Saturday, November 8, 2014

Intertextuality in the Name of the Rose

Adso – “To know what one book says you must read others?”  William – “At times this can be so.  Often books speak of other books.  Often a harmless book is like a seed that will blossom into a dangerous book, or it is the other way around: it is the sweet fruit of a bitter stem.  In reading Albert, couldn’t I learn what Thomas might have said?  Or in reading Thomas, know what Averroes said?”[1]  

The Name of the Rose is a perfect example of intertextuality within a novel; a concept that the main characters of William and Adso were discussing themselves in the above quote.  Within the pages of this book, intertextual allusions abound.  These include a forbidden manuscript, references to authors of the Middle Ages both real and imaginary, having Abelard, Bacon, Occam, and Dante among the ranks of those mentioned.  It also links to references in the linguistic, philosophical, and historical issues that were being discussed by the medievalist scholars around time that Eco was writing and publishing this first novel.[2]  This is nothing surprising for fans of Eco’s work, though.  Eco had been writing scholarly papers before The Name of the Rose, and he continued to do so, as well as other novels afterwards.  Some of the more prominent features that Eco likes to use in his writing are those of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, issues from history or an intellectual nature, archaeologies of knowledge pertaining to ancient quests for power and glory, such as for the Holy Grail, Kabbalah, secret societies and the secrets that they supposedly keep.  Now, the main question concerning these topics appearing in Eco’s work is, did it happen by coincidence, or are these features part of Eco’s intentional allusions to other authors and their works which, in turn, would serve to make the statement that Eco makes via William of Baskerville self-fulfilling.[3] 

One of the first examples of intertextuality within The Name of the Rose is the name of the main character himself, William of Baskerville.  This is a combination of both a character-type and novel that Eco himself has a great fondness for, namely, Sherlock Holmes in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle.[4]  Eco’s use of Doyle’s characters does not stop with just an homage paid by way of a name, though.  Interactions between the two ‘detectives’, Adso and William, can be seen as more intertextuality.  Adso is often referred to by William as “my dear Adso” throughout this work.  Further, upon a reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the same investigative style and inferential structure that is used in The Name of the Rose will be found as well.  This extends to the dry humour, ambiguous relationship between Sherlock (William) and Watson (Adso), and even the physical locations, such as the castle and Baskerville Hall, which are reproduced in almost complete exactness by Eco.[5] 

It is not just Doyle that Eco utilises in his intertextuality throughout The Name of the Rose.  Eco has a particular talent in creating a fantastical yet realistic setting in his fiction for the reader in which there can be characters and elements from Dante and Disney, Galileo and Jules Verne, Sherlock Holms and Peirce, the Templars and Indiana Jones recalled side by side.  There comes also a series of déjà vu and déjà entendu from reading all of the quotations and the many collage pieces.[6]  This instils the readers with a magical sensation and pleasure as they read, being able to have a deeper understanding of what Eco is trying to say and convey through the weight of meanings and images connected from the history and popular culture that is intrinsically connected to these characters, places, and images. 

There is more intertextuality in The Name of the Rose than just Doyle, as was just mentioned.  In fact, according to Eco himself, Adso, whom also narrates the book, was based on the character Zeitblom from Mann’s novel, Doctor Faustus.[7]  Zeitblom, as it turns out, is also the narrator for Doctor Faustus.  Those readers who had read one of these books, upon reading the other would then be able to recognize a deeper meaning and symbology in the character from this intertextuality.  This really does start to bring into mind the statement made by Hutcheon that “for the mystic adept, every word becomes a sign of something else, the truth of what is not said.  Therefore, one must learn to read with suspicion, lest something be missed.”[8]  This appears to be a mantra of Eco’s when he wrote this book; everything in it alludes and refers back to something else.

Within the pages of The Name of the Rose, there emerge many different subjects and previous works of other artists and authors.  It is a novel made up of other texts and tales that have previously been told, both real and imaginary, but all sounding as thought they should be recognisable from some history; famous passages, quotations, special lexicons, codes, and characters all utilised in the book and lain out as though they had just been taken from a generic reference book.[9]  This should not be surprising when taken in consideration with Eco’s work from the Sixties to the Eighties.  An examination of this shows that in the early Seventies, Eco started leaving his theories and curiosity with structuralist codes, dictionaries, and Chomsky’s models of syntagmatic chains behind and began focusing more on Porphyrian trees, encyclopaedias, paradigmatic structures, and intertextuality.[10] 

