“…learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.” – Umberto Eco, via Brother William of Baskerville. ‘The Name of The Rose’
Thus ends the ‘First Day’ of this week long murder mystery. The first of Eco’s novels is so much more than a detective novel though; it is an exploration of the late medieval world and of the processes of learning, logic and perspicacity: the forces which pushed the middle ages over the edge and towards a world similar to our own.
Brother William, the protagonist of the tale, has noticeable (and certainly not accidental) similarities to another literary purveyor of reason, logic and knowledge – you guessed it A. C. D.’s Sherlock Holmes. Brother Adso, the narrator of the tale, is also frequently impressed by brother William’s sound deductions in a Watson-esque manner and similarly acts as an intermediary between the reader and the impressive logician.
As a literary philosopher Eco stands alongside the likes of Italo Calvino, in their shared use of intertextual pastiche, or Jorge Luis Borges. This is especially true for the latter when one takes into account Eco’s treatment of the Abbey’s labyrinthine library with its hexagonal rooms that seem to go on ad infinitum. This vision of the library which Eco and Borges share seems ultimately to suggest the complexity of learning and possibly the monopolisation which knowledge can be subjected to.
Although labyrinthine barriers sometimes have to be overcome in order to reach the knowledge one seeks, the rewards are far greater than the struggle.