“Occasional pieces,” all dating from the 1990s, that include essays, speeches, and revised correspondence from the erudite novelist-philosopher-semiotician Eco (Kant and the Platypus, 1999, etc.).
Eco speculates (in “When the Other Appears on the Scene” and “Migration, Tolerance, and the Intolerable”) that the bases of moral actions that not specifically grounded in religious belief arise from an acknowledgement of “the importance of the other.” The former piece is quite closely reasoned, but the latter (which meanders between assessing the influence of “migrant” populations on settled societies and condemning the “Eurocentric” nature of what might be called millennial chic) is rather less focused. Elsewhere, Eco considers the relationship of the “intellectual community” to the (arguably now obsolete) phenomenon of military conflict, concluding (in “Reflections on War”) that “It is an intellectual duty to proclaim the inconceivability of war.” In “On the Press,” he analyzes the impact of instantaneous communication and “the dynamic of provocation” (especially as perfected by television interviewers). And in “Ur-Fascism,” which offers a series of keen discriminations between Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazism, he makes a convincing case for using the former word generically, as “a synechdoche . . . for different totalitarian movements”—while simultaneously sketching in an illuminating piecemeal memoir of growing up in Italy during WWII. Most persuasive when (as here) most personal, Eco attempts in these brief arguments to create a convincing impression of a conscientious intellectual earnestly addressing contemporary social and moral crises as a means of understanding “what we ought to do, what we ought not to do, and what we must not do at any cost.”
A helpful and intermittently revealing (if scarcely essential) gloss on both Eco’s unusual fiction and his knotty philosophical and semantic studies.