Of the three obituaries of Umberto Eco I read this morning, only one even mentioned he was married and none said anything of children or friends. Eco died Friday in Milan at 84. The philosopher/writer was perhaps best known for "The Name of the Rose," which was later made into a moderately good movie with Sean Connery. The book, though less so than "Foucault's Pendulum" that followed, was injected and laced with intellectual curlicues, medieval lore and partially-translated Latin snippets. He also wrote widely for magazines and newspapers.
He was quoted as saying he wrote [novels?] "for masochists," an apt observation if ever there were one. How dense, how comfortably distant, how intelligent, how largely scone-less... another (from where I sit) example of the desire to talk whatever difficulties life presents to death.
And yet he was also quoted as saying
"It's only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things," Eco said. "People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged."I kind of like that. But I wonder at the challenges that are accepted in any given life. Shall it be the intellectually ornate stuff that seems to fill the road ahead, the Gawd-I-wish-I-were-as-erudite-as-Umberto-Eco stuff? The talk-it-to-death stuff? The stuff that seems to hold out a promise that if you talk long enough and precisely enough, things will magically fall under your control?
How many, I wonder, accept the greater challenges that come from within -- the questions that are far from chiseled and clipped and carefully combed? Sure, they're simple, but complexity hardly defines a realm in which true answers emerge. What a bit of diversion is intellectual complexity when seeking to evade the gnawing of a challenge like, "How can I be happy?"
What challenge does anyone willingly take up? Will it be the easy and ornate or the plain and unadorned. It's nice to be smart, but the cowardice always whispers in complexity, I suspect.