Numero Zero by Umberto Eco – Book

Umberto Eco really knows how to leave a room. He published Numero Zero just before he died a few
weeks ago. This is not a book that everyone will enjoy because there is no real
action and the “plot” is complicated and somewhat obscure, if this book can
even be said to have a plot. We have a publisher who has been asked to create a
mock newspaper for reasons which are not revealed. We have a staff that is hired
to produce these mock-ups and the staff does not realize that these newspapers
are not destined for publication.
There is great commentary on how the media conducts itself as
these reporters try to “trump” up stories. In fact they are told that they
should pick old stories which have never been resolved and then write articles
that “predict” a juicy resolution. One of the reasons that this is difficult
for most Americans to follow, or to want to follow, is that these are Italian
news stories.
Our main character, Colonna, has worked for publishers and
newspapers but he has never found a successful niche. He considers himself a
loser. “Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you
want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on
anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a
person knows, the more things have gone wrong.” 
He would, of course, like to write a great book. When his
acquaintance, Simei, offers him a story line for a great book that he can one
day write, a book that will appear under Simei’s name, a book called Domani
(yesterday, in Italian) he also offers him the job of running the newspaper
that will never be published. The issues will all begin with a Numero Zero.
However, as the book opens we have jumped ahead in the story
and Colonna finds that someone has been in his apartment while he was sleeping.
He is afraid to leave his building. Why the paranoia? Does the danger have any
connection to the conspiracy stories that one of his colleagues at this
mysterious newspaper, Braggadocio, has been sharing with him, the ones about
fascist groups that may still lurk in the shadows and about the possibility
that Mussolini did not die as history suggests but lived out his life in
Argentina? Or perhaps it was another story about the fake Orders of Malta
popping up around the world, very secretly of course.
This commentary on journalism exposes media tactics that are
not the sole property of the Italian media. It is a very cynical view of media
and that aspect probably does not surprise most of us. But how much of what we
think of as news may be invented for the reader’s taste for sensationalism, or
extorted by the state with threats, or distorted by successful subterfuge is
difficult for readers of news, and in fact even writers of news to judge. Is
there any such thing as a free press? Are powerful people always covering up
for the human flaws that their power gives them the freedom to indulge? 
Umberto Eco died after this book was published. Is he the
character Colonna, who began and ended the book afraid for his life after the murder
of Braggadocio, the originator of all the conspiracy theories? Were they
conspiracy theories or did Braggadocio have a source providing real news? Who
killed Braggadocio and why? Now perhaps Umberto Eco had a terminal illness and
knew that he would die soon and created a novel that would turn his demise into
the kind of cultural mystery he liked to write. Or was Umberto Eco murdered for
his stand against Fascism? We will probably never know. Doesn’t matter, Umberto
Eco, on purpose or by accident, leaves us with a novel that helps him remain an
amazing author right to the very end and which leaves a reader with perhaps
just one word – freaky.
By Nancy Brisson

Why We Can’t Elect Donald Trump (or any of the Bully Boys)

Donald J
Trump could become the leader of America, but if he is elected and if he does
the things he says he will do, America will be a substantially different nation
than it has always been. We can kiss our forefathers good-bye, and the high
ideals they wished us to strive for as a nation. By the time we build that
wall, send all undocumented immigrants back to their countries of origin, build
up a huge military presence and bully China, I’m not sure what America will be
left with, but I think we will finally understand the word Fascism.
Americans shudder at the thought of a Socialist taking over our Democracy but
tend to have little or no reaction when someone exhibiting signs of Fascism
(Donald Trump) begins to climb in the election polls. Fascism is far more at
odds with Democracy than Socialism is but we just don’t have enough
understanding of what the term means for it to call forth the intensely
negative visceral reaction that it should. I have written warnings about this
twice before, but this time I have help from a very famous writer, Umberto Eco.
Writing from
Paris, Christopher Dickey begins his article in the Daily Beast with this statement, “Here in Europe, people
know a thing or two about fascism.” He is remembering an article he read twenty years ago by the deeply
philosophical Italian author Umberto Eco, who died last week.

