March 5, 2016 By Deepa Ravi

Eco: The Ego Buster


A week before he departed, I Amazonned Umberto Eco’s Prague Cemetery. Was it a mere coincidence or was it a premonition that the author is soon destined for a cemetery?

I have never loved Eco as a novelist. I loved his prose, however. His Misreadings is not only a fun to read but it provokes penetrating questions into the bogus practice of kneeling before intellectuals and writers. Reading is a sort of ritual through which we declare our attachment to many deities.

One of the reasons why his non-fiction outshines fiction is that writing novels for Eco is a weekend affair. “I am a philosopher; I write novels on weekends,” he thereby hierarchically places his vocations. This lack of care often reflects in his abrupt endings as well as preoccupation with minute philosophical details over the overarching plot in his novels.

Name of the Rose is, however, a true tour de force, linking our culture to the medieval times where intrigue, conspiracy and murder are more predominant. On every moment we think we have outgrown medieval sentiments, it is good to pick up the novel and read it.


Prague Cemetery is a typical Eco novel. It is as much mediaeval as it is contemporary. There is staccato effect in the fragmented narratives. The novel begins at a point when the narrator derides all faiths, racial groups, and even other denominations of his own faith. We feel nauseated by the racial slurs.

But racism does not remain truly in private. The narrator is the one who drafts, or concocts, to use a more appropriate word, the conspiracy theory of a Prague cemetery, where, he reports, some Jews assemble and chart out ways to take over the world.

This fabricated news of the assembly in the cemetery later went on to create The Protocols of Elders of Zion, a book Hitler read, respected and regarded as a sufficient ground for him to orchestrate the Auschwitz.


The narrative that through Enlightenment and modernity we have outgrown medieval times is the greatest lie we have told to ourselves. The fabric of nation and civilization is formed on the lies we have concocted against the marginal others. In India we keep saying how Aryans saved us and how Muslim invasions ruined us. We transform, through modern epistemic practices, into national narratives.

The way we conceive, or falsely conceive, modernity and secularism bifurcates, respectively, the time and space. We divide history into modern and pre-modern; the latter is a dustbin to put all our rubbishes. Likewise we have a religious private sphere-the space of rituals, satanic worships and racist slurs and a political public sphere where we take rational choices and enact thinking.

Most of Eco’s writings tell how this boundary is artificial and porous.

Every time we hear supremacist narratives of our time, we will miss Eco. But writers are prescient. They write books so that we should never miss them.