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Umberto Eco: How I Wrote my Books

It is snowing when I get to Umberto Eco’s house in Milan. It’s February, and his latest book, Numero Zero, published by Bompiani at the beginning of 2015, shot to the top the best seller list almost instantly. There have been several reviews, and Eco has given more interviews than is his wont, if I remember correctly. So what can I ask him that hasn’t already been asked? I had read the proofs before the book came out, but we weren’t able to find a date to meet before today. I’m excited to meet him. Eco is famous throughout Italy and the world over, perhaps the best-known living Italian author today. Essays, articles, whole books have been written about him, and yet there are many things about him that escape his readers and critics. One thing I want to find out more about is his double role as essayist and fiction writer. Another is the way he works. Then there is the trifling matter of having written a book at the age of 82. No small feat, in anyone’s book. So this is where I start my interview: sitting on his sofa I ask him about Numero Zero.     What gave you the idea for this book?   I’ve been writing articles criticizing journalism since the 1970s. In the 1990s a fellow...

Gabriele Basilico: a Slow Gaze

I presented Gabriele Basilico’s last book, Lezioni di fotografia (Rizzoli, 2012), at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan at the end of 2012. Looking tired, but with all his lucidity intact, Basilico spoke about his photography, his choice of themes, his travels, his thirty-year career, and some of his most famous photographs. He also contributed his views on urban landscapes, and on photography as a daily habit and as a life choice.   I have never really believed that the photographic medium has its own specificity. Rather, as I have studied the endless variety of their characters, grammars, functions, vocabularies and themes, I have always seen in photographs as images a deeply uncanny element; in things portrayed are “as they are”, whether they are famous or anonymous, I sense a ghost-like quality, an unexpected hardness, an alien gaze can suddenly transfix me: the darker side of things revealed as a further possibility, a jetty from which to cast off.   In their apparent objectivity, their masterly teasing with metaphysical suspension, Gabriele Basilico’s photographs, in my view, express the turmoil of a sudden recognition – “this is it, it is here, it is this place” – at the...

A Morphology of Difformity

Increasingly these days you hear people complain that streets full of garbage reflect the incivility and bad manners of their inhabitants. Given the sheer quantity of trash at the station, in our squares, on the tram, in the metro, and in our classrooms – scrunched up sheets of newspaper, crushed cans, discarded tetrapak containers, crumpled tissues dropped after use – it would be easy to conclude that, according to this yardstick, the Italians are an extremely uncivilized population.   Leaving aside the moral and educational issues linked to this depressing phenomenon, I would like to focus on the forms these discarded articles take. As soon as we try and describe the forms, it becomes clear how morphologically complex these objects are. Try and observe them. What distinguishes one crushed can from another? Or one tissue that has been thrown away after a hefty nose blow from another that has suffered the same fate? Or again, one scrunched up page of a newspaper from another that has been abandoned a little further down the road?   We have no difficulty distinguishing  cans from paper, or card from tissues. That is, we can easily grasp the differences between objects,...