于环境问题的声明,那我的签名可能对其有所帮助。所以我会用我的名望来支持公共契约的单一实例。问题是,知识分子只有在与未来相关的事情在上才能真正派上用场,而非解决当务之急。假设你身处一处着火的剧院,诗人肯定不应该爬上座椅来朗诵一篇诗篇,他应该和其他所有人一样给消防员打电话。知识分子的作用在于事先告诫:"留意这个剧院因为它年久失修!"所以他的话语有着呼吁的预言功效。知识分子的作用在于告诉人们"我们应该那样做"而非"我们必须现在行动!"--这是政治家的工作。如果托马斯·摩尔 (Thomas More)乌托邦能够成为现实,我敢肯定那会是一个斯大林主义的社会。

 

采访者:在你的人生中,知识和文化给了你何种益处?

 

艾柯:假设一个文盲在我这个年纪去世了,他的人生是单一的,而我还有拿破仑、凯撒、达达尼昂(d'Artagnan)的人生经历。所以我一直鼓励年轻人阅读,因为那是一种使人博闻强记,发展多样性格的理想 方式。如果你多读书,那在你的人生结束之时,你就拥有数不尽的人生经历,这可是一个别人求之不得的极好特权。

 

采访者:但是博闻强记也可以是一个巨大的负担,就像你最喜欢的博尔赫斯的人物之一,《博闻强记的富内斯》(Funes the Memorious)里的富内斯那样。

 

艾柯:我很喜欢"固执克已,绝不好奇"这一观念。要做到这点,你必须将自己限制在某些知识领域里。你不能太过贪婪。你必须强迫自己不要学习所有事物,否则你将一无所获。从这个意义上讲,文化就是关于懂得如何忘记,不然,你确实会变得像富内斯那样记得三十年前见到的一棵树上的所有叶子。从认知角度上讲,找出你想要学习并铭记的东西是至关重要的。

 

采访者:但是更广泛讲,文化本身不就已经是一个过滤器了吗?

 

艾柯:是的,可以说,我们的个人文化其实是二次加工,因为广义上的文化就已经进行过过滤了。在某种程度上,一个群体会使用文化这一机制来建议我们什么该记住什么该遗忘。举个例子,文化决定了在尤里乌斯· 凯撒死后,他的妻子凯尔弗妮娅遭遇了什么并不重要,每本百科全书里都没有她的消息。很有可能她身上没有发生什么有趣的事。而在德国作曲家舒曼死后,他的妻子克拉拉·舒曼(Clara  Schumann)却变得更加重要了。有传言说她是德国作曲家勃拉姆斯(Brahms)的情人,她通过个人的努力也成为了一名受欢迎的钢琴家。所有这些都 是事实,直到有一天一位历史学家能找到一份不为人所知的文件,而这份文件将告诉我们那些被我们忽视的事情其实是相当重要的。

 

如果文化不进行过滤的话,那它就是空洞的,就像无形无界、无人管理的因特网一样空洞。如果我们都掌握了全网广阔无垠的知识的话,那我们都会变成傻瓜!文化是一种给智力劳动划分阶级系统的工具。对于你我而言,知道相对论是由爱因斯坦提出的就够了,至于这一理论的确切意义留给专家们去理解就行。真正的问题是,有太多的人被授予了专家的头衔。

 

采访者:对于那现场宣称小说已死、书籍已死、阅读已死的人,你怎么看?

 

艾柯:相信事物的终结是一种典型的文化姿态。从希腊 人和拉丁人的时代开始,我们就坚信我们的祖先优于我们。这项由大众媒体参与的日益激烈的闹剧总是使我心情愉悦、兴趣盎然。在美国不论春夏秋冬,总会有一篇 关于小说之死、文学之死和读写能力之  死的文章。人们再也不阅读了!青少年们只是沉迷于电子游戏!而事实是,世界各地都遍布着满是书本和青年人的书店。人类历史上从未有过这么多的书籍、这么多的书店、这么多去书店买书的青年。

 

采访者:你想对那些散布恐慌的人说些什么吗?

 

艾柯:一直以来,文化总会适应新的环境。或许会出现一种不同的文化,但是文化是不会消失的。罗马帝国衰亡之后的几百年是深刻变革的时代,充斥着语言、政治、宗教、文化的变革。如今这些变化的速度之快更是以十倍计算。但是激动人心的文化新形式会层出不穷,文学也不会灭亡。

 

采访者:你曾说过你更希望别人记住你的学者身份而非小说家身份。此话当真?

 

艾柯:我不记得我说过这样的话,因为那是一种会根据我被提问时的情况而改变的感觉。但此时此刻,我的经验告诉我学者的作品要想流传后世是很困难的,因为理论是会变化的。亚里士多德的名字流传了下来,但是仅仅一世纪前的无数学者的文章并没有得到再版,而许多的小说则不断被再版。所以从技术上讲,作家留名后世的几率比学者大很多,而我也会不情愿地将这些证据加以考虑。

 

采访者:你的作品能够流传下去的想法对你来说有多重要?你是否会经常考虑你的文学遗产?

 

艾柯:我并不认为一个人要为自己写作。我认为写作是一种爱的行为--写作是为了使别人有所得,为了传递思想,为了和别人分享你的感受。自己的作品能流传多久,这对每一个作家而言都是个根本问题,而不只是对小说家或诗人来说是这样。事实是,哲学家写书是为了让众人接受他的理论,并且希望在接下来的三千年里人们仍会读他的书。这就和你希望你的孩子能活得比你久,如果你有孙子,你希望他能活得比你的孩子久一样。人们希望生生不息。当一个作家说"我并不在意我的作品的命运"时,他就是一个骗子,他这样说是为了取悦采访者。

 

采访者:此刻你有什么人生遗憾吗?

 

艾柯:我为所有的事情感到遗憾,因为在人生的各个方面我都犯下了许许多多的错误。但是如果我必须从头再来,坦白说我会再犯同样的错误。我是认真的。我的一生都在审视我的行为和观点,都在自我批评。我的自我批评特别严厉,所以我绝不会告诉你最糟的一条是什么,就算给我一百万美元我也不干。

 

采访者:是否有这么一本你特别想写但却从未着笔的书?

 

艾柯:是的,只有一本。从青年开始一直到我五十岁,我都梦想着要写一本关于喜剧理论的书。为什么?因为以此为主题的书没有一本是成功的,至少我能读到的书里没有。从弗洛伊德到法国哲学家柏格森(Bergson),每一个 喜剧理论家都只是从几个方面解释了喜剧现象而非将其完整诠释。喜剧这一现象也复杂至极,没有理论(或者目前还没有理论)能将其解释透彻。所以我就想我要写出一个真正的喜剧理论。然而后来事实证明这项任务真是难得丧心病狂。要是我知道它究竟为什么这么难的话,我就能找出答案并能写出那本书了。

 

采访者:但是你曾著书讨论美,最近还出了关于丑的书。这些概念难道不也一样难以捉摸吗?

