By Umberto Eco
Nerval, Joyce, Borges, Wilde, Leopardi, Flaubert, Proust, Manzoni et les autres... Quand Eco fait sa littérature, quand il nous livre ses émois d'adolescent, ses curiosités de sémioticien, ses angoisses d'écrivain face à l'influence des maîtres, ses admirations d'aficionado - bref, son landscape littéraire -, on jubile devant tant d'intelligence du texte et d'amour des mots. Et quand, au dernier chapitre, il nous raconte ses premières armes de poète et romancier en herbe, révèle ses superstitions d'auteur, ses attentes ou ses craintes, on a le sentiment de pénétrer dans le jardin mystery qu'il avait souvent évoqué sans jamais vraiment nous le dévoiler.
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In Pietà 29 a way, it does not represent a discernible present at all, but rather a calm endurance which is born of long ages; the pity depicted here is not a pity unkindly focused on one event alone, on one personal bereavement as if to the exclusion of all other suffering; rather it seeks – almost selfconsciously, but not quite – to carry within itself a reservoir of human suffering and of the need to rise above that suffering and continue – into who knows what future. I have focused upon Mary alone, and I think that is appropriate to Michelangelo’s sculpture; for it does not depict, as van der Weyden’s does, a scene which is ‘communal’ – in other words, involving other characters and even a background within which death and pity may be situated.
She is bald and wild. 7 There is no yew tree in van Gogh; nether is there an obvious moon, though there is a strange suffused light in the background. But there is certainly an absence of ‘sweetness’, a lack of connection – which still permits the person seeing the painting to experience pity, but of a very different kind, a pity for those who may be ‘bald and wild’, who may be beyond or outside the sanctions of traditional religion, those who may be ‘blue’ (as the female figure here is blue) but with a rather different, more shifting kind of ‘blueness’ than that which is traditionally inscribed on the figure of Mary.
It is not clear that they do this through anything which we might recognise as pity; but the fact remains that Ate is, as it were, not the final word – thus ‘blood and destruction’ may be subject to some greater law, and we may be allowed to think about what might happen to pity when it is ‘choked with custom of fell deeds’. This refers, it seems, to a deadening of the sympathetic impulse: so appalling will this ruination become, Antony claims – or rather, in a sense, has had revealed to him – that not only will we run short of good deeds, we will also run short of the remembrance of what those good deeds might have been – or even, going to a further extreme, of how we may have judged them to be ‘good’ in the first place.