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The Gorge
February 28, 2005 11:06 AM   Subscribe

"... Giordano Bruno might have been a pantheist. A pantheist believes that God is everywhere, even in that speck of a fly you see there. You can imagine how satisfying that is—being everywhere is like being nowhere. Well, for Hegel it wasn’t God but the State that had to be everywhere; therefore, he was a Fascist.”
“But didn’t he live more than a hundred years ago?”
“So? Joan of Arc, also a Fascist of the highest order. Fascists have always existed. Since the age of . . . since the age of God. Take God—a Fascist.”
Umberto Eco in the New Yorker
posted by matteo (36 comments total)

 
No, god is only a facist if the pantheists are, in fact, correct. They may be wrong.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 AM on February 28, 2005


Also, is facism really wrong? Suppose you lived in a facist country but agreed with everything the government stood for. You wouldn't be that upset, I don't think.
posted by delmoi at 11:18 AM on February 28, 2005


The word is "fascist", delmoi. For crying out loud, it's right there in the post.

Secondly, yes, fascism is inherently wrong. It robs citizens of all civil, political and economic rights, making everyone merely a tool for the state to use as it sees fit. For argument's sake, the idiot you describe who "agreed with everything the government stood for" could easily find himself killed because those in power perceive him as a threat.

Back on topic, I understand what Eco's trying to say, but I think his use of the word "fascist" is a little off. It'd be more appropriate to say that Hegel, Joan of Arc, etc. were authoritarian.
posted by Target Practice at 11:30 AM on February 28, 2005


At least the trains run on time.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2005


I think his use of the word "fascist" is a little off.

You do realize that Eco is Italian and born in the early 1930s, right?
posted by advil at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2005


Well gee, I guess that fact automatically makes anything that comes out of his mouth right, huh?

For the record, yes I did, but thanks for the insult to my intelligence.
posted by Target Practice at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2005


Well gee, I guess that fact automatically makes anything that comes out of his mouth right, huh?

i think the point was more that eco starts any debate of the meaning of the word "fascism" with more credibility than someone who has never lived under a fascist government, e.g. you (presumably).
posted by scottreynen at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2005



The word is "fascist", delmoi. For crying out loud, it's right there in the post.

...thanks for the insult to my intelligence.


someone needs to insult it. allow me:

dickhead.
posted by quonsar at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2005


Not to mention that the quote on fascism is the idealist character Gragnola speaking, not Eco himself. Yes, he's portrayed as saintly, but not completely unbiased, by any means.
posted by bigbadem at 12:24 PM on February 28, 2005


Read the article. Eco is not debating the word fascism. If it was his intention to do so he would surely do a thorough job. Nor is he asking the question who in history was a fascist. His question has to do with what is ethically required of a person if he or she is going to oppose power with a big P. Eco wants to understand what it means to be a partisan. And further, he wants to know whether it is possible to maintain Catholic faith while being a partisan. Or, is it the case that to be a partisan and to oppose power one must first refuse to confess; and that inorder to refuse to confess one must first relinquish any and all opportunity to be forgiven. His answer is clearly yes for to do otherwise would be to leave open the possibility of power reasserting itself.
posted by derangedlarid at 12:54 PM on February 28, 2005


well, this is good news. i thought eco was dead!

oh and look at the word in pretty red letters at the top of the page. FICTION.
what's so bad about <span> matt? html filtering fascist!
posted by andrew cooke at 1:05 PM on February 28, 2005


Also, is facism really wrong? Suppose you lived in a facist country but agreed with everything the government stood for. You wouldn't be that upset, I don't think.

I would. Virtue at gunpoint is not really virtue.
posted by jonmc at 1:09 PM on February 28, 2005


To kill any joy and humor in your joke, monju_bosatsu, I'll take this opportunity to point out that they actually didn't.

But on the plus side: What snappy dressers! Khaki everything! Head to toe! They're like the militant wing of The Gap!

Of course all this begs the question: Can God make a pleat so sharp that even he himself cannot help but look casually stylish with it?
posted by StopMakingSense at 1:52 PM on February 28, 2005


jonmc, I think you're getting a little hung up on what is tautologically true. If contentment is defined by agreement, then you wouldn't be discontent (upset) with agreeing. That doesn't speak to virtue at all.