 

艾柯:与美和丑比起来,喜剧理论简直就是魔鬼。请注意我并不是在讨论欢声笑语。喜剧的感情太过离奇复杂,我无法将其解释清楚。唉,这就是我写不出这本书的原因。

 

采访者:就像你说的:撒谎是人类的特殊发明,喜剧性是否也属此类?

 

艾柯:是的,因为动物似乎并没有幽默感。我们知道它们也会玩耍,会感到抱歉,会啜泣,会痛苦。我们也有证据证明当它们和我们玩耍时它们会感到开心,但是我们没有证据证明它们有幽默感。这是一种人类特有的体验,其构成是......不,我说不出个所以然来。

 

采访者:为什么不试一试呢?

 

艾柯:好吧。我们是唯一知道自己必然会死的动物,而我怀疑我们的幽默感与这一事实有所关联。其他的动物是不知道自己会死的。它们只有在死的那一刻才有这种意识。它们无法表达诸如"人皆有一死"之类的陈述,而我们可以。这也可能是宗教、仪式等等事物存在的原因。我认为,幽默在本质上是人类对死亡恐惧做出的反应。如果你想从我这知道更多,那恕我无能为力。不过,或许我会造一个假秘密,让所有人认为我正在着手建立一套喜剧理论。这样的话,在我去世时后他们就会花大量的时间寻找我的秘密之书啦。

 

事实上,我想要写一本有于喜剧理论的书的夙愿使我写出了《玫瑰之名》。人生之中有这样的情况,当你无法构建一套理论时,你就会讲述一个故事。而我也相信,在《玫瑰之名》中,我确实以叙述的方式将一种喜剧理论具体化了,将喜剧塑造为一种把狂热盲信戏剧化的重要途径,一种存在于所有所谓的真理背后的毫不留情的怀疑。

                *                  *                 *              

注释:

 

1. 鲁特琴也称琉特琴,是一种曲颈拨弦乐器。一般主要指中世纪到巴洛克时期在欧洲使用的一类古乐器的总称,是文艺复兴时期欧洲最最风靡的家庭独奏乐器。另外在广义的乐器分类中,把类似的乐器统称为"琉特属",此时便不限年代国别,吉他、中国琵琶、日本琵琶等都可以包括在内。译者认为此处指前一种解释。

 

2. 阿曼(Arman),出生于1928年法国尼斯(Nice),是少数仍在世即被写入西洋艺术史的艺术家之一,1957年他以幽默的「印记」(Cachets)造型系列崛起于法国画坛,其最为人所称道的创作风格是将对象经对角、横向、纵向切割后,再积聚组合形成一件艺术作品。

 

3. 伊安·弗兰明(Ian Fleming,1908-1964),英国小说家,007詹姆斯·邦德的创造者。

 

4. 泰奥菲尔·戈蒂耶 (Théophile Gautier 1811-1872),法国唯美主义诗人、散文家和小说家。

 

5. 埃乌杰尼奥·蒙塔莱(Eugenio Montale),意大利现代派诗人,1975年诺贝尔文学奖得主。

 

6. 晚邮报(Corriere Della Sera)是在米兰出版的意大利日报,是意大利最著名的全国性日报,也是最早成立的日报之一。20世纪的10和20年代,在路易吉·阿尔贝蒂尼的管理下,晚邮报成为了意大利阅读范围最广的报纸,获得了今日的重要性和影响力。它的主要竞争者有都灵新闻报和罗马共和报。

 

7. 卡萨莱蒙费拉托镇(Monferrato),意大利西北部城市。在波河上游、都灵以东,建于公元八世纪。

 

8. 皮埃蒙特人(Piedmontese),意大利土著。

 

9. 亚历山德里亚(Alessandria),意大利城市,位于意大利皮埃蒙特大区塔纳罗河畔,是亚历山德里亚省的首府。

 

10. 原文是solitary vice,英文中常常用这个短语隐晦地指代手淫。这里是一种幽默自谦的说法。

 

11. 尼安德塔人是一种远古人类,智人的邻居。 

 

12. Altavista 这是全球最知名的搜索引擎公司之一,同时提供搜寻引擎后台技术支持等相关产品。

 

Umberto Eco, The Art of Fiction No. 197

Interviewed by Lila Azam Zanganeh

 

 

 

The first time I called Umberto Eco, he was sitting at his desk in his seventeenth-century manor in the hills outside Urbino, near the Adriatic coast of Italy. He sang the virtues of his bellissima swimming pool, but suspected I might have trouble negotiating the region's tortuous mountain passes. So we agreed instead to meet at his apartment in Milan. I arrived there last August on ferragosto, the high point of summer and the day the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Milan's gray buildings gleamed with heat, and a thin layer of dust had settled on the pavement. Hardly an engine could be heard. As I stepped into Eco's building, I took a turn-of-the-century lift and heard the creaking of a door on the top floor. Eco's imposing figure appeared behind the lift's wrought-iron grating. "Ahhh," he said with a slight scowl.

 

The apartment is a labyrinth of corridors lined with bookcases that reach all the way up to extraordinarily high ceilings-thirty thousand volumes, said Eco, with another twenty thousand at his manor. I saw scientific treatises by Ptolemy and novels by Calvino, critical studies of Saussure and Joyce, entire sections devoted to medieval history and arcane manuscripts. The library feels alive, as many of the books seem worn from heavy use; Eco reads at great speed and has a prodigious memory. In his study, a maze of shelves contains Eco's own complete works in all their translations (Arabic, Finnish, Japanese?.?.?.? I lost count after more than thirty languages). Eco pointed at his books with amorous precision, attracting my attention to volume after volume, from his early landmark work of critical theory, The Open Work, to his most recent opus, On Ugliness.

 

Eco began his career as a scholar of medieval studies and semiotics. Then, in 1980, at the age of forty-eight, he published a novel, The Name of the Rose. It became an international publishing sensation, selling more than ten million copies. The professor metamorphosed into a literary star. Chased by journalists, courted for his cultural commentaries, revered for his expansive erudition, Eco came to be considered the most important Italian writer alive. In the years since, he has continued to write fanciful essays, scholarly works, and four more best-selling novels, including Foucault's Pendulum (1988) and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004).

 

With Eco's paunch leading the way, his feet shuffling along the floor, we walked into his living room. Through the windows, a medieval castle cut a gigantic silhouette against the Milanese sky. I had expected tapestries and Italian antiques, but instead found modern furnishings, several glass cases displaying seashells and rare comics, a lute, a collection of recorders, a collage of paintbrushes. "This one, you see, by Arman, is dedicated especially to me?.?.?."

