03 December 2005

The Name of the Rose

I just finished reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Wow! What a really cool book. It is one of those books which reminds me of why I love to read and how enjoyable reading is and why I ought to read more than I do. And clearly, it was a joy for Eco to write. It has also opened up the world to me again in that way in which great works of art are capable of doing. It makes the world an exciting place, a place to be lived in and enjoyed and savored precisely because it cannot be understood; because the rich tapestry of experiences and signs which make up our lives cannot be completely reconciled (and here to insert a note for myself, I wonder if this is what TS Eliot means by the "tattered arras woven with a silent motto" in East Coker; no matter, Eco would say that it is because I the reader have made a meaning from the juxtaposition of two unrelated signs). It also reconfirms in me the belief that works of art are ways (one way among many) of living life, of experiencing it in the fullness of its mystery and complexity; of life's refusal of any self-disclosure of definitive meaning.

It reminds me that one of my students told me the other day that he was trying to construct a definitive system; to understand through art the interlocking structure of the universe. That is not what he said; that is what he meant. He wanted, what was it?, he wanted to uncovers some fundamental, constitutive principle of life which would allow for the interpretation of existence--or some such thing. Or maybe it wasn't a student; maybe it was me. I have certainly thought that in the past. Now I realize--more and more--that such an undertaking is the Tower of Babel. It is hubris--overweening pride. The discovery of any such principle is in fact the accidental meeting of coincidental events. It will prove illusory and any such more fundamental conception entirely ellusive.

It is not to say that there is no such principle, but that the uncovery of it is beyond human reach. The attempt is beyond human limitations for such a fact, such a primitive ontological state lies only with God beyond temporality. Thus, I am not sure that the Christianity uncovers for us any of the secrets of the universe at all, as such it would not be a religion but a science. Instead Christianity is a mystery to guide us through the mystery and darkness of temporal being.

All I meant to say was that the Name of the Rose was so fascinating because it made me realize that there is no pressure on me from the outside to construct a comprehensive, definitive world-system. Any such system would not only be necessarily false--if only in its partiality--but would become a tomb, a restraint in which all conclusions are foregone and therefore with it the mystery and joy of life, of faith, of art, of scholarship are expelled, even if they are still paid lip service.

Let's see if I still think this tomorrow. I hope so. It is an exhilerating thought.

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