[Reader-list] UMBERTO ECO

abir bazaz abirbazaz at rediffmail.com
Sun Oct 14 21:16:45 IST 2001


Saturday October 13, 2001

All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them,good and bad, white and black. If western culture is shown to be rich it is because, even before the Enlightenment, it has tried to “dissolve” harmful simplifications through inquiry and the critical mind. Of course it did not always do this. Hitler, who burned books, condemned “degenerate” art and killed those belonging to “inferior” races; and the fascism which taught me at school to recite “May God Curse the English” because they were “the people who eat five meals a day” and were therefore greedy and inferior to thrifty Italians, are also part of the history of western culture.

It is sometimes hard to grasp the difference between identifying with one’s own roots, understanding people with other roots, and judging what is good or bad. Should I prefer to live in Limoges rather than, say, Moscow? Moscow is certainly a beautiful city. But in Limoges I would understand the language. Everyone identifies with the culture in which he grew up and the cases of root transplants, while they do occur, are in the minority: Lawrence of Arabia dressed as an Arab, but he ended up back home in England.

The west, often for reasons of economic expansion, has been curious about other civilisations. The Greeks referred to those who did not speak their language as barbarians, that is stammerers, as if they did not speak at all.But a few more mature Greeks, like the Stoics, noticed that although the barbarians used different words, they referred to the same thoughts.

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