No, here in Europe, by various names—as Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism—it was
the living, vibrant, vicious force that led directly to the most horrific
global war in history. More recently, it took root and lingered as an active
ideology in Latin America, providing a crude foundation for the repressive
revolutions and dirty wars that raged from the ’60s through the ’80s.

Indeed, the fundamentals of fascism are with us today, in the killing fields
of ISIS-land, in the madness of North Korea, and also, sadly, in battered
democracies from newly militaristic Japan to xenophobic, isolationist parties
in Europe. And, yes, in somewhat more subtle forms fascism can be found on the
campaign trail in the U.S. of A.

Umberto Eco, in his article
(title not given) gives a list of the attributes of a Fascist:

Makes a cult of tradition

Rejects modernism

Takes action for action’s sake   (“thinking is a form of emasculation”)

Distrust of the intellectual

Disagreement is treason

Racist by definition   (“seeks for consensus by exploiting and
exacerbating the natural fear of difference”)

The appeal to a frustrated middle
class   (“a class suffering from an
economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the
pressure of lower social groups”)

Obsession with a plot

Followers must feel humiliated   (“by the ostentatious wealth and force of
their enemies”)

elitism   (“Every citizen belongs to the
best people of the world, the members of the party are among the best citizens,
every citizen can or ought to become a member of the party.”) (“[T]he leader
knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak
as to need and deserve a ruler”)
Life is
permanent warfare   (“pacifism is
trafficking with the enemy”)
heroism   (“martyrdom”)
Machismo   (“implies both disdain for women and
intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to
populism   (“citizens do not act, they are
only called on to play the role of the People”)
“Newspeak”   (from 1984, George Orwell)   (“All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made
use of an impoverished vocabulary and an elementary syntax, in order to limit
the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”)
Umberto Eco
sounds like he is speaking about the Republican Party candidates and members of
Congress, and especially of Donald Trump, as we know them right now, but he wrote this 20 years ago.
Here’s the
I think that
all of the Republican candidates are unelectable and everyone is feeling this
even if they will not admit it. I am guessing that people are thinking that
Donald Trump is the least dogmatic. He is not toeing the party line. He is his
own man. And for some reason people cannot see the dangers in turning over our
governance to this man. They want the 50’s back and Donald promises the 50’s.
But they will return under his terms. He humiliates anyone who questions his
leadership and people back down, even scary people like Ted Cruz. If we give
him carte blanche to “make America great again”, it will be his vision of
America, not ours and he may have a hard time ever leaving office. He may make
himself President-for-life. We cannot control this man. He brooks no
disagreement. In the scary GOP line-up of future Presidents perhaps the man who
seems most benign is the biggest nightmare of all, but we may not know it until
it is too late.
At the end
of his article Dickey draws parallels between Europe then and America now.

But where does Eco’s Eternal Fascism fit in American politics? Can it be
that many of the figures parading before us in this presidential campaign year
appeal to the worst instincts of “the People”? Do they play on atavistic fears
and resentments, frustrations and humiliations? Are they marked by their
irrationalism and anti-intellectualism, their hatred of things foreign, their
desire to be seen as heroes and their gun-toting machismo?

Oh, hell yeah. But I don’t need to point the finger. Umberto Eco is doing it
from the grave. As he wrote more than 20 year ago:

“Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: ‘If
American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and
night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in
strength in our land.’

“Freedom and liberation,” Eco wrote, “are an unending task.”

How do we
get angry Americans who think any of these guys are the answer to “setting
America on the right path” to understand that they will do just the opposite?
How do we get Donald Trump to leave the Republican race now that all of the
non-scary candidates have been chased away? Getting rid of Donald is not
enough. We must elect a Democrat in 2016 or American Democracy will not
survive. I have no idea how we convince what I call “the pod people”,
brainwashed by right wing media, that they must vote against the positions they
have been taught to believe in.
By Nancy