A Fading Voice at Twilight
The Last Will & Testament of Umberto Eco
On February 19, 2016, Umberto Eco, one of the most influential modern European intellectuals, died in Milan, Italy, his body laid to rest in a simple wooden coffin during a "nonreligious funeral" in Sforza Castle. The sprawling and gloomy castle, once home to Ludovico Sforza, one of the greatest podestas of the Milanese Renaissance, is now a museum of Italian art and culture. It was a fitting place for the funeral of Eco, who spent his life lovingly guarding the crumbling treasures of Europe.
Eco was famous for his novels, his semiotic writings, and, seemingly contradictorily, his leftist politics—the sight of the portly and aged Eco pontificating on political corruption while surrounded by (usually very good-looking) Italian undergraduates was not uncommon during the Berlusconi years. The trajectory of Eco's intellectual path from belief to unbelief parallels that of Europe in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Underneath the beautiful facade of his aesthetic Catholicism there was always a creeping yet ultimately shallow nihilism that undermined not only his own life's work, but the entire edifice of postmodern European civilization.
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Jesse Russell is Assistant Professor of English at Georgia Southwestern State University. He has published on literary theory, semiotics, and politics, and is at work on a book that explores Neo-Platonic magic in the work of Edmund Spenser. He is a Roman Catholic.
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