What result, then, did this have on Eco’s novels, specifically in this instance, The Name of the Rose?  It was a reflexive recall to Eco’s own theorising and a demonstration of his idea of the encyclopaedia and how meaning is created by connecting and tracing things of significance through differing and intricate ways of connection.  This further hints at Eco’s “description of the Deluzian rhizome: ‘Every path can be connected to every other one.  It has no center, no periphery, no exit, because it is potentially infinite’ for it is ‘the space of conjecture.’”[11]  This means that as is noted throughout scholarly writings and through The Name of the Rose itself, there is evidence that Eco wrote a type of hybrid novel.  This novel is entertaining through the usage of collages made from quotations, intricate pastiche of the historical, philosophical, and pop culture influences that shared the same perspective on culture that Eco did.  This conveyance of ideas is successful only upon as far as the reader’s encyclopaedic knowledge of these references and their ability to link them together as well as back to what they reference.[12]

The way that Eco uses his intertextual references to convey these deeper meanings through association creates a type of novel that could be considered “new-historicism”.  These ideas are concerned with quests for universal knowledge and power, and some of the ideas associated with this are intertextual references to Foucault and his writing on the subjects of archaeology and knowledge genealogy.  Further, the works of Guattari, Deleuze, Derrida, White, and the novels of Borges, Barthes, Calvino, and Pynchon are all alluded to, referenced, or sampled by Eco throughout The Name of the Rose.[13]  Indeed, even the name of the blind librarian ‘created’ by Eco is an intertextual (yet fitting), reference to the author Jorge Borges, who wrote The Library of Babel.[14]  As de Lauretis has stated, “here, in this ‘tale of books’ personal and critical history merge in the literary topoi of the journey, the sentimental education, the descent into Hades, the remembrance of things past, the wake of reason; here the political inquest and the mythical quest are twined securely with the Socratic dialogue, the conte a la Voltaire, the Conan Doyle mystery story.”[15] 

Eco was conscious of the weight of the textual past and what it meant for the writer in the twentieth century.  It has been said by Garrett that there was really no point in Eco trying to be original in creating the Library as a literary theme, and that if he has, it would have been a futile exercise, due to everything already having been said on that and every other subject, and because of this reality, a writer can only wind up quoting from the past every time that pen and paper are brought together.  As Eco said in Postscript to “The Name of the Rose”, it is “no longer possible to speak innocently”.[16]  On the other side of that coin, Capozzi points out that Eco’s library is rife with intertextuality to the point that the reader is both amazed and intimidated do to the sheer number of books contained in it, and how it reminds them of how many they have not read.[17]

Eco’s intertextuality even uses the same type of beginning or introduction as one of the most famous gothic novels, The Castle of Otranto.  The fact that The Rose starts out with someone coming into possession of a manuscript that has never been seen or published before is very much a harkening back to The Castle of Otranto.  The beginning of the The Name of the Rose does not stop with just one book being referenced, but continues with Adso quoting John, “And in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[18]  Further Biblical intertextualities can be seen in the so-called false pattern of the seven seals of the apocalypse from the Book of Revelation being correlated to the murders. 

It is becoming more clear that what Adso recognised in his line of “books speak of books” is that the words that are used in books, be it novels, reference books, or other works, have been used by other books so creating a deeper and further meaning that carries beyond just the context that is used in the work currently being read.[19]  Similarly to Mann, Eco uses intertextual quotations as a method of condensing a large part of history and culture into a simple phrase.[20]  This allows for a reader to understand volumes worth of information in the span of a few short words, thereby eliminating the need to reproduce a massive amount of data but still getting the authors point or idea across.  As Eco himself said in The Role of the Reader, each figure or object in the Cosmos has a limited range of possibilities because “the meaning of allegorical figures and emblems… is already prescribed by… encyclopaedias, bestiaries, and lapidaries.”[21]  This further serves to demonstrate why intertextuality in a key factor in reading The Name of the Rose.

However, there are those that believe that The Name of the Rose is not just a historically set book filled with intertextuality, but a book that is used as a tribute to the writer Peirce, and his theory of abduction.[22]  This stems mostly from the detective style that Eco has William employ in the novel, combined with an essay that he wrote entitled Abduction in Uqbar.  In this essay, Eco defines the terms deduction, induction, and abduction in relation to making conclusions.  As quoted, with clarification added in italicised parentheticals, “Deduction proceeds from a true Rule and, by means of a case, predicts a Result with absolute certainty.  (There is a sack of beans.  One pulls out a handful of white beans.  One deduces that the sack contains all white beans.) In the case of an induction, from a number of results, one can infer that they are cases of the same rule and I arrive at the formulation of the rule (There is a sack of beans.  One pulls out a handful of white beans.  One repeats this a number of times with all white beans.  Therefore the sack contains all white beans.).  Abduction is different and more risky, because I see a strange or unexplainable result and I have to consider whether the result is the case of a rule (There is a sack of beans on the table.  Near it is a pile of white beans.  One then conjects that the sack is a sack of white beans.)”[23]  While this is an interesting argument and viewpoint on the nature of The Name of the Rose, it does not seem to stand that Eco has included so much intertextuality throughout his novel from so many sources only to pay homage to the idea of abduction from Peirce.  Further, if Eco had made homage to Peirce’s theory of abduction, he did so using William of Baskerville, which was based on Doyle’s character of Sherlock, and would therefore stand to reason that perhaps Doyle was making the tribute, and Eco just acknowledging it by referencing Doyle. 

