Sunday, November 18, 2007

Postscript to The Name of the Rose

An essay written about his first novel, Postille a Il nome della rosa had its first incarnation as a lengthy journal article. It was later retitled Reflections on The Name of the Rose and bound in a small illustrated book; but recently it has regained its original name and is included in the “Harvest in Translation” paperback edition of The Name of the Rose. The essay explores the role of the reader in approaching the text, and it gives some amusing and informative anectdotes on the actual writing of the novel, shedding much light on Eco’s creative process.
Here is some commentary about the original work, sent in by Jonathan Key:

A wonderful little book. Eco even talks about the different types of labyrinth. There are also some neat illustrations, particularly of the labyrinth on the floor of the cathedral at Rheims, which is the basis for the library in the novel. It appeared on the jacket of the original Italian hardback, and on various other editions (e.g. embossed on the Russian hardback). Part of its appeal for Eco, I’m sure, is that it was obliterated by a Canon in the 18th century. It is thus sous rature as Derrida would have it, under erasure – necessarily destroyed but nevertheless still visible and usable. It is a classical maze, surprisingly, rather than a mannerist one. The library in the novel is essentially mannerist (in that the ultimate goal is the finis africae), and both types become superceded by the rhizomatic model of Deleuze and Guattari in Rose. So, the Rheims labyrinth has only one route. As Eco (or his editor) put it: “But if you unravel the classical labyrinth, you find a thread in your hand, the thread of Ariadne. The classical labyrinth is the Ariadne’s-thread of itself.” (p.57) This reminds me of the final exchange between Lönnrot and Red Scharlach in Borges’ “Death and the Compass,” which, of course, was a major plot source for Rose. Interestingly, while in the novel William uses mathematical analysis to solve the mannerist maze, the film has Adso solving it by use of an Ariadne’s thread. Eco’s comment would seem to associate the thread solution exclusively with the ’classical’ maze but this is misleading. ’Classical’ labyrinths were usually pictorial, like Celtic ones, and you certainly wouldn’t need a thread to find your way out – you just keep going. The minatour’s maze would have to be mannerist, with lots of dead ends, despite what Eco says. Hence the need for a thread. Besides, I’ve seen Knossos, and it is beatifully labyrinthine, with lots of steps, little corridors, sudden changes in direction, and poky little rooms. Mannnerist, for sure.