Sunday, October 23, 2005

Another writer. Another talk.

Another writer, another talk. Not Vikram Seth on his all around India promotional tour of Two lives, which has been covered at a whole lot of places, including this very entertaining read by Sonia Faleiro at the Colour of Water.

Rather, Umberto Eco was in town, well, not in Chennai itself, but close enough - at Pondicherry, for me to feel a kind of hallowed connection.

The wind-up bird is pleased to report that The Hindu saw fit to place a photograph on page one, followed by a long-ish half page interview inside. Nice reading for Eco fans. I havent yet gotten around to the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, but Foucault's Pendulum, The Name of the Rose and Baudolino all went down my gullet very well, thank you.

The name of the rose in particular, is, I think a superb novel, and deserves many other superlatives as well, blending as it does, detective fiction with philosophical enquiry in a manner that the likes of Dan Brown will never figure out, should they try for half a century. In this interview, Eco is asked, whether he is not surprised that a high-brow novel like this one, should become such a best-seller. Eco has a suitably acerbic response.

"No. Journalists are puzzled. And sometimes publishers. And this is because journalists and publishers believe that people like trash and don't like difficult reading experiences. Consider there are six billion people in this planet. The Name of the Rose sold between 10 and 15 million copies. So in a way I reached only a small percentage of readers. But it is exactly these kinds of readers who don't want easy experiences. Or at least don't always want this. I myself, at 9 pm after dinner, watch television and want to see either `Miami Vice' or `Emergency Room'. I enjoy it and I need it. But not all day."

Eco was there in Pondy at the French Institute, not to talk about his novels, which he classifies as the work of a professor who writes on sundays, but to give a talk on the intricacies of translation, in his capacity as an academic and respected semiotician. He has an interesting anecdote on why translation is not beyond moving meaning from one culture to another, although a different one.

"For instance, the philosopher [Saul] Kripke illustrates an entire discussion on translation of proper names with the case of a certain Pierre who, being French, knew London as Londra. He was convinced that Londres was a
beautiful city. He visited London without realising that it was Londres and wrote that London is an ugly city. Pierre is an idiot or a laboratory fiction. Human beings are not like that. You cannot create a philosophical discourse on the behaviour of a mad person."

Read the entire thing here.


raven said...

How long is the train ride from Chennai to Pondicherry?

apu said...

Raven, not long at all, not long... the bus maybe about 2-3 hours...and I would have tried to be there, if I had known that Eco was giving a talk, but since I dont move in those kind of elite literary circles, no one tells me such things...*sigh*