Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





Numero Zero

By Umberto Eco (with Richard Dixon (tr))

Finished reading on June 12, 2019

Slow and steady progress on The Power Broker, though I should still be on track to finish it by the end of the summer. I picked up this much slimmer book to read while my arms recover from reading the former.

It’s another wonderful conspiratorial satire from Eco, though the conspiracy is smaller in scope than Foucault’s Pendulum, involving “only” Mussolini, the stay-behinds, the CIA, the mafia, and the Vatican. The book was published in early 2015 and offers a thin critique of Italy under Berlusconi. Of course, the send-up of both newspapers and a desire to know an actual truth about what is or could be happening is relevant in the US today.

I was struck most definitely by the last few paragraphs, when the loser narrator, Colonna, is discussing running away with his much younger love interest, Maia. This takes place after they watch a BBC documentary that reveals that much of the elaborate conspiracy theory they had been concerned about over the past few pages:

Didn’t you see that all of those interviewed [in the BBC documentary] were happily telling us what they’d done and were almost expecting a medal for it? No more Baroque chiaroscuro, everything in broad daylight, as though painted by the impressionists: corruption rife, Mafiosi officially in parliament, tax dodgers in government, and the only ones to end up in prison are Albanian chicken thieves.

With this kind of corruption everywhere, what can they do except find dull work and take in films on the weekend?