In conclusion, it would appear that Eco believes as Casaubon from Focult’s Pendulum when he said that “No piece of information is superior to any other.  Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections.  There are always connections; you only have to want to find them.”[24]  This is only logical given that Eco wrote this novel as well.  This is just further proof that Eco uses passages in his books as a type of self-ironic authorial wink for the reader to notice.   What is the purpose of such a literary flag?  To show for the reader that Eco is saying that he does not invent but rewords, barrows, quotes and reorganises stories by taking pieces from other sources.[25]  This has caused some such as de Lauretis to doubt that importance or validity of The Name of the Rose by stating that it has no authorial voice and thus no authority of its own, because every description, incident, character, and other device found within it is an objet trouve, something that is to be found first in some other place or work.[26]  This view, however, is rather harsh and unfair, as it has been shown that intertextuality is not just important in a reading of The Name of the Rose so as to understand the points that Eco is trying to convey, but also important in ALL books, as this concept has been perpetuating for countless years in order for the author to better convey his meaning to his audience.  It is true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet[27], but this unique combination produced by Eco, if written any other way, would cease to be this named rose and become something else.  Therefore intertextuality used within The Name of the Rose is not just relevant, it’s elementary.


Capozzi, R.  (1998).  "Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction" in Umberto Eco's Alternative: The Politics of Culture and the Ambiguities of Interpretation , Bouchard, N. & Pravadelli, V., pp 129-145

Cobley, E.  (1989).  “Closure and Infinite Semoisis in Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Eco’s The Name of the Rose”, Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp 341-361

Eco, U.  (1980).  The Name of the Rose.  Trans. William Weaver.  Vintage Books, London.

Farronato, C.  (1999).  "The theory of abduction and The Name of the Rose" in Semiotics, Spinks, C. W. & Deely, J.,  pp 71-81

Garrett, J.  (1991).  “Missing Eco: On Reading The Name of the Rose as Library Criticism”, The Library Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 4, pp 373-388

Hutcheon, L.  (1992).  “Eco’s Echoes: Ironizing the (Post) Modern, Focault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco”, Diacritics, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp 2-16

de Lauretis, T.  (1985).  “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism”.  SubStance, Vol. 14, No. 2, Issue 47: ‘In Search of Eco’s Roses’, pp 13-29

Shakespeare, W.  (1980).  Shakespeare: The Complete Works, (edited by G. B. Harrison).  Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Orlando. 

[1] Eco, The Name of the Rose, p 286
[2] Capozzi, ‘Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction’, p 135
[3] Ibid, p 132
[4] Farronaro, Theory of abduction and The Name of the Rose’, p. 76
[5] De Lauretis, “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism”, p. 17
[6] Capozzi, ‘Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction’, p. 136
[7] Cobley,  “Closure and Infinite Semoisis in Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Eco’s The Name of the Rose”, p. 341
[8] Hutcheon, “Eco’s Echoes: Ironizing the (Post) Modern, Focault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco”, p. 3
[9] De Lauretis, “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism”, p. 16-17 
[10] Capozzi, ‘Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction’, p. 133
[11] Hutcheon, “Eco’s Echoes: Ironizing the (Post) Modern, Focault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco”, p. 9
[12] Capozzi, ‘Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction’, p. 134
[13] Ibid, p. 135
[14] Garrett, Missing Eco: On Reading The Name of the Rose as Library Criticism”, p. 379
[15] De Lauretis, “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism”, p. 16
[16] Garrett, Missing Eco: On Reading The Name of the Rose as Library Criticism”, p 378
[17] Capozzi, ‘Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction’, p. 130
[18] Eco, The Name of the Rose, p. 11
[19] Cobley, “Closure and Infinite Semoisis in Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Eco’s The Name of the Rose”,, p. 344
[20] Ibid, p. 342
[21] Ibid, p. 343
[22] Farronaro, Theory of abduction and The Name of the Rose’, p 71
[23] Ibid, p. 72
[24] Hutcheon, “Eco’s Echoes: Ironizing the (Post) Modern, Focault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco”, p. 9
[25] Capozzi, ‘Libraries, encyclopedias and rhizomes: Popularizing culture in Eco's superfiction’, p. 136
[26] De Lauretis, “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism”, p. 19
[27] Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, pg. 484

No comments:

Post a Comment