 

I sat on a large white couch; Eco sank into a low armchair, cigar in hand. He used to smoke up to sixty cigarettes a day, he told me, but now he has only his unlit cigar. As I asked my first questions, Eco's eyes narrowed to dark slits, suddenly opening up when his turn came to speak. "I developed a passion for the Middle Ages," he said, "the same way some people develop a passion for coconuts." In Italy, he is well known for his battute, his comedic sallies, which he drops at nearly every twist of his snaking sentences. His voice seemed to grow louder the longer he spoke. Soon he was outlining a series of points, as if speaking to a rapt classroom: "Number one: when I wrote The Name of the Rose I didn't know, of course, since no one knows, what was written in the lost volume of Aristotle's Poetics, the famous volume on comedy. But somehow, in the process of writing my novel, I discovered it. Number two: the detective novel asks the central question of philosophy-who dunnit?" When he deemed his interlocutor clever enough, he was quick to extend professorial appreciations: "Yes, good. But I would also add that?.?.?."

 

After our initial two-hour interview session, Mario Andreose, the literary director of Bompiani, Eco's Italian publisher, arrived to take us to dinner. Renate Ramge, Eco's wife of forty-five years, sat up front with Andreose, and Eco and I took the backseat. Eco, who just minutes before had brimmed with wit and vitality, now appeared sullen and aloof. But his mood lightened soon after we entered the restaurant and a plate of bread was placed before us. He glanced at the menu, dithered, and as the waiter arrived, hastily ordered a calzone and a glass of Scotch. "Yes, yes, I shouldn't, I shouldn't?.?.?." A beaming reader approached the table, "Are you Umberto Eco?" The professore lifted an eyebrow, grinned, and shook hands. Then, at last, the conversation resumed, as Eco launched into excited riffs about Pope Benedict XVI, the fall of the Persian Empire, and the latest James Bond movie. "Did you know," he said while planting a fork in his calzone, "that I once published a structural analysis of the archetypal Ian Fleming plot?"

 

 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Where were you born?

 

UMBERTO ECO

 

In the town of Alessandria. It is known for its Borsalino hats.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What kind of family did you come from?

 

ECO

 

My father was an accountant and his father was a typographer. My father was the eldest of thirteen children. I am the first son. My son is my first child. And his first child is a son. So if by chance someone discovers that the Eco family is descended from the emperor of Byzantium, my grandson is the dauphin!

 

My grandfather had a particularly important influence on my life, even though I didn't visit him often, since he lived about three miles out of town and he died when I was six. He was remarkably curious about the world, and he read lots of books. The marvelous thing was that when he retired, he started to bind books. So he had a lot of unbound books lying here and there around his apartment-old, beautifully illustrated editions of popular nineteenth-century novels by Gautier and Dumas. Those were the first books I ever saw. When he died in 1938, many of the owners of the unbound books did not ask for them to be returned, and the family put them all in a big box. Quite by accident, this box landed in my parents' cellar. I would be sent to the cellar from time to time, to pick up some coal or a bottle of wine, and one day I opened this box and found a treasure trove of books. From then on I visited the cellar rather frequently. It turned out my grandfather also collected a fabulous magazine, Giornale illustrato dei viaggi e delle avventure di terra e di mare-the illustrated journal of travels and adventures by land and by sea-devoted to strange and cruel stories set in exotic countries. It was my first great foray into the land of stories. Unfortunately, I lost all of these books and magazines, but over the decades I have gradually recovered copies of them from old bookstores and flea markets.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

If you didn't see any books until you visited your grandfather, does that mean your parents didn't own any?

 

ECO

 

It's odd, my father was a voracious reader when he was a young man. Since my grandparents had thirteen children, the family struggled to make ends meet, and my father couldn't afford to buy books. So he went to the book kiosk and stood reading in the street. When the owner was tired of seeing him hanging around, my father made his way to the next kiosk and read the second part of a book, and so forth. This is an image I treasure. The dogged pursuit of books. As an adult, my father only had free time in the evenings and he'd mainly read newspapers and magazines. In our house there were only a few novels, but they weren't on shelves, they were in the closet. Sometimes I saw my father reading novels borrowed from friends.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What did he think of your becoming a scholar at such an early age?

 

ECO

 

Well, he died very early, in 1962, but not before I had published a few books. It was academic stuff, and probably confusing to my father, but I discovered that very late in the evening he would try to read them. The Open Work was published exactly three months before his death and was reviewed by the great poet Eugenio Montale in the Corriere della Sera. It was a mixed review-curious, friendly, and nasty-but it was a review by Montale nonetheless and I think that, for my father, it would have been impossible to imagine anything more. In a sense, I paid my debt, and in the end, I feel I met all his wishes, though I imagine he would have read my novels with greater pleasure. My mother lived ten more years, so she knew that I wrote many other books, and that I was invited to lecture by foreign universities. She was very sick, but she was happy, though I don't think she quite realized what was happening. And you know, a mother is proud of her own son, even if the son is completely stupid.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You were a child when Fascism thrived in Italy and the war began. How did you perceive it then?

 

ECO

 

It was a strange time. Mussolini was very charismatic, and like every Italian schoolchild at that time, I was enrolled in the Fascist youth movement. We were all obliged to wear military-style uniforms and attend rallies on Saturday, and we felt happy to do so. Today it would be like dressing up an American boy as a marine-he'd think it was amusing. The whole movement for us as children was something natural, like snow in the winter and heat in the summer. We couldn't imagine that there was another way of living. I remember that period with the same tenderness with which anyone remembers childhood. I even remember the bombings, and the nights we spent in the shelter, with tenderness. When it all ended in 1943, with the first collapse of Fascism, I discovered in the democratic newspapers the existence of different political parties and views. To escape the bombings from September 1943 to April 1945-the most traumatic years in our nation's history-my mother, my sister, and I went to live in the countryside, up in Monferrato, a Piedmontese village that was at the epicenter of the resistance.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Did you see any of the fighting?

 

ECO

 

I remember watching shoot-outs between Fascists and Partisans, and almost wishing I could join the brawl. At one point I even remember dodging a bullet myself, and jumping to the ground from a perch. And then, from the village we were in, I remember seeing every week that they were bombing Alessandria, where my father still worked. The sky burst like an orange. The telephone lines didn't work, so we had to wait until he came home for the weekend to know whether he was still alive. During this period, living in the countryside, a young man was forced to learn how to survive.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Did the war have any impact on your decision to write? 

 

ECO

 

No, there is no direct connection. I had started writing before the war, independently of the war. As an adolescent I wrote comic books, because I read lots of them, and fantasy novels set in Malaysia and Central Africa. I was a perfectionist and wanted to make them look as though they had been printed, so I wrote them in capital letters and made up title pages, summaries, illustrations. It was so tiring that I never finished any of them. I was at that time a great writer of unaccomplished masterpieces. Obviously, however, when I began writing novels my memories of the war played a certain role. But every man is obsessed by the memories of his own youth.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Did you show those early books to anyone?

