Umberto Eco

"You cannot believe what you are saying."


Frequently Asked Questions
The following questions are some of the more common things visitors ask about Porta Ludovica. If you'd like to know more about TheModernWord.com and the Libyrinth, feel free to visit the Site Information page, accessible from the button in the upper right corner.

When will Eco's new novel, Baudolino, appear in English?
Translated by William Weaver, the English version of Eco's latest novel is scheduled to appear in October 2002. Feel free to check the Baudolino entry on Harcourt's Web site for more information. When I get a copy, I will review and feature it.

Who runs this site?
My name is Allen B. Ruch, although I tend to use my online nickname of the Quail. I am the Editorial Director of TheModernWord.com, and I run Porta Ludovica as its site editor as well.

Do you speak Italian?
Unfortunately, no I do not speak Italian. I speak only English and a bit of German. I add this to my FAQ file because I tend to get a lot of letters written to me in Italian. Indeed, more than a few poor souls have addressed a letter to me thinking I was Professor Eco himself!

What is semiotics?
Put as simply as possible, semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. Of course it is a lot more involved than this, and Eco has written many nonfictional books on the subject. There are semiotic-oriented links on the Porta Ludovica "Link" page if you would like to read more.

Where can I buy a copy of The Name of the Rose on VHS or DVD?
Alas, nowhere! The film has been officially deleted from the catalog, and currently, there are no plans to release it on DVD in the States -- although I have seen an Italian language version on DVD. If you want to purchase the VHS cassette, I recommend searching eBay, or dubbing a copy borrrowed from a video rental store.

What does the title The Name of the Rose mean, anyway?
I love this novel -- which is hardly surprising. And the title is certainly one of the mysteries of the book, an open-ended question that everyone deserves a chance to work out on their own. However, since more than a few people write in to seek answers, I can point you to a pair of helpful resources. One is "Postscript to The Name of the Rose," a long essay written by Umberto Eco himself, discussing the book, its title, and his theory of titling novels as well. Once available as a small volume itself, it is now packaged with the Harvest paperback version of The Name of the Rose. The other source is the wonderful book, The Key to "The Name of the Rose," which also has some speculation on the title.

What is "Faith in Fakes?"
"Faith in Fakes" is the original title of a large essay written by Eco in 1975 on the subject of America's obsession with simulacra and counterfeit reality. It was retitled "Travels in Hyperreality" in 1986 and included as the central piece in a book by the same title.

Is there an English-language guide to Foucault's Pendulum?
Alas, no! Though this book is certainly crying out for a Key to "Foucault's Pendulum," isn't it?

What does the Hebrew inscription at the beginning of Foucault's Pendulum mean?
Translated into English:

"When the Light of the Endless was drawn in the form of a straight line in the Void... it was not drawn and extended immediately downwards, indeed it extended slowly -- that is to say, at first the Line of Light began to extend and at the very start of its extension in the secret of the Line it was drawn and shaped into a wheel, perfectly circular all around."

--Gruberger, Philip S. (ed.) The Kabbalah: A Study of the Ten Luminous Emanations from Rabbi Isaac Luria with the Commentaries Sufficient for the Beginner. Vol. II, Jerusalem: Research Center of Kabbalah, 1973. p. 7.

(Thanks to Nicholas Lundholm for this.)

I love Eco's novels! What else could you recommend?
Eco's novels are complex works, filled with erudition, allusion, puzzles, conspiracies, and scintillating images. I am often asked to recommend similar novels, which is quite difficult indeed -- nothing quite compares with the Professor's fiction. But if you enjoyed The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, or The Island of the Day Before, I would point you towards the following, all of which have some of the same elements: Borges' Collected Fictions, Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, and Mason & Dixon; Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, the works of Italo Calvino, and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! books, which are a psychedelic pop-culture phenemenon in themselves and the mother of all conspiracy tales. On a less heavy note, there is also Lawrence Norfolk's Lemprière's Dictionary and The Pope's Rhinoceros, Katherine Neville's The Eight, and Arturo Pérez-Reverte's popular Club Dumas.

I want to get in contact with Umberto Eco. Do you have his postal address or email address?
At the risk of sounding overly precious, I do not feel comfortable handing out the addresses of other people -- especially given that authors tend to value their privacy. If you wish to write to Umberto Eco, I suggest you contact his publisher at Harcourt Brace, or visit his University Web site.

Do you accept submissions?
Absolutely! Porta Ludovica is meant to be a community effort, and I gladly accept quality submissions such as reviews, papers, essays, or projects. Just drop me a line and we can discuss your idea.

