a curious Yankee in Europe's court

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Umberto Eco and the late newspaper

Posted on the June 13th, 2008

It’s not difficult to find a lot of discussion online and elsewhere these days about the current rapid decline of newspapers in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s also not too difficult to find a lot of blame being tossed around at times in those discussions about who or what is at fault.

Writing recently in his regular column for L’espresso, however, Umberto Eco says it’s not anyone’s fault, no more than the hole in the ozone is. The decline of newspapers is a result of our technological development, according to Eco, and it’s just a fact. But, he adds, it’s an embarrassing one (“Parlare in ritardo” La Bustina di Minerva, April 17, 2008). Note – in Italian only.

Describing what the newspaper has become these days, Eco writes:

Così il giornale diventa come una serata in famiglia, dove il nonno ripete per la milionesima volta la storia di quando aveva subito i bombardamenti, il babbo snocciola i suoi luoghi comuni sulla situazione economica, poi si parla un po’ male del vicino notoriamente cornuto, o si commenta la trasmissione televisiva appena vista. Niente di male, anzi bellissima situazione di socializzazione, ma non era questa, all’inizio degli inizi, la funzione delle gazzette, finestre che di colpo e inopinatamente si spalancavano ogni mattina sull’imprevisto.

(Translation, roughly: Just so the newspaper becomes like spending an evening with the family, where the grandfather repeats for the umpteenth time the story of when he was caught under a bombing attack, the father rattles off his usual opinions on the economic situation, then there is some mildly unkind talk about a neighbor who is notoriously being cheated on, or comments about a television program that was just watched. Nothing bad, on the contrary, a wonderful social situation but this wasn’t, at the very beginning, the function of the newspapers (which were) windows suddenly and unexpectedly thrown open each morning on the unforeseen.)

If this excerpt whets your appetite to read more Eco, I also found this reprint of an interview (in English) he gave to a reporter in New York last December (Interview with Umberto Eco, “The Armani of Italian literature,” Umberto Eco talks to Ben Naparstek, Dec 8, 2007, The Sydney Morning Herald).

UPDATE: Questo post in italiano (parziale)

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