Monday, February 1, 2021


In his theoretical book The Role of the Reader, Umberto Eco (his very name an intertextual Nabokovian ec(h)o) quotes Mallarme:

Le monde existe pour aboutir a un livre.

"The world exists to end up in a novel." This is an ironic, sardonic aesthete's answer to the fundamental question of philosophy, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Mallarme's mocking irony points toward the fallacious structure of the question, implicitly presupposing its answer (supernatural causation) by assuming that "why" is meaningful in this case. If the devil's in the details, 'intelligent design' is in the interrogatives. Of course, there's no need to leap like a dead Dane (he of the churchyard name), because those fundamental why's point merely to murkier and murkier material causes--murky not from theological mystery, but because we haven't properly lighted them yet. (See Lawrence M. Krauss's A Universe From Nothing for a scientifically informed discussion of this issue.) A present lack of knowledge is evidence of nothing but itself; it certainly doesn't justify a jump into extramaterial causation.

About Eco's critical theory / scholarly writing I have the same reservations I've expressed toward Toni Morrison's academic work: the dry, passionless, uninteresting, undistinguished prose pales by comparison with the prose artistry of the authors' better-known fictional works. In the light of their artistic accomplishments--in Morrison's case, a blazing light--their scholarly books read almost like unintentional parodies of English Department technocracy--something that deserves a killing intentional parody.

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