Do you answer all your email?
Yes. I run quite a few sites and I get over 50 email messages a day. I try to answer most of the letters that people send me; but it usually takes me a few days. Don't let this discourage you from dropping me a note; I place a tremendous value on feedback of any sort, especially corrections, suggestions, and shameless flattery. Just understand that it may take a bit of time for me to reply. If it is very important and/or time sensitive, such as a request for permission to use Porta Ludovica materials for an upcoming project, or an offer to take Björk out on a date next Saturday night, please write IMPORTANT in capital letters in the subject line. I will try to get to it immediately.

How do I cite this Web site on a report?
That may very well depend on your instructor. Usually it is appropriate to give the site name -- Porta Ludovica -- with the URL, a date, and my name -- Allen B. Ruch. You may want to cite an individual page, in which case the URL is appropriate.

Can you offer me help on a school project or a research paper?
I often get asked to provide facts, ideas, topics, and other assistance on a research paper, and occasionally someone asks if I can email them some additional material on Umberto Eco. As much as I would like to, I simply do not have the time to offer individualized help on research papers. All the information I have I eventually place online at an appropriate location, and I try to feature various books of criticism and links to other sites that may be of assistance to students.

Can you send me extra criticism or information about Eco or his work?
No -- quite simply, because if you don't see it on my site, I don't have it. I put everything I can online; sometimes it may take awhile, but it'll get there. I swear I'm not holding out -- I am not sitting on an advanced copy of Foucault's Pendulum Revealed! or anything like that. (Or so I say, heh heh heh.)

Boy, you sound grumpy. Do you ever answer any questions?
Sure! As a matter of fact, I enjoy some of the more offbeat questions. I just won't answer the kind of questions that can very easily be answered by, say, a nearby encyclopedia. (Like when people ask me, "Has Umberto Eco ever written any nonfiction?" or something like that.) Again, I am not trying to be rude, I just need to conserve my time.

The links on your pages sure do have long, funny names! Are those quotes from Eco's works?
Yes. One of the joys of creating this site is finding quotes that set off my different subsections -- I try to select quotes with a certain degree of appropriateness or irony; but occasionally I just choose one because I like the sound of it. On a related note, I absently failed to write down the exact source of each quote, and I have discovered that I no longer remember where I found some of them! So I am sorry to say that I cannot provide that information.

Do you do all the graphics yourself?
With the exception of the buttons and general framework, I do all the banner images myself -- except, of course, for the untouched photographs and any pictures of bookcovers and such. I love playing around with Adobe Photoshop, and I have a wide range of filters, fonts, and effect generators that provide me with endless hours of amusement. Some of my favorites include Kai's Power Tools, Adobe Gallery Effects, Alien Skin Eye Candy, and Alchemy Paint Magic. (One day I will make a pilgrimage to the Adobe Campus in California, and I shall reverently lay small offerings at their front door. . . . and perhaps light a few candles around a picture of Kai Krause....) I usually start with a stock image -- gathered from the Web or scanned in -- and then I throw on some music, fire up the coffee-maker, and get to work. To create a standard image -- like what I use in the title banners to many of my pages -- usually takes between two and five hours, through which I go through many alternate versions and rejects, some of which occasionally find their way elsewhere on the site.

Where do you get your ideas for the images?
I usually start with a picture of the author and try to conceptualize a visual representation of a certain aspect of his work. I then start slamming back the coffee and begin working him over in Photoshop. Music, however, is just as important as my coffee and software; and the type of music that I'm listening to as I putter around with an image greatly influences the eventual outcome. My standard favorites are Philip Glass for detail work, Phish for experimental explorations, and Dead Can Dance for more arcane creations. Besides being something of a Beethoven NUT, I'm also very partial to opera, and I find that four hours of Wagner can be wonderful to set a mood. Some other favorite "work music" includes Robyn Hitchcock, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and King Crimson, and the composers Steve Reich, György Ligeti, James MacMillan, Christopher Rouse, Michael Nyman, Tan Dun, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Other musical inspirations include music related to an author's work (Gregorian chanting, Baroque, or jazz for Eco) and music contemporary with an author's time period or background. Laugh if you will, but I listened to a lot of Astor Piazzolla and three different versions of Evita when I was designing the Libyrinth's Borges page....


--A. Ruch
5 August 2002


That one is a heron, he said to himself, that a crane, a quail. -- Send email to the Great Quail -- comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!