Monday, January 9, 2012

an echo of Eco

Cliffs of Moher. Freak out on a windstorm day dream!

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality (link to a PDF of the opening essay)
The Rolling Stones, "Brown Sugar"
Old Crow Medicine Show, "Wagon Wheel"

David Bowie, Bowie at the Beeb
Efrim Manuel Menuck, Plays "High Gospel"
Laura Gibson, La Grande (streaming at NPR)
Herculaneam, Olives and Orchids
Kuupuu, Lumen tähden (From the Free Music Archive)

Travels in Hyperreality (Harvest Book)Travels in Hyperreality by Umberto Eco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read only two essays in this collection. The title one speaks to the beautiful and horrific American sense of inflated reality as it manifests in its tourist spectacles, citing as examples a number of places I've been: San Simeon, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Disneyland and Disney World, and particularly the Madonna Inn, an over-the-top, theme-roomed  Swiss chalet hotel in San Luis Obispo, CA where I spent my honeymoon. Eco doesn't sign off on the life-as-circus as he sees it here, but he gets why we do it, how the inflated story culled from a million facts and misunderstandings is the story we tell ourselves, the myth that we believe. Eco's prose is so evocative, you will want to drop everything and visit the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library, or at least the one that appears in the text.

Here is San Simeon aka Hearst Castle aka Xanadu from Citizen Cane

The striking aspect of the whole is not the quantity of antique pieces plundered from half of Europe, or the nonchalance with which the artificial tissue seamlessly connects fake and genuine, but rather the sense of fullness, the obsessive determination not to leave a single space that doesn't suggest something, and hence the masterpiece of bricolage, haunted by horror vacui, that is here achieved.

and here he goes into metaphoric overdrive attempting to depict the Madonna Inn:

Let's say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli. But that doesn't give you an idea. Let's say Arcimboldi builds the Sagrada Familia for Dolly Parton. Or: Carmen Miranda designs a Tiffany locale for the Jolly Hotel chain. Or D'Annunzio's Vittoriale imagined by Bob Cratchit, Calvino's Invisible Cities described by Judith Krantz and executed by Leonor Fini for the plush-doll industry, Chopin's Sonata in B flat minor sung by Perry Como in an arrangement by Liberace and accompanied by the Marine Band. No, that still isn't right. Let's try telling about the rest rooms.

The other essay I read, "Cogito Interruptus", is largely a critique and appreciation of Marshall McLuhan, which, if you are a McLuhan nerd like me, you'll be all into, but otherwise might not grab you.

Generally, the contemporariness of the prose is astounding. I felt a bit of a stomach punch when I saw a date of 1980 on this essay while thinking how "now" his messages are, how he's the kind of writer you find yourself always trailing behind. Plus, both essays were funny. Nothing is better than a funny egghead.
(cross-posted at Goodreads)


Tangentially connected to this, I had a really complicated dream that involved LSD, something with which I have no direct experience, but fills the folk history of most of the art and literature I love. I was putting these supposedly laced Avery labels on my arm (Those packs of label blanks you see in a display case at Office Depot; I am currently working on some reports to be printed on them) and then it "kicked in" - blurry vision, heightened colors, vertigo problems - all the things I've heard about LSD manifesting in my already woozy dream-physics.


I'm working on an essay about a similarly stitched-from-fact-and-myth dream I had in Ireland, about Ireland, pecked out into my phone's notes app amid transatlantic sleepless desperation on the flight back.  It involves the loose quilting of truth and hope that blankets out understanding of a place. An essay, sort of, is a waking dream concocted from a thing's reality and possibility, so the Eco essay (pointed out by my infinitely resourceful wife) came in very handy. That idea of the artificial tissue seamlessly connect[ing] fake and genuine. Now the trick is to not turn my essay into an echo of Eco and still keep up with the dream (of the dream).


Bowie at the Beeb, "Moonage Daydream"

No comments:

Post a Comment