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Academic first, novelist second: Eco

Mukund Padmanabhan



Umberto Eco. — Photo: T. Singaravelou

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CHENNAI: The enormous success of The Name of the Rose, the complex medieval murder mystery that is regarded as one of the modern masterpieces of fiction, is a "mystery" to its world-famous author. Suggesting that nobody can predict the success or failure of a book, Umberto Eco said the best-selling novel, published in 1980, would not have evoked the same response had it been published a decade earlier or later. "Why it worked at that time is a mystery," he said in an exclusive interview with The Hindu .

Referring to the film based on the novel, directed by Jean Jacques Annaud and starred by Sean Connery, Mr. Eco said he expected it to be different. He said after the experience, he directed his publisher not to sell further rights of his novels to cinema. As a result, Foucault's Pendulum, which the celebrated director Stanley Kubrick showed an interest in making, never saw the light of day.

The Italian philosopher and novelist, who teaches semiotics at the University of Bologna, said that while most people know him as a novelist, he identifies himself with the academic community. "I consider myself a university professor who writes novels on Sundays," he said.

Asked about the wide range of his written output — which spans literary fiction, academic works, essays, children's books and journalistic pieces — Mr. Eco replied that the same philosophical and ethical concerns are present in all his writing. While he may "give the impression of doing many things," he said he is convinced he is doing the same thing.

Recently in Pondicherry to attend a conference on `Cultures of Knowledge,' Mr. Eco said the unconventional style he adopts in his serious non-fictional work is a result of his "telling the story of his research" in them. Stating that his essays always have a narrative aspect, he suggests this could be the reason for his turning to fiction.

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"I am a professor who writes novels on Sundays"

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