The Power of Words, Literature and Society in Late Modernity

Article excerpt

Buccheri, Mauro, Costa, Elio, and Holoch, Donald, Eds. The Power of Words, Literature and Society in Late Modernity. Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2005. 306 pp.

The background behind this 2005 collection of essays published by the Italian Longo Editore is the questioning of what directions society, culture, and finally literature are taking in the third millennium. And the questions have such a broad scope that the editors Mario Buccheri, Elio Costa, and Donald Holoch decided to approach them from different angles, trying to account for different points of view and literatures, as well as for the social and economic backdrops. In fact what comes out of this collection of essays is a general inter-connection among different fields and a ero ss- fertilization of disciplines which, all together, could help us search for clarifications to our initial queries.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with general concerns about the relationship between literature and the hypertexts, which comprises of both the new technologies and the persistence of literature. The opening essay is Umberto Eco 's "Books, Texts and Hypertexts", in which the Italian semiotician analyses the almost paradoxical presence of paper books in a future world made of hypertexts and books on CD-ROM. But, as far as Eco has a deep knowledge of Middle Ages, he takes the Medieval fear of the Millennium as a comparison not to think of the fear of losing books in a future era, for new technologies do not necessarily supersede the old ones, as much as television or cinema have not supplanted literature yet; the question is analysed with hermeneutical concerns, but also in an ironic tone. The second essay by John O'Neill is titled "The Word's Millennial Power" and it analyses some of the Italian writer Italo Calvino' s works like Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Cosmicomics, and Invisible Cities, in which Calvino sustains the importance of the intellectual figure as a response to cultural entropy, and as a 'heroic' figure fighting against the amnesia of culture. Actually, O'Neill sustains, we must fight to remember and not to forget, for, according to Calvino "Literature (...) re-mythologizes the world, rationalized to the point of barbarism, in order to avoid the fall into cultural amnesia and historical schizophrenia." (12). Again, the issue of cognition is tackled by the following essay, by Lubomir Dolezel, "The Power of Words: Literature, Cognition and Practical Life". In it Dolezel explains why he thinks that the 20th century has been a "linguistic century", and in so doing he refers to the linguist De Saussure, the philosopher Derrida, and the semiotician Eco. That is why the approach to language comes from different angles, because he counters the post-structuralist conviction that language is monofunctional, thinking it is poly-functional and embracing all the concerns of our intellectual and densely practical lives. Umberto Eco 's and Italo Calvino 's works return again in the speculations of Rocco Capozzi's essay "Hypertextuality and Cognitive Experiences in the Labyrinths of Words and Images". In fact, Calvino' s concept of the multiplicity of literature and Eco' s thought about the hyper-textuality weave in Capozzi's conviction of the computer and hyper-texts as "rhizomatic structures" (13). Mauro Buccheri' s "The Return of Orpheus, or the Persistence of Literature and Myth" concludes the first part of the book by taking the figure of Orpheus as a symbol of the persistence of literature and myth as a figure able of bridging gaps. Buccheri sustains his views with contemporary literary and philosophical theories; he sustains that for instance Nietzsche, Michel Serres, or Eco again have developed a cultural system able of standing in between, and where Orpheus would represent the search for meaning even in aesthetic terms.

The second part deals with more historical and philosophical questions, especially concerning Marxism or Bachtinian preoccupations, and the link between the role of the intellectual and market. …


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