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Travels in Hyperreality
Umberto Eco
Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1983
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


"Fasten Seatbelts Please! Umberto Eco is at the Controls and We are entering HyperReality! Watch Carefully the Signs -- They will be on the Final Exam of our Leader, Navigator, and Professor of Semiology, fresh back from painting tongues black in The Name of the Rose." How much easier reading this book would have been if I had had the above introduction. Instead I jumped into it up my neck and blew bubbles for the last three chapters. Reading this book is (in Eco's words) like:

. . . making love in a confessional to a prostitute in liturgical robes while reciting Beaudelaire to the tune of ten electronic organs playing The Well-Tempered Clavier by Scriabin.

The Professor teaches us such diverse things as 1) true culture consists of presentations (e. g., opera) where the true action of the audience is action within and 2) blue jeans and other garments that squeeze the testicles cause a man to think differently. We learn that the "Inquisitor assumes the right to define heresy" -- truly a heretical act, that literature is "cheating with language" -- sort of what Sheherazade did, and that we can savor the joy of being there when Schubert finishes his Unfinished Symphony.

Best of all is Eco's deconstructive attack on Casablanca, the film, which he reminds us, translates as White House. He lines up the pieces for us: Music -- African, then Patriotic; Refuges, Casablanca to Lisbon; The Magic door; The Magic Key (letters of transit) to the Magic Door; The Flying Horse (airplane flies over Rick's Place); Roulette as a metaphor for Life; Sam as Pancho to Rick as Cisco Kid; Magic Theme Song ("it's still the same old story" -- yes, hundreds of old stories -- Eco calls them archetypes); Rick as tough businessman, as cynic, as spy, as patriot, as ex-patriot, as charming scoundrel, as spurned lover, as sober gentleman, as drunkard, as disillusioned lover, as cold, calculating lover, as self-sacrificing lover, as quote-generator for Woody Allen (Play It Again Sam).

Well some of this stuff is in the book Hyperreality and some of it I made up for the fun of it -- after all what good is illusion without a little play? And I am a member of homo illudens. You may now return to Ordinary Reality.

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