In Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere’s This Is Not the End of the Book, the authors make strong arguments for the traditional book, yet some arguments flounder, particularly those regarding idiocy. As such, this is a close reading of the authors’ comments on idiocy, beginning on page 208 (“I would, however….”) to halfway down page 209 (“….when it’s shouted all over the place”).
Eco begins by distinguishing between “the fool, the idiot and the person with a very low IQ (…the simpleton)” (208). He quickly brushes aside the simpleton, noting that he “is of no interest here” (208). Where the idiot and the fool are worth studying, the simpleton’s problem is obvious. Carriere then argues that the idiot “has to broadcast his error for all to hear” (209). This seems believable, and yet Eco’s following comment seems to refute this in some ways. Though he agrees with Carriere, Eco mentions “banal, commonplace truth[s]” (209) in relation to idiocy. Interestingly, Eco does not further this opinion; though Carriere seems to believe wrongness as one component of idiocy, Eco’s complaint refers to the annoyance of repetition, even if the repetition is true.
Eco’s opinion is most notable because of its contrast with earlier comments regarding masterpieces; the authors argue that “a work of art isn’t created a masterpiece, it becomes one” (159), mainly through many readings by many people – simply, repetition. Eco’s idiocy argument is thus fallible. If it is repetition that creates the masterpiece, then how can it be that same repetition that creates the idiot? Of course, Eco mentions that the idiot speaks of “commonplace” (209) truths, but does not define what makes a truth commonplace. At what point does the masterpiece become a masterpiece, forever defining the speakers of the Mona Lisa as idiots? There is no indication as to where the line is drawn between a person who is contributing to the title of “masterpiece” and the person who blathers on, pushing a truth already known.
Eco’s earlier comments do not support his argument of banal truths, either. He argues that “[the idiot’s] logic is faulty” (208) and that “he’s dangerous” (208). While Eco’s following example of Greeks supports his point, this is only because the idiot’s argument in this example is fallible; however, Eco speaks of truths, too. Certainly, repetitions of obvious truths are annoying, but Eco gives no reason as to why these people are idiots. Faulty logic is dangerous because it can be hard to recognize – but correct logic is simply dull. Moreover, this argument holds no stock in more subjective situations; again, the Mona Lisa is accepted as a masterpiece, and yet this is not an objective truth. One problem with this was explored before, but another problem is disagreement. Is the idiot someone who does not think that the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece, and, though “he seems to reason well enough…you can’t quite work out what’s wrong?” (208), or is the idiot someone who does think that the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece, but is simply repeating “banal, commonplace truth[s]”? (209). Are they both idiots? Eco makes no distinction; the reader can easily accept the incorrect individual as an idiot, but Eco makes no explanation for why correct individual is an idiot, too.
Ultimately, though Eco makes compelling arguments “in praise of stupidity” (205), his idiocy argument falls flat with the inclusion of “truth” (209).