‘Misreadings’ by Umberto Eco (William Weaver trans.)

We all know I love Eco here, I think.  Thanks to holiday busy-ness I floundered up and down the hallway, trying to find one of his that I hadn’t read yet (or at least hadn’t read this year) to fulfil the requirements of the letter ‘E’ in the A to Z Challenge.  Luckily I picked something of his up at the Lifeline Bookfair and it was easy to find in my recent piles.

Originally published during 1959 as the monthly column Diario minimo in the literary magazine Il Verri, Misreadings is a translated collection of parody, essays, and meta-fictional jocularity.  There’s not much I can say about Eco, whose words I tend to love no matter my mood, but these short pieces have more flippancy and ludicrous humour than some of his other collections of essays do; they are playful.  They are also a little messy, and they are written with literati in mind – you may need to do some background reading or at least some googling to pick up on all the literary and Italian references.

I particularly loved Granita, a parody of Nabokov’s Lolita in which the object of romantic fixation is not youth and beauty but senescence and frailty.  When his love employs cosmetics and adheres to younger mannerisms, Umberto Umberto finds his passions cool.

I also adored the satirical anthropology of an islander looking in at the strange rituals of ‘civilised’ societies.  Who is to say, after all, whether technology or spirituality or nature itself is the best focus in life?  In Industry and Sexual Repression in a Po Valley Society there’s a lot of parody on the perception of Western lifestyles and the assumptions made by those anthropologists and archaeologists who study historical or remote cultures.  If I ever do teach, I think I’ll be finding a way to distribute that column amongst my students, because the ludicrous is something that scholars of human culture should recognise in themselves above all else.

It’s not as thick or as serious or consistent in subject matter and form as some of Eco’s other essay and article collections, but it was well worth reading and hunting down.  There’s a comprehensive review and overview at The Independent that gushes less than I do, and a shorter one at Umberto Eco Readers.  A recent article written by Eco (on wikileaks) can be found at presseurop.

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