 

ECO

 

It's possible that my parents saw what I was doing, but I don't think I gave them to anybody else. It was a solitary vice.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You've talked before about trying your hand at poetry in this period. In an essay on writing, you said, "my poetry had the same functional origin and the same formal configuration as teenage acne."

 

ECO

 

I think that at a certain age, say fifteen or sixteen, poetry is like masturbation. But later in life good poets burn their early poetry, and bad poets publish it. Thankfully I gave up rather quickly.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Who encouraged you in your literary endeavors?

 

ECO

 

My maternal grandmother-she was a compulsive reader. She had only been through five grades of elementary school, but she was a member of the municipal library, and she brought home two or three books a week for me. They could be dime novels or Balzac. In her eyes, there was not much difference-they were all fascinating. My mother, on the other hand, had the education of a future dactylographer. She started French and German, and though she read a lot in her youth she succumbed to a sort of laziness when she got older, reading only romance novels and women's magazines. So I didn't read what she read. But she spoke gracefully, with a good Italian style, and wrote so beautifully that her friends asked her to compose their letters for them. She had a great sensitivity for language, even though she left school at an early age. I think I inherited from her a genuine taste for writing, and my first elements of style.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

To what extent are your novels autobiographical?

 

ECO

 

In some way I think every novel is. When you imagine a character, you lend him or her some of your personal memories. You give part of yourself to character number one and another part to character number two. In this sense, I am not writing any sort of autobiography, but the novels are my autobiography. There's a difference.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Are there many images that you've transferred directly? I'm thinking about Belbo playing the trumpet in the cemetery in Foucault's Pendulum.

 

ECO

 

That scene is absolutely autobiographical. I am not Belbo, but it happened to me and it was so important that now I will reveal something that I've never said before. Three months ago I bought a high-quality trumpet for about two thousand dollars. To play the trumpet, you must train your lips for a long time. When I was twelve or thirteen I was a good player, but I lost the skill and now I play very badly. I do it every day even so. The reason is that I want to return to my childhood. For me, the trumpet is evidence of the sort of young man I was. I don't feel anything for the violin, but when I look at the trumpet I feel a world stirring in my veins.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Did you find that you could play the tunes of your childhood? 

 

ECO

 

The more I play, the more vividly I remember the tunes. Certainly there are passages that are too high, too difficult. I repeat them several times, I try, but I know that my lips simply don't react the right way.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Does the same thing happen with your memory?

 

ECO

 

It's odd, the older I get, the more I remember. I'll give you an example: my native dialect was Alessandrino, a bastard Piedmontese with elements of Lombard, Emilian, and Genovese. I didn't speak this dialect because my family came from the petite bourgeoisie, and my father thought that my sister and I should speak only Italian. Yet among themselves my parents spoke dialect. So I understood it perfectly but was unable to speak it. Half a century later, all of a sudden, from the cavern of my belly or from my unconscious, the dialect grew, and when I met my old friends from Alessandria I could speak it! So as time went by in my own life I was not only able to retrieve things I had forgotten, but things I believed I had never learned.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Why did you decide to study medieval aesthetics?

 

ECO

 

I had a Catholic education and during my university years I ran one of the national Catholic student organizations. So I was fascinated by medieval scholastic thought and by early Christian theology. I started a thesis on the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, but right before I finished it my faith suffered a trauma. It was a complicated political affair. I belonged to the more progressive side of the student organization, which meant that I was interested in social problems, social justice. The right wing was protected by Pope Pius XII. One day my wing of the organization was charged with heresy and communism. Even the official newspaper of the Vatican attacked us. That event triggered a philosophical revision of my faith. But I continued to study the Middle Ages and medieval philosophy with great respect, not to mention my beloved Aquinas.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

In the postscript to The Name of the Rose you wrote, "I see the period everywhere, transparently overlaying my daily concerns, which do not look medieval, though they are." How are your daily concerns medieval?

 

ECO

 

My whole life, I have had innumerable experiences of full immersion in the Middle Ages. For instance, in preparing my thesis, I went twice for monthlong trips to Paris, conducting research at the Bibliothèque Nationale. And I decided in those two months to live only in the Middle Ages. If you reduce the map of Paris, selecting only certain streets, you can really live in the Middle Ages. Then you start to think and feel like a man of the Middle Ages. I remember, for instance, that my wife, who has a green thumb and knows the names of just about all the herbs and flowers in the world, always reproached me prior to The Name of the Rose for not looking properly at nature. Once, in the countryside, we made a bonfire and she said, Look at the embers flying up among the trees. Of course I didn't pay attention. Later on, when she read the last chapter of The Name of the Rose, in which I describe a similar fire, she said, So you did look at the embers! And I said, No, but I know how a medieval monk would look at embers.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you think you might have actually enjoyed living in the Middle Ages?

 

ECO

 

Well if I did, at my age, I'd already be dead. I suspect that if I lived in the Middle Ages my feelings about the period would be dramatically different. I'd rather just imagine it.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

For the layman the medieval era is pervaded with an air of mystery and remoteness. What draws you to it?

 

ECO

 

It's hard to say. Why do you fall in love? If I had to explain it, I would say that it's because the period is exactly the opposite of the way people imagine it. To me, they were not the Dark Ages. They were a luminous time, the fertile soil out of which would spring the Renaissance. A period of chaotic and effervescent transition-the birth of the modern city, of the banking system, of the university, of our modern idea of Europe, with its languages, nations, and cultures.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You've said that in your books you never make conscious parallels between the Middle Ages and modern times, but that seems to be part of the period's attraction for you.

 

ECO

 

Yes, but one must be extremely careful with analogies. Once I wrote an essay in which I made some parallels between the Middle Ages and our time. But if you give me fifty dollars, I will write you an essay about the parallels between our time and the time of the Neanderthals. It's always easy to find parallels. I think nonetheless that being concerned with history means making erudite parallels with the present time. I confess to being monstrously old-fashioned, and I still believe, like Cicero did, that historia magistra vitae: history is the teacher of life.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Why as a young medieval scholar did you suddenly take up the study ?of language?

 

ECO

 

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in making sense of communication. In aesthetics the question was, What is a work of art, and how does a work of art communicate with us? I became especially fascinated with the how. Moreover, we are recognized as human beings insofar as we are able to produce language. As it turned out, immediately after my thesis I started working for Italian state television. This was in 1954, only a few months after the first television broadcasts were made. It was the beginning of the era of mass visual communication in Italy. So I began to wonder if I had a bizarre sort of split personality. On the one hand, I was interested in the most advanced functions of language in experimental literature and art. On the other hand, I relished television, comic books, and detective stories. Naturally I asked myself, Is it possible that my interests are really so distinct?

