The Name of the Rose

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When I first started writing on my Eternal Idol site, around a decade ago, I was advised by many well-meaning people that there was no future in composing and publishing lengthy essays on Stonehenge or any other subjects because there was no appetite for such things and because people’s attention spans were too short.

I personally doubted this and in any case, I was writing for my own pleasure, so I went ahead and discovered that there was a huge community ‘out there’ who were happy reading essays of 7,000 words or so, as well as engaging in discussions and submitting lengthy, considered replies themselves.

Just over a year ago, I managed to compose around 90,000 words for A Tale of Sound & Fury and more recently, I wrote something in the order of 30,000 words for a study of the scientific stranglehold on Stonehenge, which lies dormant on this laptop along with many other offerings because I no longer have the energy to see these things through to their completion. It’s a great shame, but that’s just how it is, so in lieu of composing, I find myself retreating more and more into the worlds of books written by others, to see me through the long hours when I keep Blueboy company in a dimly-lit room downstairs.

I’ve been enjoying some hefty volumes in the Game of Thrones series that my daughter bought me for Christmas, but for even greater escapism, I often select a tale from a huge compilation of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, bought for me by my son. I’m blissfully content in these worlds created by others, but I’m nonetheless aware of the harsh realities in the world around me, so I’ve found my gaze drawn to one of the great piles of books here in my study containing The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.

I read this book for about the third time some eighteen months ago and I enjoyed it greatly, so I may well start to devour it again in the coming weeks, if only because the subject matter of literature, the enormous contributions made to learning by Muslim scholars in mediaeval times and a study of the subversive power of laughter seem to be highly relevant in our troubled times, while the best and briefest way I can illustrate this is through the following (apparently prophetic) exchange between William of Baskerville and Jorge de Burgos:

William of Baskerville: My venerable brother, there are many books that speak of comedy. Why does this one fill you with such fear?

Jorge de Burgos: Because it’s by Aristotle.

William of Baskerville: [Chasing after Jorge who runs with the Second Book of Poetics by Aristotle intending to destroy it] But what is so alarming about laughter?

Jorge de Burgos: Laughter kills fear, and without fear there can be no faith because without fear of the Devil, there is no more need of God.

William of Baskerville: But you will not eliminate laughter by eliminating that book.

Jorge de Burgos: No, to be sure, laughter will remain the common man’s recreation. But what will happen if, because of this book, learned men were to pronounce it admissible to laugh at everything? Can we laugh at God? The world would relapse into chaos! Therefore, I seal that which was not to be said.

[He eats the poisoned pages of the book]

Jorge de Burgos: In the tomb I become.

[He tosses the book at the candle, which ignites a fire that destroys all the books in the abbey tower]

It strikes me that there’s a great deal of food for thought here, but at the risk of sounding like some conspiracy theorist, I’m increasingly coming to believe that independent thought and civilised exchanges are not things that those who would shape and rule the world we live in are keen on fostering.

To be sure, there are many flourishing pockets of resistance, enlightenment and sanity, but as far as I can see, they’re engaged in and losing a war of attrition against viewspapers, polemics, soundbites, corporate advertising and legislation, tweets, hashtags, vines, memes, status updates and the many other ‘bite-sized chunks’ of skewed information that are rapidly becoming the only intellectual sustenance we’re capable of digesting.

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