It's a particularly American conceit that we will know fascism and just it by its ideological virtue as opposed to the level of discomfort it causes us personally.
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2005


and
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:55 PM on February 28, 2005


derangedlarid: "Read the article. Eco is not debating the word fascism. If it was his intention to do so he would surely do a thorough job."

... which is here. Don't know what it means, though.
posted by koeselitz at 2:01 PM on February 28, 2005


Back on topic, I understand what Eco's trying to say, but I think his use of the word "fascist" is a little off. It'd be more appropriate to say that Hegel, Joan of Arc, etc. were authoritarian. posted by Target Practice

I think a goodly portion of you are arguing points in the post, rather than reading the astoundingly good bit of fiction that is the first link.
posted by dejah420 at 2:12 PM on February 28, 2005


If contentment is defined by agreement, then you wouldn't be discontent (upset) with agreeing.

In a situation like that, the discontent begins with the first disagreement (I believe).
posted by zerokey at 2:40 PM on February 28, 2005


MeTa
posted by mlis at 2:40 PM on February 28, 2005


The New Yorker's excerpt comes from Eco's new (for American readers) novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.
posted by matteo at 2:49 PM on February 28, 2005


Life would be pretty boring if everybody agreed with everybody else.

Very excited about the new book, tho! Even if Baudalino left me a little bewildered...
posted by manicroom at 3:14 PM on February 28, 2005


Pretending for a moment that you lived in a fascist state and were just plain happy with it pretty much shows many of us haven't lived under a tyrannical regime. Perhaps that will come in time; some of us are just beginning to smell that there is something rotten in Wonderland.

Great post.
posted by moonbird at 3:37 PM on February 28, 2005


This is a great story! I love the feeling of old memories this story brings up (even if they're not mine!).
posted by kuatto at 3:51 PM on February 28, 2005


I love Eco. His published debates with Richard Rorty are especially interesting. I wrote my (terrible) undergrad thesis on The Name of the Rose, and it's still one of my favorite books for sooooo many reasons. I'll wait until I get my physical copy of the new NYer before reading this story (I spend enough time in front of this monitor as it is), but I'm pleased to hear that Eco's still doing great stuff.
posted by painquale at 4:13 PM on February 28, 2005


Great story. Jesus, you people will argue about anything - just enjoy the fuckin' writing, eh?
posted by notsnot at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2005


Wonderful story!

Secondly, yes, fascism is inherently wrong. It robs citizens of all civil, political and economic rights, making everyone merely a tool for the state to use as it sees fit.

I would say that civil, political, and economic rights are not themselves inherently good, but are merely tools to promote and maintain happiness and survival.

Then again, any altruistic stab at forming a government is bound to be bad at promoting happiness without an incredibly pessimistic sense of human nature and the effects of power. A good tool for keeping happiness in the forefront is to enshrine human rights as sacred. But I'm not convinced it's the only tool possible.
posted by catachresoid at 4:49 PM on February 28, 2005


I did not like the story. Umberto does not defend his paganism views with much grace and wisdom. Although, the interior story was interesting.

From someone who I believe respects and reveres Venus for her ancient power and magnificence, he does not make convincing arguments, esp to women. To describe the Goddess as a"piece of tail" that makes her worshipers look good, is just gross. He makes the only character that could present a bit of wisdom look just as cranky and withered as the priests he bitches on.

Not impressed: God is not responsible for the wrongful acts of men, this view is petty and rather immature. God is God no matter what name you want to label him with and so is the Goddess for that right. If God(s) have bestowed justice and wisdom to man, it is our job to make sure we understand him clearly. Blame the patriarchal laws not the mores.

My apologies if this seems harsh but I expected more.
posted by Viomeda at 6:51 PM on February 28, 2005


Dude. It was a story, from the point of view of a little kid. If Eco had dived into semiotics, you'd complain that it got in the way of the story. WTF? /eco apologist
posted by notsnot at 8:51 PM on February 28, 2005


"Pretending for a moment that you lived in a fascist state and were just plain happy with it pretty much shows many of us haven't lived under a tyrannical regime." - Moonbird, you might want to read Milton Mayer's "They Thought They Were Free", based on Mayer's postwar interviews of rather average, low level members of the Nazi Party
posted by troutfishing at 9:40 PM on February 28, 2005


First of all snot, please don't call me dude. Second of all, I am entitled to my opinions. And thirdly, just because it reflects the view of a child doesn't soften me to the presentation of mediocre writing. Through his remembrance what point is he trying to make in his form of dialogue?