 

I turned to semiotics because I wanted to unify the different levels of culture. I came to understand that anything produced by the mass media could also be an object of cultural analysis.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You once said that semiotics is the theory of lying.

 

ECO

 

Instead of "lying," I should have said, "telling the contrary of the truth." Human beings can tell fairy tales, imagine new worlds, make mistakes-and we can lie. Language accounts for all those possibilities.

 

Lying is a specifically human ability. A dog, following a track, is following a scent. Neither the dog nor the scent "lies," so to speak. But I can lie to you and tell you to go in that direction, which is not the direction you have asked about, and yet you believe me and you go in the wrong direction. The reason this is possible is that we depend on signs.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Some of the enemies of semiotics as a field of study assert that semioticians ultimately cause all reality to vanish.

 

ECO

 

This is the position of the so-called dECOnstructionists. Not only do they assume that everything is a text-even this table right here-and that every text can be infinitely interpreted, but they also follow an idea coming from Nietzsche, who said that there are no facts, only interpretations. On the contrary, I follow Charles Sanders Peirce, undoubtedly the greatest American philosopher and the father of semiotics and the theory of interpretation. He said that through signs we interpret facts. If there were no facts and only interpretations, what would there be left to interpret? This is what I argue in The Limits of Interpretation.

 

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

 

Would you say that your work as a semiotician is completely separate from your work as a novelist?

 

ECO

 

It might seem incredible, but I never think of semiotics when I am writing my novels. I let others do the work afterward. And I am always surprised by the result when they do.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Are you still obsessed with television?

 

ECO

 

I suspect that there is no serious scholar who doesn't like to watch television. I'm just the only one who confesses. And then I try to use it as material for my work. But I am not a glutton who swallows everything. I don't enjoy watching any kind of television. I like the dramatic series and I dislike the trash shows.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Are there any shows that you particularly love?

 

ECO

 

The police series. Starsky and Hutch, for instance. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

That show doesn't exist anymore. It's from the seventies. 

 

ECO

 

I know, but I was told that the complete series was just released on DVD, so I am thinking of acquiring it. Other than that I like CSI, Miami Vice, ER, and most of all, Columbo.

 

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.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

This idea of taking a fictional premise seriously seems to be present in many of your novels. Fictions somehow acquire substance and truth.

 

ECO

 

Yes, invention can produce reality. Baudolino, my fourth novel, is exactly about that. Baudolino is a little trickster living at the court of Frederick ?Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. And the boy invents a wild number of things-from the legend of the Holy Grail to the legitimization of Barbarossa's reign by Bolognese jurors. In doing so he produces factual consequences. Fakes or errors can produce real historical events. Just like the letter of Prester John: it was a forgery-and in my novel it was invented by none other than Baudolino himself-but it really incited medieval explorations of Asia because it described a fabulous Christian kingdom thriving somewhere in the mysterious Orient. Or take Christopher Columbus. His vision of the earth was completely wrong. He knew, like everybody in antiquity, including his adversaries, that the earth was round. But he believed it was much smaller. Led by this false idea, he discovered America. Another famous example is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It's a fake, but it corroborated Nazi ideology and in a sense paved the way to the Holocaust, because Hitler used the document to justify the destruction of Jews. He might have known it was a fake, but in his mind it described the Jews exactly as he wanted them to be, and thus he took it as authentic.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Baudolino declares in the end that, "The kingdom of the Priest is real because I and my companions have devoted two-thirds of our life to seeking it."

 

ECO

 

Baudolino forges documents, devises utopias, constructs imaginary schemes about the future. His lies become real when his friends gaily embark on an actual journey to the legendary East. But this is only one side of the narrative business. The other is that you can use real facts that, in the framework of a novel, seem incredible and absolutely fictitious. In my novels, I have used countless real stories and real situations, because I find them far more romantic, or novelistic even, than anything I have ever read in so-called fiction. In The Island of the Day Before, for instance, there is a part where Father Caspar makes up a strange instrument to look at the satellites of Jupiter and the result is pure slapstick comedy. This instrument is described in the letters of Galileo. I simply imagined what would have happened if Galileo's instrument had actually been created. But my readers take all this as a comic invention.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What drew you to write novels based on historical events?

 

ECO

 

The historical novel for me is not so much a fictionalized version of real events as a fiction that will actually enable us to better understand the real history. I also like to combine the historical novel with elements of the bildungsroman. In all my novels, there is always a young character who grows up and learns and suffers through a series of experiences.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Why didn't you begin writing novels until you were forty-eight years old?

 

ECO

 

It wasn't as much of a leap as everyone seems to think, because even in my doctoral thesis, even in my theorizing, I was already creating narratives. I have long thought that what most philosophical books are really doing at the core is telling the story of their research, just as scientists will explain how they came to make their major discoveries. So I feel that I was telling stories all along, just in a slightly different style.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

But what made you feel that you had to write a novel?

 

ECO

 

One day in 1978, a friend told me she wanted to oversee the publication of a string of little detective novels written by amateur writers. I said there was no way I could write a detective story, but if I ever did write one it would be a five-hundred-page book with medieval monks as characters. That day, returning home, I began making a list of names of fictional medieval monks. Later the image of a poisoned monk suddenly emerged in my mind. It all started from there, from that one image. It became an irresistible urge.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Many of your novels seem to rely upon clever concepts. Is that a natural way for you to bridge the chasm between theoretical work and novel writing? You once said that "those things about which we cannot theorize, we must narrate."

 

ECO

 

It is a tongue-in-cheek allusion to a sentence by Wittgenstein. The truth is, I have written countless essays on semiotics, but I think I expressed my ideas better in Foucault's Pendulum than in my essays. An idea you have might not be original-Aristotle will always have thought of it before you. But by creating?a novel out of that idea you can make it original. Men love women. It's not an original idea. But if you somehow write a terrific novel about it, then by a literary sleight of hand it becomes absolutely original. I simply believe that at the end of the day a story is always richer-it is an idea reshaped into an event, informed by a character, and sparked by crafted language. So naturally, when an idea is transformed into a living organism, it turns into something completely different and, likely, far more expressive. 

 

On the other hand, contradiction can be the core of a novel. Killing old ladies is interesting. With that idea you get an F on an ethics paper. In a novel it becomes Crime and Punishment, a masterpiece of prose in which the character can't tell whether killing old ladies is good or bad, and in which his ambivalence-the very contradiction in our statement-becomes a poetic and challenging matter.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

How do you begin researching your novels? 

 

ECO

 

For The Name of the Rose, since I was already interested in the Middle Ages, I had hundreds of files at hand, and it took me only two years to write it. Foucault's Pendulum took me eight years to research and write! And since I don't tell anybody what I'm doing, it occurs to me now that I lived in my own world for nearly a decade. I went out on the street, I saw this car and that tree and I said to myself, Ah, this could be connected to my story. So my story grew day by day, and everything I did, every tiny scrap of life, every conversation, would give me ideas. Then I visited the actual places I write about-all the areas of France and Portugal where the Templars lived. And it became like a video game in which I might take up the personality of a warrior and enter a sort of magical kingdom. Except that with a video game you become completely stoned, while in writing you always have a critical moment in which you jump off the locomotive, only to jump on again the next morning.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you proceed methodically?

