Inventing the enemy

Umberto Eco

Why I looked at this book

I've read several of Eco's works, and found The Name of the Rose particularly interesting. Eco had the knack of adding his own fascinating slant to history. I wasn't actually so keen on Foucault's Pendulum, but the idea behind it, that we somehow bring enemies into being, is an intriguing one, which is why I noticed this book. I'm hoping that this collection of essays will be a thoughtful and entertaining read.

First impressions

The title essay looks interesting, but maybe it's a bit quotation heavy - moving on to example after example, rather than developing the argument. But this is only what I've read in the sample, the first part of the essay, so maybe it will settle down later on.

Main review

I felt that the title essay didn't really improve. Rather than examining the idea that we somehow create those who oppose us, it became more of a list of witch trials. I thought the other essays in the book were better, though. For instance in The Beauty of the Flame Eco does what he does best, take a concept - in this case fire - and explore how it has been understood in history - holy fire, hell fire, and so on. The reader then gets a better understanding of this concept.

Many of the essays involve travel, either real or imaginary. Treasure hunting describes searching out holy relics. Imaginary Astronomies looks at ancient maps and discusses how much their makers thought of them as accurate representations of reality, including a look at flat-Earth ideas.Why the island is never found looks at all sorts of imaginary islands, but in particular those that were plotted on maps for many years.

As you might expect, there are also several essays on literary topics. Hugo Hélas:The Poetics of Excess on the works of Victor Hugo, I am Edmond Dantès on the literary device of anagnorisis, that is the surprise revelation of a characters true identity. Then there's the rather strange Ulysses: That's All We Needed creating a rather disparaging essay on James Joyce's Ulysses by piecing together articles from the 1920's and 1930's. These literary essays can become a bit like the first essay, a list of examples rather than an analysis, but here one feels that this was largely deliberate, and didn't detract from reading them.

So if the title of the book attracted your attention then you may be disappointed that the topic doesn't get the treatment that it deserves, but if you are looking for a collection of entertaining and thought-provoking essays then this may be for you.
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