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Hot Wars and Media Populism

by Umberto Eco & translated by Alastair McEwen

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-15-101351-7
Publisher: Harcourt

The prolific novelist, essayist and philosopher comes this time as a latter-day Walter Lippmann in this gathering of journalism, most of which first appeared in two Italian newspapers.

Eco (The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005, etc.) considers the disquieting retrograde circumstances of world civilization, discussing topics as diverse as racism, Harry Potter and the Tower of Babel. He urges us to be aware of the difference between science (generally a good thing) and technology (sometimes not so good). He notes that, since the end of the Cold War, “paleowar” has given way to “neowar”; armed conflict now has no front and, ultimately, no winner. Neowar is media-based and the cure is unlikely: universal peace. Eco’s wide-ranging journalism speculates on the difficulties of theocracy and private schools, on the instructions of Mussolini and Thucydides, on the uses of the crucifix and the soul of an embryo. He also has some witty things to say about The Da Vinci Code and Mel Gibson’s version of The Passion. Throughout, Eco provokes readers with his arsenal of classical learning and easy humor. He reflects on anti-Semitism, Latin etymology, fundamentalist hermeneutics, village idiots (aka politicians) and, finally, death. Though some commentary is dated (e.g., what will become of Saddam?), the writing exudes an easygoing, natural intelligence. Italian politics, especially some easy potshots at the Berlusconi regime, gets much ink. (Lest readers this side of the Atlantic tend to nod, be assured there are lessons to be learned when such politicos make state interests coincide with their private interests.) The sagacious author, a professional semiotician, presents commentary on the difficulties of communication, with exposures of bunkum and cant reminiscent of Orwell. If confusion still exists, he declares, “I’m not the one who confuses ideas; we have merely discussed ideas that are confused, and it’s a good thing if we understand that they are confused…”

Entertainment and a bit of wisdom for a thinking audience.