 

ECO

 

No, not at all. One idea immediately summons another. One random book makes me want to read another. And it happens at times that, reading a completely useless document, I suddenly get the right idea for making a story proceed. Or for inserting another little box in a larger collection of inset boxes.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You have said that in writing a novel you must first create a world and then "the words will practically come on their own." Are you saying that a novel's style is always determined by its subject?

 

ECO

 

Yes, for me the main issue is to start constructing a world-a fourteenth-century abbey with poisoned monks, a young man playing the trumpet in a cemetery, a trickster caught in the midst of the sack of Constantinople. Researching then means setting all the constraints for these worlds: How many steps in a spiral staircase? How many items on a laundry list? How many comrades on a mission? The words will coil round these constraints. In literary terms, I feel we often commit the mistake of believing that style has only got to do with syntax and lexicon. There also exists a narrative style, which dictates the way we pile certain blocks together and build up a situation. Take flashback. Flashback is a structural element of style, but it has nothing to do with language. So style is far more complex than sheer writing. To me it functions more like montage in a movie.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

How hard do you work to get the voice just right?

 

ECO

 

I rewrite the same page dozens of times. Sometimes I like to read passages out loud. I am terribly sensitive to the tone of my writing.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you, like Flaubert, find it painful to produce even one good sentence?

 

ECO

 

No, it's not painful for me. I do rewrite the same sentence several times, but now, with the computer, my process has changed. I wrote The Name of the Rose in longhand and my secretary copied it out on a typewriter. When you rewrite the same sentence ten times, it is very difficult to recopy. There was a real carbon base, but we also worked with scissors and glue. With the computer it is very easy to go over a page ten or twenty times on the same day, correcting and rewriting. I think we are by nature never happy with what we have done. But now it is so easy, perhaps too easy, to correct it. Therefore in a sense we have become more demanding.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Bildungsromans usually involve some degree of sentimental, and sexual, education. In all your novels you describe only two sexual acts-one in The Name of the Rose, and the other in Baudolino. Is there a reason for this?

 

ECO

 

I think I just prefer to have sex than write about it.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Why does Adso quote the Song of Songs when he has sex with the peasant girl in The Name of the Rose?

 

ECO

 

That was a stylistic amusement, because I was not so much interested in the sexual act itself as I was to describe how a young monk would experience sex through his cultural sensibility. So I made a collage of at least fifty different texts of mystics describing their ecstasies, together with excerpts from the Song of Songs. In the entire two pages that describe his sexual act, there is hardly a single word of mine. Adso can only understand sex through the lens of the culture he has absorbed. This is an instance of style, as I define it.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

When in the day do you write?

 

ECO

 

There is no rule. For me it would be impossible to have a schedule. It can happen that I start writing at seven o'clock in the morning and I finish at three o'clock at night, stopping only to eat a sandwich. Sometimes I don't feel the need to write at all. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

When you do write, how much do you write every day? Is there no rule for that as well?

 

ECO

 

None. Listen, writing doesn't mean necessarily putting words on a sheet of paper. You can write a chapter while walking or eating.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

So every day is different for you?

 

ECO

 

If I am in my countryside home, at the top of the hills of Montefeltro, then I have a certain routine. I turn on my computer, I look at my e-mails, I start reading something, and then I write until the afternoon. Later I go to the village, where I have a glass at the bar and read the newspaper. I come back home and I watch TV or a DVD in the evening until eleven, and then I work a little more until one or two o'clock in the morning. There I have a certain routine because I am not interrupted. When I am in Milan or at the university, I am not master of my own time-there is always somebody else deciding what I should do.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What kinds of anxieties do you have when you sit down to write?

 

ECO

 

I have no anxieties.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You have no anxieties. So you're just very excited?

 

ECO

 

Before I sit down to write, I am deeply happy.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What is the secret of such prolific production? You have written prodigious quantities of scholarly work, and your five novels are not exactly short.

 

ECO

 

I always say that I am able to use the interstices. There is a lot of space between atom and atom and electron and electron, and if we reduced the matter of the universe by eliminating all the space in between, the entire universe would be compressed into a ball. Our lives are full of interstices. This morning you rang, but then you had to wait for the elevator, and several seconds elapsed before you showed up at the door. During those sECOnds, waiting for you, I was thinking of this new piece I'm writing. I can work in the water closet, in the train. While swimming I produce a lot of things, especially in the sea. Less so in the bathtub, but there too.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you ever not work?

 

ECO

 

No, it doesn't happen. Oh, well, yes, there was a period of two days when I had my surgery.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What are your greatest pleasures today?

 

ECO

 

Reading novels at night. Sometimes I wonder whether as a renegade Catholic there might not still be this fluty voice in my head whispering that novels are too pleasurable to be read during the day. Hence the day is usually for essays and hard work. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What about guilty pleasures?

 

ECO

 

I am not in confession! OK: Scotch. Smoking was a guilty pleasure until I quit three years ago. I could smoke about sixty cigarettes a day. But I was a former pipe smoker so my habit was to puff the smoke away while I was writing. I didn't inhale too much.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You have been criticized for the erudition you put on display in your work. A critic went so far as to say that the main appeal of your work for a lay reader is the humiliation he feels for his own ignorance, which translates into a naive admiration of your pyrotechnics.

 

ECO

 

Am I sadist? I don't know. An exhibitionist? Maybe. I am joking. Of course not! I have not worked so much in my life in order just to pile knowledge before my readers. My knowledge quite literally informs the intricate construction of my novels. Then it is up to my readers to detect what they might.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you think your extraordinary popular success as a novelist changed your perception of the role of the reader? 

 

ECO

 

After being an academic for so long, writing novels was like being a theater critic and all of a sudden stepping in front of the footlights and having your former colleagues-the critics-stare at you. It was quite bewildering at first.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

But did writing novels change your idea of how much you could influence the reader as an author?

 

ECO

 

I always assume that a good book is more intelligent than its author. It can say things that the writer is not aware of. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you think your status as a best-selling novelist has diminished your reputation as a serious thinker around the world?

 

ECO

 

Since the publication of my novels I have received thirty-five honorary degrees from universities around the world. From this fact I gather that the answer to your question must be no. In the university milieu, professors were interested by the oscillation between narrative and theory. They often found links between the two aspects of my work, even more than I myself believed existed. If you want, I will show you the entire wall of scholarly publications on me.

