restricted access Naming the Rose: Eco, Medieval Signs and Modern Theory, and: Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco's "The Name of the Rose" (review)
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Reviewed by
Theresa Coletti. Naming the Rose: Eco, Medieval Signs and Modern Theory. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988. 212 pp. $19.95.
Thomas Inge, ed. Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco's "The Name of the Rose. " Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1988. 214 pp. $27.50.

It is meaningful that two books dealing with Eco's cult novel, and published almost at the same time, should bear the same main title: Naming the Rose, indeed, signals that at the core of this postmodern masterpiece of "fiction" lies a radical questioning of signs and interpretation.

Theresa Coletti's study is a rigorous development of a seminal idea: as she states in the Introduction, she wants to show that "out of a concrete rendering of medieval society and intellectual life Eco . . . crafts a distinctly contemporary statement about language and meaning." Paralleling very successfully The Name of the Rose as a novel that "thematizes decoding" with Eco's main scholarly essays on semiotics, she concentrates on three capital narrative networks at play in the text: 1) Adso's narrative, centered on the sex scene where he finds himself involved with the peasant girl, 2) the "hermeneutics of heresy" by which the medieval powers that be strive to dispose of certain categories of revolutionary outsiders, with respect to the sensitive doctrinal question of poverty, and, 3) the quest of the mysterious book that will turn out to be Aristotle's lost treatise on comedy and laughter, the hypothetical Poetics II. Coletti reads the Rose as a labyrinth-like text where these three narrative avenues appear intertwined, each one functioning in organic symbiosis (/semiosis) with three foundational intertexts: Adso's bildungsroman with the Song of Solomon, the historico-political background of the struggle between Empire and Papacy with the Fransiscan Rule, and the mystery plot with Aristotle's book, as well as the Apocalypse of St. John and the Coena Cypriani. This very "archeological" reading is consistent with Eco's assertion in his Postscript to "The Name of the Rose" that this novel is "a textile of texts . . . a book made of books." Coletti, in the first three chapters, achieves a brilliant [End Page 362] demonstration of these intertextualities. In her last two chapters, she is equally brilliant although at times somewhat less convincing. Trying to decipher the "novel's overarching medievalization of [modern hermeneutic] theory," she tends to read it almost as a roman à clef, where the main personae embody major contemporary discourses. She offers striking formulas to encapsulate what the key characters, according to her, stand for: thus Jorge, as a radical realist (in the medieval sense) is labeled a "Platonic extremist" (145), whereas the Oxford-educated William is defined as "the perennial doubter, the prober of signs and intellectual codes," and therefore constitutes the epitome of nominalism. From that basis it follows, according to the author, that the Franciscan Sherlock Holmes, who concludes at the end of the novel that the world has no order, is a deconstructionist. Coletti defends her point by showing that William's philosophizing echoes developments in Theory of Semiotics and La Struttura Assente where Eco follows Derrida's critique of Levi-Strauss and expounds his notion of "unlimited semiosis," which is akin to the Derridean concept of "difference." However, although Coletti again refers to Eco's theoretical work, some readers may find it more difficult to see Jorge as an allegory of structuralism on the basis of an alleged similarity between this current and medieval realism. But this does not diminish by any means the remarkable insight of her wandering through Eco's labyrinth. Her study, indeed, contains illuminating references to major modern theories: Barthes's eroticization of reading and interpretation, Derrida's description of the "idea of the book" as a metaphor of the totality and closure of the signified, and Bakhtin's concept of dialogic heteroglossia, of which Salvatore, this living tower of Babel, is viewed as an embodiment. Theresa Coletti is right to expect her book to reach "medievalists and persons interested in contemporary theory."

The ten essays edited by Thomas Inge in Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco's "Name of the Rose" also contain stimulating exegesis. The first part, entided "Traditions...