Umberto Eco, 1932–2016

Umberto Eco in 1984 by Rob Bogaerts (Wikipedia / Dutch National Archives)

I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking to the late Professor Umberto Eco during his visit to the Toronto Reference Library back in November 2011.

Mr. Eco was a jovial and witty soul, who loved a good joke, cinnamon sticks, myths, languages, mysteries, traveling, ideas, and comic books. On his opinion of New 52 Batman series: It’s more difficult than (James) Joyce! And Professor Eco’s explanation for the success of Casablanca remains the best I’ve yet read:

[B]y any strict critical standards… Casablanca is a very mediocre film [….]

[But] Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. Made haphazardly, it probably made itself, if not actually against the will of its authors and actors, then at least beyond their control. And this is the reason it works, in spite of aesthetic theories and theories of film making. For in it there unfolds with almost telluric force the power of Narrative in its natural state, without Art intervening to discipline it [….]

When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion (Eco, Travels in Hyperreality).

And of course, I will also remember him for The Name of the Rose.