 

Besides, I continue to produce theoretical essays. I continue to live like a professor who writes novels during the weekends, instead of living like a writer who also teaches at the university. I attend scientific colloquia more often than I attend PEN conferences. In fact, one could say the opposite: perhaps my academic work has disrupted my consideration as a writer in the popular press.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

The Catholic Church has certainly given you a hard time. The newspaper of the Vatican called Foucault's Pendulum "full of profanations, blasphemies, buffooneries, and filth, held together by the mortar of arrogance and cynicism."

 

ECO

 

The strange thing is that I had just received honorary degrees from two Catholic universities, Leuven and Loyola.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you believe in God?

 

ECO

 

Why does one love a certain person one day and discover the next day that the love is gone? Feelings, alas, disappear without justification, and often without a trace.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

If you don't believe in God, then why have you written at such great length about religion?

 

ECO

 

Because I do believe in religion. Human beings are religious animals, and such a characteristic feature of human behavior cannot be ignored or dismissed. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

In addition to the scholar and the novelist, there is a third persona jockeying for position within you-the translator. You are a widely translated translator who has written at length on the conundrums of translation.

 

ECO

 

I have edited countless translations, translated two works myself, and have had my own novels translated into dozens of languages. And I've found that every translation is a case of negotiation. If you sell something to me and I buy it, we negotiate-you'll lose something, I'll lose something, but at the end we're both more or less satisfied. In translation, style is not so much lexicon, which can be translated by the Web site Altavista, but rhythm. Researchers have run tests on the frequency of words in Manzoni's The Betrothed, the masterpiece of nineteenth-century Italian literature. Manzoni had an absolutely poor vocabulary, devised no innovative metaphors, and used the adjective good a frightening amount of times. But his style is outstanding, pure and simple. To translate it, as with all great translations, you need to bring out the anima of his world, its breath, its precise tempo.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

How involved are you with the translations of your work?

 

ECO

 

I read the translations in all the languages I can follow. I am usually happy because the translators and I work together, and I have been lucky to have the same translators all my life. We now collaborate with a sort of mutual understanding. I also occasionally work with translators in languages I don't know-like Japanese, Russian, and Hungarian-because they are so intelligent that they are able to explain what the real problem is in their own language, so that we may discuss how to solve it.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Does a good translator ever offer a suggestion that opens up possibilities you hadn't seen in the original text?

 

ECO

 

Yes, it can happen. Again, the text is more intelligent than its author. Sometimes the text can suggest ideas that the author does not have in mind. The translator, in putting the text in another language, discovers those new ideas and reveals them to you.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you have time to read the novels of your contemporaries?

 

ECO

 

Not so much. Since I became a novelist I have discovered that I am biased. Either I think a new novel is worse than mine and I don't like it, or I suspect it is better than my novels and I don't like it.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What do you think of the state of Italian literature today? Are there great authors in Italy that we have yet to hear about in America?

 

ECO

 

I don't know if there are great authors, but we have improved the middle-level authors. The strength of American literature, you see, is not only to have had Faulkner or Hemingway or Bellow, but to have also a good army of middling writers who produce respectable commercial literature. This literature requires good craftsmanship, especially in the fertile field of the detective novel, which for me is a barometer of literary production in any country. The army of average writers also means that America can produce enough material to satisfy the needs of the American reader. That's why they translate so little. In Italy that kind of literature was absent for a long time, but now at last there is a group of young writers producing these books. I am not an intellectual snob, I don't think, and I do rECOgnize that this brand of literature is part of the literary culture of a country.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

But why don't we hear from Italian writers? You are probably the only Italian writer at the moment who's read internationally, at least on a large scale.

 

ECO

 

Translation is the problem. In Italy, more than twenty percent of the market is work in translation. In America, it's two percent.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Nabokov once said, "I divide literature into two categories, the books I wish I had written and the books I have written."

 

ECO

 

Well, all right, in the former category I would put books by Kurt Vonnegut, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, and Paul Auster. Generally, though, I like the contemporary Americans far more than the French, even though my culture is basically French for geographical reasons. I was born near the border, and French is the first language I studied. I may even know French literature better than Italian literature.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

And if you had to name influences?

 

ECO

 

Usually I say Joyce and Borges to keep the INTERVIEWER quiet, though it's not absolutely true. Just about everyone has influenced me. Joyce and Borges, certainly, but also Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke-you name it.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Your library here in Milan is a legend in and of itself. What kind of books do you like to collect?

 

ECO

 

I own a total of about fifty thousand books. But as a rare books collector I am fascinated by the human propensity for deviating thought. So I collect books about subjects in which I don't believe, like kabbalah, alchemy, magic, invented languages. Books that lie, albeit unwittingly. I have Ptolemy, not Galileo, because Galileo told the truth. I prefer lunatic science.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

With so many volumes, when you go to the bookshelf, how do you decide which book to pick up and read? 

 

ECO

 

I don't go to the bookshelves to choose a book to read. I go to the bookshelves to pick up a book I know I need in that moment. It's a different story. For instance, if you were to ask me about contemporary authors, I would look through my collections of Roth or DeLillo to remember exactly what I loved. I am a scholar. In a way I should say I am never freely choosing. I am following the needs of the job I am doing at any given time.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you ever give books away?

 

ECO

 

I receive an enormous quantity of books every day-novels, new editions of books I already own-so every single week I fill up some boxes and send them off to my university, where there is a big table with a sign that says take a book and run.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You are one of the world's most famous public intellectuals. How would you define the term intellectual? Does it still have a particular meaning? 

 

ECO

 

If by intellectual you mean somebody who works only with his head and not with his hands, then the bank clerk is an intellectual and Michelangelo is not. And today, with a computer, everybody is an intellectual. So I don't think it has anything to do with someone's profession or with someone's social class. According to me, an intellectual is anyone who is creatively producing new knowledge. A peasant who understands that a new kind of graft can produce a new species of apples has at that moment produced an intellectual activity. Whereas the professor of philosophy who all his life repeats the same lecture on Heidegger doesn't amount to an intellectual. Critical creativity-criticizing what we are doing or inventing better ways of doing it-is the only mark of the intellectual function.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Are intellectuals today still committed to the notion of political duty, as they were in the days of Sartre and Foucault?

 

ECO

 

I don't believe that in order to be politically committed an intellectual must act as a member of a party or, worse, write exclusively about contemporary social problems. Intellectuals should be as politically engaged as any other citizen. At most, an intellectual can use his reputation to support a given cause. If there is a manifesto on the environmental question, for instance, my signature might help, so I would use my reputation for a single instance of common engagement. The problem is that the intellectual is truly useful only as far as the future is concerned, not the present. If you are in a theater and there is a fire, a poet must not climb up on a seat and recite a poem. He has to call the fireman like everyone else. The function of the intellectual is to say beforehand, Pay attention to that theater because it's old and dangerous! So his word can have the prophetic function of an appeal. The intellectual's function is to say, We should do that, not, We must do this now!-that's the politician's job. If the utopia of Thomas More were ever realized, I have little doubt it would be a Stalinist society.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What benefits have knowledge and culture afforded you in your lifetime?

