Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nonfiction: Apocalypse Postponed

Edited by Robert Lumley
Indiana University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-253-31851-3; Hardcover $29.95. Out of print.

Originally published in 1964 as Apocalittici e integrati and revised in 1977. From Kirkus Reviews:

Teacher (Semiotics/Univ. of Bologna), editor, cultural commentator, and novelist (Foucault’s Pendulum, 1989), Eco offers refreshing commentary on cultural life, primarily in Italy, from the mid-1960s to the late ’80s, when intellectuals were especially alarmed by the emergence of a mass or pop culture. Dedicating his book to those he calls the “apocalyptics,’’ cultural elites who fear the destruction of their world by mass communication and popular entertainment, he offers historical surveys of key terms such as “culture,’’ “intellectual,’’ and “design,’’ bringing to these terms more inclusive definitions that embrace comic books, TV, popular music, and a whole range of experience that he includes in the idea of civilization. He recalls introducing his collection of Superman comics at a distinguished European conference of theologians and philosophers discussing mythography; republishes his famous essay from the New York Review of Books on Peanuts (the “microcosm,’’ the “primitive epic’’) for “humanists who do not read comic strips’’; and to prove that “the medium is not always the message,’’ he analyzes the official comic strips of the Chinese communist government. In lucid, persuasive, and artfully illustrated essays, Eco expands the range of what is acceptable as culture: television programs, computers, popular music, posters, the whole counterculture, anything that does not require paper made from trees, for, he concludes in a typically gnomic remark, “every new book reduces the quantity of oxygen.’’ Although Eco occasionally sounds foreign and anachronistic, he displays a universal sympathy and a comprehensive eye that ranges from Snoopy, who has “no hope of promotion,’’ to the “Genius Industry’’ – those poor eccentrics who believe themselves to be victims of their own originality, publishing and reviewing their own books. Eco is a true original – substantial, lucid, humane, and a great deal of fun. (Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP.)

The following description has been reprinted from the back of the Flamingo edition of Apocalypse Postponed:

Apocalypse Postponed is the anguished portrait of Western culture on the brink of self-destruction, by one of the world’s foremost writers.

With consummate ease, Umberto Eco provides simultaneously both a perfect attack on and an apology for mass culture. Exploring such exotica as La Ciccilina, Charlie Brown, George Orwell, Fellini, Chinese and American comics, as well as appraising illiteracy, the state of counterculture and his own reaction to the media’s consumption of his work, he exposes contemporary mass culture both as mankind’s nemesis and its salvation.

The introduction explains that the essays have been chosen with these objectives:

1. To convey some sense of the development of Eco’s writing on cultural issues from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, documenting as well as re-presenting past works.
2. To focus on journalism and occasional essays.
3. To include historically significant pieces not previously translated (notably from Apocalittici e integrati).
4. To include material written about Italy and for Italians and which has tended not to be translated for that reason.
5. To communicate the wit and brio of Eco’s writing.

And finally, here’s the Table of Contents with some information on the various essays:

Part 1; Mass Culture: Apocalypse Postponed
1. Apocalyptic and Integrated Intellectuals: Mass communications and theories of mass culture [1964]
2. The World of Charlie Brown
3. Reactions of Apocalyptical and Integrated Intellectuals: Then (1964)
4. Reactions of the Author: Now (1974 and 1977)
5. Orwell, or Concerning Visonary Power
6. The Future of Literacy [1987]

Part 2: Mass Media and the Limits of Communication
1. Political Language: The use and abuse of rhetoric [1973]
2. Does the Audience have Bad Effects on Television? [1977]
3. Event as Mise en scene and Life as Scene-settings [1982]
4. The Phantom of Neo-TV: The debate on Fellini’s Ginger and Fred [1986]

Part 3: The Rise and Fall of Counter-cultures
1. Does Counter-culture Exist? [1983]
2. The New Forms of Expression [1973]
3. On Chinese Comic Strips: Counter-information and alternative
information [1971]
4. Independent Radio in Italy [1978]
5. Striking at the Heart of State?

Part 4: In Search of Italian Genius
1. Phenomena of This Sort Must Also be Included [1982]
1. Phenomena of This Sort Must Also be Included in Any Panorama of Italian Design [1982]
2. A Dollar for a Deputy: La Cicciolina [1987]
3. For Grace Received [1970]
4. The Italian Genius Industry [1973]

Porta Ludovica thanks Mark Brown and Guy S. Kaiser for some of this information. Guy also remarks, “Look for the early (first?) apperance of De Gubernatis in the last essay, the model for Manutius.”