And the Truth Shall Set You Free

numerozeroeng.jpgUmberto Eco’s latest novel is short but the satire pumps it up to become a formidable read. As with many of Eco’s works, Numero Zero is involved with fictions and conspiracies.

It’s safe to contend that Eco has written a satire of the corruption and failure of the Italian government fronted by that well-known playboy and media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi. In Eco’s fiction, a rich and powerful man known as Il Commendatore commissions a new newspaper which will be less involved with rehashing yesterday’s news and more focused on developing the future effects of that news. To this end a group of ragged journalists is brought together and a series of papers is planned to show that Il Commendatore can get the job done. It is important to understand that this first run (Numero Zero) is a fake mock-up cobbled together from old news with the intension, not of developing new media, but rather to convince the media insiders that Il Commendatore should be admitted to their inner-circle.

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We have all been cornered by an associate or an uncle who runs on and on with stories within opinions within anecdotes within other stories. Ah, those unforgettable hours of being unable to break into the convoluted soliloquy and instead sit anxiously waiting for the point of the tale:  it’s not that the individual stories are uninteresting (even if you have heard them several times before) but rather that the endless drone begins to make a stint at the Château d’If seem preferable.

But the subject is the narrative style of Salman Rushdie.

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The Prague Cemetery

I’ve brought this subject up several times through the years and Umberto Eco’s novel, The Prague Cemetery, is a prime example of this problem with literature and writing in general.

Consider the following:

“Gentlemen, the idea that Christ was Jewish is a legend created by people who were Jews themselves, like Saint Paul and the four evangelists. Jesus was in fact of the Celtic race, like we French, who were only much later conquered by the Romans. And before being emasculated by the Romans, the Celts were a population of conquerors. Have you ever heard of the Galatians, who reached as far as Greece? Galilee is thus named for the Gauls who had colonized it. Then again, the legend of a virgin who gave birth to a son is a Celtic and a Druidic myth. Just look at all the portraits we have of Jesus—he was fair-haired and blue-eyed. And he spoke against the customs, superstitions and vices of the Jews. And unlike what the Jews expected from the messiah, he said that his kingdom was not of this earth. And while the Jews were monotheists, Christ launched the idea of the Trinity, inspired by Celtic polytheism. That’s why they killed him. Caiaphas, who condemned him, was a Jew … Judas, who betrayed him, was a Jew … Peter, who denied him, was a Jew …”

You can read the full section of anti-Semitic screed around page 350 but there are juicy bits throughout the novel.

The Prague Cemetery is about an unscrupulous forger who makes his living creating false documents designed to control public opinion and mis-direct governments throughout Europe in the 19th century. It is always obvious that the characters in the novel are charlatans and crooks and it is always clear that the false documents, manipulated opinions, and misdirected events are the result of evil men creating their own truth. The last fake is the historical document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The book clearly shows the forger developing this fake document through years of creating fictional accounts, copying other fake documents, and citing them for authenticity. It is incontestable in the novel that the Protocols is a fraud; yet even today we still hear reference to the Protocols from real-life anti-Semitic groups.

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