 

ECO

 

An illiterate person who dies, let us say at my age, has lived one life, whereas I have lived the lives of Napoleon, Caesar, d'Artagnan. So I always encourage young people to read books, because it's an ideal way to develop a great memory and a ravenous multiple personality. And then at the end of your life you have lived countless lives, which is a fabulous privilege.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

But an enormous memory can also be an enormous burden. Like the memory of Funes, one of your favorite Borges characters, in the story "Funes the Memorious."

 

ECO

 

I like the notion of stubborn incuriosity. To cultivate a stubborn incuriosity, you have to limit yourself to certain areas of knowledge. You cannot be totally greedy. You have to oblige yourself not to learn everything. Or else you will learn nothing. Culture in this sense is about knowing how to forget. Otherwise, one indeed bECOmes like Funes, who remembers all the leaves of the tree he saw thirty years ago. Discriminating what you want to learn and remember is critical from a cognitive standpoint.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

But isn't culture itself, in the larger sense, already a filter?

 

ECO

 

Yes, our private culture is a secondary operation, so to speak, because culture in the general sense discriminates already. In a way, culture is the mechanism by which a community suggests to us what has to be remembered and what has to be forgotten. Culture has decided, for instance-look in every encyclopedia-that what happened to Calpurnia after the death of her husband, Julius Caesar, is irrelevant. Most likely nothing interesting happened to her. Whereas Clara Schumann became more important after the death of Schumann. She was rumored to be the lover of Brahms, and she became an acclaimed pianist in her own right. And all this remains true until the moment a historian retrieves an unknown document that will show that something we neglected was in fact relevant.

 

If culture did not filter, it would be inane-as inane as the formless, boundless Internet is on its own. And if we all possessed the boundless knowledge of the Web, we would be idiots! Culture is an instrument for making a hierarchical system of intellectual labor. For you and for me it is enough to know that Einstein proposed the theory of relativity. But an absolute understanding of the theory we leave to the specialists. The real problem is that too many are granted the right to bECOme a specialist.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What do you make of those who proclaim the death of the novel, the death of books, the death of reading?

 

ECO

 

To believe in the end of something is a typical cultural posture. Since the Greeks and the Latins we have persisted in believing that our ancestors were better than us. I am always amused and interested by this kind of sport, which the mass media practice with increasing ferocity. Every season there is an article on the end of the novel, the end of literature, the end of literacy in America. People don't read any longer! Teenagers only play video games! The fact of the matter is that all over the world there are thousands of stores full of books and full of young people. Never in the history of mankind have there been so many books, so many places selling books, so many young people visiting these places and buying books. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

What would you say to the fearmongers?

 

ECO

 

Culture is continuously adapting to new situations. There will probably be a different culture, but there will be a culture. After the fall of the Roman Empire there were centuries of profound transformations-linguistic, political, religious, cultural. These types of changes happen ten times as quickly now. But thrilling new forms will continue to emerge and literature will survive.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

You have said in the past that you would like to be remembered more as an academic than a novelist. Do you really mean that?

 

ECO

 

I don't remember having said that because it's the sort of feeling that changes according to the context in which I'm asked this question. But at this point experience tells me that the work of an academic survives with great difficulty because theories change. Aristotle survives, but countless texts from academics of just one century ago are not republished. Whereas many novels are continuously republished. So technically speaking there are more chances to survive as a writer than as an academic, and I take into account these pieces of evidence independently from my own wishes.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

How important to you is the notion of your work surviving? Do you often think about your legacy?

 

ECO

 

I don't believe one writes for oneself. I think that writing is an act of love-you write in order to give something to someone else. To communicate something. To have other people share your feelings. This problem of how long your work can survive is fundamental for every writer, not just for a novelist or a poet. The truth is, the philosopher writes his book in order to convince a lot of people of his theories, and he hopes that in the next three thousand years people will still read that book. It is just as you hope that your kids survive you, and that if you have a grandchild he survives your children. One hopes for a sense of continuity. When a writer says, I am not interested in the destiny of my book, he is simply a liar. He says so to please the interviewer.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Do you have any regrets at this point in your life?

 

ECO

 

I regret everything, because I have committed many, many mistakes in all walks of life. But if I had to start again, I honestly think I would commit the same mistakes. I'm being serious. I've spent my life examining my behavior and my ideas, and criticizing myself. I'm so severe that I would never tell you what my worst self-criticism is, not even for a million dollars.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Is there a book you never wrote but ardently wish you had?

 

ECO

 

Yes, just one. Until the age of fifty and throughout all my youth, I dreamed of writing a book on the theory of comedy. Why? Because every book on the subject has been unsuccessful, at least all the ones I've been able to read. Every theoretician of comedy, from Freud to Bergson, explains some aspect of the phenomenon, but not all. This phenomenon is so complex that no theory is, or has been thus far, able to explain it completely. So I thought to myself that I would want to write the real theory of comedy. But then the task proved desperately difficult. If I knew exactly why it was so difficult, I would have the answer and I would be able to write the book. 

 

INTERVIEWER

 

But you have written books on beauty and, more recently, on ugliness. Aren't those notions just as ungraspable?

 

ECO

 

Compared to beauty and ugliness, comedy is terrifying. I'm not talking about laughter, mind you. No, there is an uncanny sentimentality of the comic, which is so complex that-I cannot quite explain it. And this, alas, is why I didn't write the book.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Is comedy a specifically human invention, as you said lying is?

 

ECO

 

Yes, since it seems that animals are bereft of humor. We know that they have a sense of play, they feel sorry, they weep, they suffer. We have proof that they are happy, when they are playing with us, but not that they have comic feelings. It is a typical human experience, which consists of-no, I can't exactly say.

 

INTERVIEWER

 

Why not?

 

ECO

 

OK, fine. I have a suspicion that it is linked with the fact that we are the only animals who know we must die. The other animals don't know it. They understand it only on the spot, in the moment that they die. They are unable to articulate anything like the statement: All men are mortal. We are able to do it, and that is probably why there are religions, rituals, and what have you. I think that comedy is the quintessential human reaction to the fear of death. If you ask me for something more, I cannot tell you. But perhaps I'll create an empty secret now, and let everyone think that I have a theory of comedy in the works, so when I die they will spend a lot of time trying to retrieve my secret book. 

 

In truth, what really happened with my desire to write a book on comedy was that I wrote The Name of the Rose instead. It was one of those cases in which, when you are unable to construct a theory, you narrate a story. And I believe that in The Name of the Rose, I did, in narrative form, flesh out a certain theory of the comic. The comic as a critical way of undercutting fanaticism. A diabolical shade of suspicion behind every proclamation of truth.

 

 

 

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