Eco was at his best addressing scholarly subjects in an engaging, accessible way.
In his 1989 collection of essays, , he noted that “the fact that what I do is called ‘semiotics’ should not frighten anyone.” That book, which included pieces on Disneyland, the World Cup, and Thomas Aquinas, was without jargon and pretense, and sometimes showed Eco joking at his own expense.
The term, which has a certain currency among European intellectuals, aims to convey the sense of fluidity and flux that has characterized life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a period often described with the umbrella term “postmodern.” Postmodernism, Eco notes, “signaled the crisis of ‘grand narratives,’ each of which had claimed that one model of order could be superimposed on the world; it devoted itself to a playful or ironic reconsideration of the past, and was woven in various ways with nihilistic tendencies.” But it “represented a sort of ferry from modernity to a present that still has no name.” Bauman, though, thought the word “liquidity” captured the nature of our current state, one of lost moorings and lost meanings, where the only constant is change.
In the liquid society people often find themselves afloat, aware of the collapse of once-powerful institutions and ideologies, and without the consolation of the beliefs or traditions that provided ballast for centuries.
He comments on a 2008 documentary called claimed that official accounts of the attacks of September 11, 2001 were almost certainly contrived to cover up a vast American plot concocted by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and other agents of the club of bankers and militarists who are hidden somewhere managing important happenings around the globe.
Eco approaches such narratives with his customary common sense.
Writing about blue jeans, for example, he admitted that, as he grew rotund, he had to stop wearing these comfortable pants.
“True,” he said, “if you search thoroughly you can find an (Macy’s could fit even Oliver Hardy with blue jeans), but they are large not only around the waist, but also around the legs, and they are not a pretty sight.” The essays in Eco’s posthumously published , Silvio Berlusconi.
In a 2008 column he describes one French website, “Homeric” in its conspiratorial fantasies, that blames the Jesuits and their shadowy collaborators, the Knights of Malta, for sinking the Titanic, assassinating John F.
Kennedy, and plotting just about every other cataclysmic event of the last century.