naked names are all that we have

October 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

the name of the rose is a historical novel that takes place in a wealthy franciscan abbey in northern italy mountains. the text is full of different layers and like the library of the abbey it has a lot of secret chambers and hidden corners that correspond to different people with different levels of consciousness and understanding. the-seems-to-be-the-main-plot murder mystery which demonstrates the extreme censorship in the middle ages, surrounded by a course of historical medieval events including the origins of different christian sects and alleged heretical movements, philosophical points here and there, psychological notions, and the most outstanding layer which is the exquisite literature of the book.

the murder mystery plot was a very well orchestrated detective story which is not like a sherlock holmes or agatha christie types of stories that depicts the detective as a superhuman with extraordinary level of semiotics and smartness, it is much closer to the real ones, the ones with a real smart detective who seems to be always very close to finding the murderer and even though he is on ‘a’ right track, he cannot save anything or anybody, and at the end there is no hero. the battle is only between good and evil, or in this case between better and worse, like how the real world is.

one of the reasons the book is very professionally written, well plotted and informative to an inquisitive mind is that eco breathes in the atmosphere of the book, he is the master of the trade. he is an italian philosopher and literary critic who has numerous non-fiction books on medieval culture and history, semiotics, and apocalyptic literature. this makes the book, the plot, the abbey, the monks, their ways of thinking, and even the mystery believable. at some points through the story you feel that everything is real, you are living the story, you are living in the abbey together with monks, fear the same fears, meditate to the chants, take part in the ceremonies, walk in the spaces, and at the same time try to solve the riddle. also numerous latin phrases help build up the medieval abbey atmosphere for the reader, and the fact that neither the author nor the translator translated them in a footnote or an appendix makes it much more interesting. i searched and researched a lot on these passages and texts as well as different sects and ideas. the book guides you to “learn” how a medieval knowledgeable person lives and what sorts of ideas and thoughts he may or may not have.

perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth

at the first glance the title of the book does not relate to the content, but at the end of the book eco gives a hint: “stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus” translated into english as “the ancient rose remains by its name, naked names (are all that) we have”. rose in christian iconography is a symbol for different concepts; god, jesus christ, martyrs, holy mary, love, season of spring, beauty, fleetness of life, death, etc. it is the inspiration of ceremonies and rituals in ancient rome, and all in all, it has a vast amount of meanings that make it an empty-symbol incorporated into christian history and “you can no longer grant it any specific attribute, determined merely to persist, like a rock or the river, it is as literal as a phenomenon of nature whose meaning can be questioned to infinity but whose existence is incontestable” (roland barthes). perhaps eco wanted to imply that the human brain is not able to grasp the essence of god or lost the ability to comprehend it – “gott ist tot” and we are only left with the mere name. perhaps as he narrated in the book, the origins and the path of different sects and whether they are heretic or not is all decided by the politics of pope and the emperors of the time, and this is how the name is being exploited economically and politically to gain benefit. perhaps the concept of good and evil is not defined by any supreme being as there is a fine line between the antagonist and the protagonist of the story, between the love and the hatred of flesh when it comes to michael’s desire for death.

but if love of the flame and of the abyss are the metaphor for love of god, can they be the metaphor for love of death and love of sin?

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