Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Post-modernism of Umberto Eco

By Niki Lambros
Philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, "masters of suspicion;" yet he also notes that though they sought to undermine traditional ideas, they were able to "clear the horizon for a more authentic word, for a new reign of Truth, not only by means of a 'destructive' critique, but by the invention of an art of interpreting". In a similar way, Umberto Eco can be seen as both a post-modernist sceptic and a champion of truth and meaning. From a Christian point of view, one must be very suspicious of a post-modernist philosophy that will not allow the possibility that God, truth and meaning can exist: Rowan Williams and George Steiner noted that the "suspicion" or scepticisms of Derrida and Foucault are not suspicious enough for this reason: they do not allow themselves to suspect that truth may indeed exist. We must read Eco in the light of just such a suspicion; while Eco is sceptical of simply accepting traditional religion or modernist conclusions, he yet shows himself to be even more suspicious of philosophy which does not seek truth and meaning, but is content with nihilism and the void. The "art of interpreting" or, "deduction" in Eco, still leads a careful reader, if not to an absolute knowledge, at least to hope; and Eco sees a profound meaning in hope.
Eco is a post-modernist whose background in medieval theology, his study of semiotics and the philosophy of language, and general devotion to scholarship, do not permit him to reduce humanity and the cosmos to the meaninglessness espoused by much of dogmatic post-modernism. A close reading of both Eco's fictional and scientific works reveals this fundamental incompatibility with philosophers such as Richard Rorty, Jaques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and other post-modernists who have declared war on meaning. Eco's notion of irony is profoundly creative and liberating: in The Name of the Rose, it is God who has the last laugh. For who are they which survive the apocalypse?

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