Monday, November 2, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 1 (Umberto Eco)

Eco, Umberto
Travels in Hyperreality


Purchased at The Strand for $6.95. I'm not sure when I bought this book. I have memory of seeing stacks of it on a table at the Strand, so I probably passed it many times before buying it. I remember seeing many such tables at the Strand over the years, all stacked with remaindered titles by famous authors. I remember a table full of Pynchon's Vineland in hardcover and another with Robert Bly's Iron John.

I always experienced a strange feeling when I encountered these tables. On the one hand, seeing them made me think I should buy a copy because they were so cheap. On the other, I wondered how, if they were selling so many at a discount, it could possibly be any good.

I think I may have bought this when I was taking a class in Semiotics at the New School with Marshall Blonsky. It was one of the all time worst courses I ever took, but it was useful in one sense: I was so worried that I didn't understand all of the theoretical jargon being tossed around in the classroom, that I did a lot of introductory reading of post-structuralist terminology.

To my surprise and dismay, most of the people in the class had no idea what they were talking about, did not, in fact, even understand the terms they were using. It gave me a modicum of confidence that I could succeed in graduate school. Unfortunately, the teacher's ideas made me doubt if I even wanted to move forward, so detached were they from either reality or hyperreality.

from Travels in Hyperreality

This is the America of Linus, for whom happiness must assume the form of a warm puppy or a security blanket, the America of Schroeder, who brings Beethoven to life not so much through a simplified score played on a toy piano as through the realistic bust in marble (or rubber). Where Good, Art, Fairytale, and History, unable to become flesh, must at least become plastic.

The ideology of this America wants to establish reassurance through Imitation. But profit defeats ideology, because the consumer wants to be thrilled not only by the guarantee of the Good, but also by the shudder of the Bad. And so at Disneyland, along with Mickey MOuse and the kindly Bears, there must also be, in tactile evidence, Metaphysical evil (the Haunted Mansion) and Historical Evil (the Pirates), and in the waxwork museums, along side the Venuses de Milo, we must find the graverobbers, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Jack the Ripper, the Phantom of the Opera. Alongside the good whale, there is a restless plastic form of the Bad Shark. Both at the same level of credibility, both at the same level of fakery. Thus, on entering his cathedrals of iconic reassurance, the visitor will remain uncertain whether his final destiny is hell or heaven, and so will consume new promises.

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