Tag Archives: Umberto Eco

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco – Book

Numero Zero

Umberto Eco really knows how to leave a room. He published Numero Zero just before he died a few weeks ago. This is not a book that everyone will enjoy because there is no real action and the “plot” is complicated and somewhat obscure, if this book can even be said to have a plot. We have a publisher who has been asked to create a mock newspaper for reasons which are not revealed. We have a staff that is hired to produce these mock-ups and the staff does not realize that these newspapers are not destined for publication.

There is great commentary on how the media conducts itself as these reporters try to “trump” up stories. In fact they are told that they should pick old stories which have never been resolved and then write articles that “predict” a juicy resolution. One of the reasons that this is difficult for most Americans to follow, or to want to follow, is that these are Italian news stories.

Our main character, Colonna, has worked for publishers and newspapers but he has never found a successful niche. He considers himself a loser. “Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.”

He would, of course, like to write a great book. When his acquaintance, Simei, offers him a story line for a great book that he can one day write, a book that will appear under Simei’s name, a book called Domani (yesterday, in Italian) he also offers him the job of running the newspaper that will never be published. The issues will all begin with a Numero Zero.

However, as the book opens we have jumped ahead in the story and Colonna finds that someone has been in his apartment while he was sleeping. He is afraid to leave his building. Why the paranoia? Does the danger have any connection to the conspiracy stories that one of his colleagues at this mysterious newspaper, Braggadocio, has been sharing with him, the ones about fascist groups that may still lurk in the shadows and about the possibility that Mussolini did not die as history suggests but lived out his life in Argentina? Or perhaps it was another story about the fake Orders of Malta popping up around the world, very secretly of course.

This commentary on journalism exposes media tactics that are not the sole property of the Italian media. It is a very cynical view of media and that aspect probably does not surprise most of us. But how much of what we think of as news may be invented for the reader’s taste for sensationalism, or extorted by the state with threats, or distorted by successful subterfuge is difficult for readers of news, and in fact even writers of news to judge. Is there any such thing as a free press? Are powerful people always covering up for the human flaws that their power gives them the freedom to indulge?

Umberto Eco died after this book was published. Is he the character Colonna, who began and ended the book afraid for his life after the murder of Braggadocio, the originator of all the conspiracy theories? Were they conspiracy theories or did Braggadocio have a source providing real news? Who killed Braggadocio and why? Now perhaps Umberto Eco had a terminal illness and knew that he would die soon and created a novel that would turn his demise into the kind of cultural mystery he liked to write. Or was Umberto Eco murdered for his stand against Fascism? We will probably never know. Doesn’t matter, Umberto Eco, on purpose or by accident, leaves us with a novel that helps him remain an amazing author right to the very end and which leaves a reader with perhaps just one word – freaky.

By Nancy Brisson

Why We Can’t Elect Donald Trump (or any of the Bully Boys)

Donald Trump 2

Donald J Trump could become the leader of America, but if he is elected and if he does the things he says he will do, America will be a substantially different nation than it has always been. We can kiss our forefathers good-bye, and the high ideals they wished us to strive for as a nation. By the time we build that wall, send all undocumented immigrants back to their countries of origin, build up a huge military presence and bully China, I’m not sure what America will be left with, but I think we will finally understand the word Fascism.

Older Americans shudder at the thought of a Socialist taking over our Democracy but tend to have little or no reaction when someone exhibiting signs of Fascism (Donald Trump) begins to climb in the election polls. Fascism is far more at odds with Democracy than Socialism is but we just don’t have enough understanding of what the term means for it to call forth the intensely negative visceral reaction that it should. I have written warnings about this twice before, but this time I have help from a very famous writer, Umberto Eco.

Writing from Paris, Christopher Dickey begins his article in the Daily Beast with this statement, “Here in Europe, people know a thing or two about fascism.” He is remembering an article he read twenty years ago by the deeply philosophical Italian author Umberto Eco, who died last week.

No, here in Europe, by various names—as Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism—it was the living, vibrant, vicious force that led directly to the most horrific global war in history. More recently, it took root and lingered as an active ideology in Latin America, providing a crude foundation for the repressive revolutions and dirty wars that raged from the ’60s through the ’80s.

Indeed, the fundamentals of fascism are with us today, in the killing fields of ISIS-land, in the madness of North Korea, and also, sadly, in battered democracies from newly militaristic Japan to xenophobic, isolationist parties in Europe. And, yes, in somewhat more subtle forms fascism can be found on the campaign trail in the U.S. of A.

Umberto Eco, in his article (title not given) gives a list of the attributes of a Fascist:

Makes a cult of tradition

Rejects modernism

Takes action for action’s sake  (“thinking is a form of emasculation”)

Distrust of the intellectual world

Disagreement is treason

Racist by definition   (“seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference”)

The appeal to a frustrated middle class   (“a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”)

Obsession with a plot

Followers must feel humiliated   (“by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies”)

Popular elitism   (“Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are among the best citizens, every citizen can or ought to become a member of the party.”) (“[T]he leader knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler”)

Life is permanent warfare  (“pacifism is trafficking with the enemy”)

Official heroism   (“martyrdom”)

Machismo   (“implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality”)

Selective populism   (“citizens do not act, they are only called on to play the role of the People”)

“Newspeak”   (from 1984, George Orwell)   (“All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”)

Umberto Eco sounds like he is speaking about the Republican Party candidates and members of Congress, and especially of Donald Trump, as we know them right now, but he wrote this 20 years ago.

Here’s the link:


I think that all of the Republican candidates are unelectable and everyone is feeling this even if they will not admit it. I am guessing that people are thinking that Donald Trump is the least dogmatic. He is not toeing the party line. He is his own man. And for some reason people cannot see the dangers in turning over our governance to this man. They want the 50’s back and Donald promises the 50’s. But they will return under his terms. He humiliates anyone who questions his leadership and people back down, even scary people like Ted Cruz. If we give him carte blanche to “make America great again”, it will be his vision of America, not ours and he may have a hard time ever leaving office. He may make himself President-for-life. We cannot control this man. He brooks no disagreement. In the scary GOP line-up of future Presidents perhaps the man who seems most benign is the biggest nightmare of all, but we may not know it until it is too late.

At the end of his article Dickey draws parallels between Europe then and America now.

But where does Eco’s Eternal Fascism fit in American politics? Can it be that many of the figures parading before us in this presidential campaign year appeal to the worst instincts of “the People”? Do they play on atavistic fears and resentments, frustrations and humiliations? Are they marked by their irrationalism and anti-intellectualism, their hatred of things foreign, their desire to be seen as heroes and their gun-toting machismo?

Oh, hell yeah. But I don’t need to point the finger. Umberto Eco is doing it from the grave. As he wrote more than 20 year ago:

“Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: ‘If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.’

“Freedom and liberation,” Eco wrote, “are an unending task.”

How do we get angry Americans who think any of these guys are the answer to “setting America on the right path” to understand that they will do just the opposite? How do we get Donald Trump to leave the Republican race now that all of the non-scary candidates have been chased away? Getting rid of Donald is not enough. We must elect a Democrat in 2016 or American Democracy will not survive. I have no idea how we convince what I call “the pod people”, brainwashed by right wing media, that they must vote against the positions they have been taught to believe in.

10/27/15 On Megalomania, and the World https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=453069755357542576#editor/target=post;postID=2896814823017990171;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=postname

11/24/15 A Plague on Both Your Houses https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=453069755357542576#editor/target=post;postID=8679697109120850499;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=1;src=postname

By Nancy Brisson