Translated by the author
Umberto Eco is not only one of the seminal writers, but is also one of the seminal intellectuals of the 20th century. There’s no need to talk in length about his contributions to the fields of literature and semiology, as well as about the impact of his work on countless generations in the second half of the 20th century. His encyclopedic knowledge, renaissance curiosity and openness to all aspects of modern life are reflected in the multitude of genres in which he tried his pen during his life. This is attested by the fact that he was a productive writer to the end, as if all the knowledge that he had accumulated during his rich and fruitful life as a scholar and writer could never cease combining, communicating and creating new meanings, i.e. new stories. His last book Numero Zero was published in 2015, only a year before he departed from this world. The Macedonian reading public, thanks to the efforts of the publishing house Ars Lamina, had the opportunity almost at the same time as the rest of the world to read his last ever book in the translation by Maria Grazia Cvetkovska. Thus, we thought it would be interesting to check out whether Eco has maintained his usual high writing and intellectual standards in his last document as a writer.
The Echo of the Novels Before
Even during the first reading, Eco’s approach to the subject of Numero Zero seems quite familiar to us. One can make various parallels to his previous novels, as well to many of his more essayistic texts. Yet, the novel to which it is most closely connected and it most resembles is Foucault’s Pendulum, whether it is because of the similar theme, the modes of the genres and narrative techniques it uses, or the similarities in the characters that populate both novels. This is not so odd as it might seem at first, having in mind Eco’s own statement in a recent interview that he had already the idea for the novel at the time of the publication of the Foucault’s Pendulum, though obviously putting it onto paper was left for a more convenient time in the future.
We can see that all the best features of Eco’ novels are also present in Numero Zero, but in a rather more skeletal form. They serve as a frame of a loom or a matrix in which he inserts all the different literary, historical and political events, persons and genres, while the shuttle that moves along and weaves the thread of the tapestry of the novel is the familiar detective genre and style of narration. What is prescient about the genre of the detective novel is that the seed from which it grows is that of doubt, the suspicion of a violation, the traces of a potential crime, the sense of the inadequacy of the reality that surrounds us. Only societies that have managed a long-sustained period of relative stability succeed in suppressing that sense of doubt into the dark alleys sprawled in the outskirts of the city where life is neither recorded, nor sanctioned by the official narratives. Yet, due to this both the life and the stories the periphery harbors are covered by a veil of mystique and secrecy which affords them the status of credibility by the very fact that neither their origin, nor their sources can ever be fully explored. However, no society can forever maintain the status quo, regardless of the fact that its legitimizing narratives make that very same promise or at least do everything in their power to stabilize the status quo. With the appearance of the first cracks, all the suppressed stories rise from the periphery and disturb the carefully maintained balance, turn a mirror to reality and at least temporarily destabilize it.
Conspiracy theories are especially productive in this deconstruction and reconstruction of the process of textualising history as a mode of memory and form of perception, due to the fact that by their very nature they are unstable, fluid and easily adaptable to the changing circumstances in society. They always constitute apocryphal texts to the official history and serve as a repository of unauthorized historical facts or interpretations of famous historical events or persons. As such, they also carry within the doubt about their own validity, as well as about the validity of the texts of the official history. They are semipermeable texts without a truly defined boundary of interpretation, always allowing the outflow, as well as the influx of new elements in its semantic horizon and mechanism. Matter of fact, they need the constant integration of new elements or at the very least the recombining of the existing ones in order to keep its driving force alive, the doubt in the stability of the perceived reality. Maybe it’s because of their semantic fecundity and the tested and proven formula of the mystification and demystification of conspiracy theories in metafictional historical novels, that Eco once again easily reached for them and used them in a novel with a similar subject and plot.