Over a period of five months, we read this collection of “occasional writings” by Umberto Eco (translated to English by Richard Dixon). Today was the final session, where we discussed Eco’s short essay on Wikileaks. Discussing this collection together with our small group has been the longest and best-sustained group project, thus far, associated with my YouTube Channel and Patreon. I am very grateful to everyone who attended the sessions, hoping you all know how much your presence encouraged me and stimulated my thinking. Though some attended more session than others, everyone contributed to the discussions in their unique and thoughtful style. When I think about the fire and energy of being together and thinking together, and about the rarity of such energy, I am reminded of Eco’s essay, “The beauty of the flame.” The fire that our group discussions generated was, indeed, a source of energy. We might forget this source or underestimate its effect, perhaps because we are immersed in a culture that pushes us toward hyper-individualism and atomization.
I am also reminded of the essay, “fermented delights,” when I remember how bringing together our responses to each essay gave rise to a collectively constructed, rich, intersubjective reading of the text. Eco, of course, was himself a valuable participant in our group, with the intentional “gaps” in the essays that invited ideas, with the ways in which he refrains from theoretical hand-holding. The essays tend to invite the reader to choose and settle on a conclusion on their own, if they wish to reach a conclusion at all, to take the final few steps without the guidance of the author. Eco’s style of writing provided us with an ideal foundation upon which to express, inspect, and synthesize our responses.
When I think about the striking imbalance in Eco’s essays–how he offers so many examples without always drawing out the point of the examples–I am reminded of his discussion of Victor Hugo’s imbalances and exaggerations (“the poetics of excess”). Eco has his own excess, at least in these essays, and his excess is playful, inviting, and careful. After all, explications can backfire and a weak argument can be worse than the absence of an argument. It requires a lot more care and restrain to allow examples to speak for themselves, rather than force-fit the examples into a conceptual frame. Eco’s excess–with examples–was accompanied by its opposite, a lack (a kind of theoretical silence), and within that space we explored and played with the material.
Immanuel Kant, to whom we are turning next, will be offering us the opposite type of challenge, because his kind of excess moves in a direction opposite to Eco’s. I am eager to find how we will respond to Kant’s challenges as a group.