22 December 2011

Apocalypse Postponed, by Umberto Eco

I don't generally blog about the lit-crit that I read (though I really should), but I read this one purely for fun, and it was a bit of a disappointment, so I figured I'd warn you. The book is a somewhat scattered collection of essays and short pieces - I think the guiding principle was stuff that had not previously been translated into English. As it turns out, in most cases, there's a pretty understandable reason: it's about some very specific aspect of 1960s Italian culture that really isn't of much interest to an English-language audience. What is more, many of the pieces feel really dated - Eco spends a lot of time arguing for why studying tv is worthwhile, and how one ought to go about doing it. I think those arguments have been made elsewhere and better (though that's purely a hunch on my part); at very least, the way he represents his opposition makes them seem like dinosaurs. As with most of Eco's critical works, even when he's not that great, he's still pretty interesting, so it's not a bad read for the most part, and definitely has its thought-provoking moments. But I actually ended up not reading the whole thing - confronted with the final section, on Italian culture, I threw in the towel.

BUT! But. Before you dismiss this book altogether, I have to tell you something. There is an essay in this collection called "The World of Charlie Brown," and it is amazing. It is short and sweet and absolutely wonderful.  Less an analysis than a description, in academic terms, of Charlie Brown and his friends ("Aware of this vocation to the abyss, Pig Pen turns his plight into a boast; he speaks of the dust of countless centuries, an irreversible process: the course of history." (43)), and the kinds of stories Schultz tells about them, it's just so wonderful. Everything you love about Charlie Brown plus everything you love about the humanities rolled into one. You should check this book out of the library just for the 5 minutes it will take you to read this short piece, because it will make your day.

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