Also, no matter how many profanities you use, they do little to convince me that Eco is the cognoscenti of Italian authors.

Are you always this impolite when people disagree with your taste?
posted by Viomeda at 11:07 PM on February 28, 2005


Viomeda, I think Eco is of the transcendental school. He will bore into your brain with minutae until you find his revelation. It can be painstaking work, and it is work, because he writes fiction-essays -- and this was my revelation.
posted by gsb at 1:59 AM on March 1, 2005


God is not responsible for the wrongful acts of men, this view is petty and rather immature. God is God no matter what name you want to label him with and so is the Goddess for that right. If God(s) have bestowed justice and wisdom to man, it is our job to make sure we understand him clearly. Blame the patriarchal laws not the mores.

Should any god exist, what makes you party to their minds or motivations? How do you know man has been bestowed with wisdom? How do you know god hasn't set the world to run as a machine where men are just cogs with only the illusion of self control? - just one scenario where God not humanity is responsible for suffering.

Second of all, I am entitled to my opinions.

But when you entitle the rest of us to them expect feedback.
posted by biffa at 2:03 AM on March 1, 2005


I liked this story so much, especially the ways in which it melded elements of different genres: boy's adventure story, war memoir, hell, there's a bit of Salinger and a bit of Borges in it too. You get a nice feeling for the texture of the landscape, and how the characters are engaged with the landscape without there being a lot of explicit details. The directness of the writing serves this well.
I've never bothered with Umberto Eco because the interviews I've seen suggested his writing would be too cerebral and not engaging. It seems I was mistaken.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:34 AM on March 1, 2005


gsb- granted I have limited experience with Eco and should probably be less inclined to pass critique. Thank you, I expect a more positive revelation in a second reading. Again, my apologies if I didn't find this story as melting as the others. The message I agree with and the boys reflection is gripping. However, I question the method; revelation or not what am I suppose to do with the bold and exaggerated statements. God, as a authoritarian, is a possibility but anything is a possibility when you are bitter.
biffa- I believe some wisdom is already out there to be found, dug up or accepted. And yes, I think that God, in as many forms, is the inspiration for this wisdom. Your scenario is eager to be unveiled by the apocalyptic masters. Yet even Orwell, Updike, Puig, Ellison and Vonnegut leave traces of hope through man's reconciliation with God or at least a divine love (compassion).

"Yes, but there are reasons of the heart that reason doesn't encompass. And that's straight from a French philosopher, a very great one. I got you that time.....And I think I even remember his name: Pascal. So put that in your pipe!" - Kiss of the Spider Woman

I would like to believe like the man in the story that wherever a Christian god fails or appears restrictive the answer can be found in the divine.

biffa, feedback away!
posted by Viomeda at 7:23 AM on March 1, 2005


Catholics, lets evolve away from the hate.
posted by Viomeda at 5:39 PM on March 1, 2005


There is no onus on fiction to supply some kind of "wisdom", and Gragnolo's comment about Venus is supposed to be a joke, a throwaway comment -- just like his assertion that the priests "make too much fuss about you jerking off". Equally, there is no onus on authors to make every character speak whatever truth they themselves believe in -- otherwise most fiction would be really, really boring.

This is a great story -- and a relief after the hellish tedium of Baudolino. It is not, however: an histoire a clef wherein the characters' opinions can be conceived as coincidental with Eco's own; an attempt to define some immutable and universal truth; or a disquisition on fascism. It is about youth, disillusionment, and what happens when a man is forced by circumstance to do something which he cannot reconcile with his personal morality. It is clear that Gragnolo is wracked with guilt over his actions -- his ultimate suicide is as much a a way of assuaging that guilt as a means of saving the comrades he would otherwise sell out. And since he is clearly anything but the coward he says he is -- he goes up the gorge in the fog even though he doesn't know the way, to save people he doesn't know, he kills the Germans, he kills himself with a sharp tool -- then his stated reason for not wanting to kill anyone, earlier in the story, must be false. He is simply a good man -- whatever that means -- and doesn't want to do it.

And matteo: thanks for the post -- I would have missed this otherwise.
posted by melmoth at 10:00 AM on March 3, 2005


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