Friday, April 4, 2014

The Rich and Royal Tapestry of Umberto Eco

Mysterious flame of memory
I’ve been reading The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco for weeks now. Granted, I’m reading it as a book on tape while driving to and from teaching writing classes, but it’s a long book and Eco’s writing is notoriously dense, as is that of many Italian writers. In this novel, what’s most impressive are the connections he makes between memory and identity in this story of a brilliant amnesiac, Senior Bodoni, who can quote everything from Nabokov to Eliot all with enviable ease, yet in losing his sense memory as a result of an apparent stroke has lost himself.

In gradually gaining the sensory knowledge that memory supports, Eco brings to life such otherwise mundane objects as a jar of mustard and a clove of garlic using his own intricate intellect, as revealed through Bodoni, whose very name is a form of writing, the font known as Bodoni. Yet, not so mundane in the story is the recurring metaphor of fog, especially the gray fog for which the city of Milan is known and in which Senior Bodoni perpetually finds himself.

Amid the angst of a man who knows much except himself, the concepts of name and the process of naming go to identity and more, because what Bodoni is trying hardest to remember is his first love. Isn’t that what all of us, in one way or another, seek to do as we return over and over again to memory and to the meaning we long for in the elements of daily life?

What love are you trying to recapture, perhaps in your writing?

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