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Mr. Simon J. Kyte (Sevenoaks Kent UK)

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The Name Of The Rose (Vintage Classics)
The Name Of The Rose (Vintage Classics)
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The rose is a proof of its own existence, 30 April 2007
I put a lot of work into reading around Eco's little clues and references but the way he concludes the novel turns it into a great intellectual leveller. The events take place in November 1327 in a corner of northwest Italy, on the central ridge of the Apennines, 10 miles or less from the sea.

A relatively straightforward murder-mystery story is complicated by contextual arguments regarding the poverty of Christ and millenarianism - as well as the shadow of the extreme of this belief, the Dolcinian heresy. The semiotics of the first 100 pages and beyond makes reference to the Franciscan Perugian convention, the Papal bull `Cum Inter Nonnullos', the Pseudo-Apostles, the importance of words and the confusion of duplicated symbols. One of the key problems is that of metaphor - the application to one thing of the name belonging to another, as `Poetics' was unknown to the Christian world for so long. In fact what we have now is only the first part focusing on tragedy; some have suggested that we can glimpse the second through a tract known as `Coislinianus 120' which is a possible commentary on it.

Amongst these arguments are a whole range of characters which the reader can research - for example: Clare of Montefalco (1275-1308), Joachim de Floris (1135-1202) - as well as ideas, texts and periods in history: the Hisperica Famina, Coena Cypriani, the Avignon `captivity'. To complicate matters further Eco has taken some of these characters and integrated them into his novel either as monks in the monastery (such as Umbertino of Casale) or as people who turn up for a briefer period. William's mode of investigation is one of logic and syllogisms. He himself admits that it cannot be a universal weapon unless it is put to the right service. Adso is intuitively right when he says of William; `the truth was not what was appearing to him at any given moment'. It is said admiringly but, unwittingly, it discloses William's weakness. William's interest in herbs draws heavily on the doctrine of signatures and was promulgated as part of a revolution in pharmacological knowledge by the great universities which had been established in the twelfth century: Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Montpellier.

Whilst paying lip service to Borges, the library is in the form of a mediaeval map. The Aedificium in which is it housed breaks the symmetry of the abbey and, within it, there is a secret room which breaks the regularity of the arrangement. Most focus has been given to the similarity to the labyrinth of Rheims Cathedral but there was also something similar in St Omer documented by Emmanuel Vallet. I think Eco may be playing on the name citing his transcript as being by Abbé Claude Vallet (1754-1828). The secret room is known as the Finis Africae - a Ptolemaic hypothesis for Africa beyond the equator. William and Adso do not gain access until the sixth night is giving birth to the seventh day, reflecting the theme of Revelations which William sees behind the murders. William's logic serves him poorly, with many of the major breakthroughs being made by chance comments from Adso. Indeed, there are occasions on which Adso makes judgements which are clearly out of keeping with his status as a poorly-versed apprentice - for example in instance where he identifies a trace of corruption from the heresy of the Paterines.

Even the significance of the date of construction of the Aedificium is elucidated by Adso to the reader - it is clearly hundreds of years old and is therefore a symbol of the old regime. Beyond this, the arrangement of continents in the library reflects a mediaeval understanding of the world, already outdated and, literally, pre-millennial. A number of the theologians mentioned were millenarian and had recalibrated the thousand years of Christ's rule to start in Constantine's time (early 4th century). This places us on the brink of a change of era.

Indeed the book (that I shall refrain from revealing)has the potential to turn the world upside down and to invalidate the Franciscan-Benedictine debate (seemingly a red herring?). It suggests that the greatest truths are revealed by ordinary people and those seeking deeper understanding might do better to treat serious things lightly. Critically, the `omnipresent' Jorge's first warning in the book is not to waste our last days laughing.

So, if 1327 represents the last stand of the Middle Ages, does it matter that the secret text is destroyed? Eco almost seems to suggest not, but one might ask why he has bothered to study such things in so much depth (or why his next book should be Foucault's Pendulum)? The monk who keeps the book out of view suggests that it is not the book's content that is threatening but the fact that it was authored by the philosopher who was having such an influence on thinking during this period. There is at least one factual error and I believe that I may have found another - which I found disappointing.

It is worth stopping and taking a second look though. Amongst the scholars reforming the world view by using Aristotle and others, are William's hero, Roger Bacon, and Albertus Magnus, who was teacher to Thomas Aquinas - the subject of Eco's own doctoral work. Together they changed European perceptions of what might be beyond the Sahara desert and their challenging way of thinking furthered other advances in understanding that the Catholic order resisted. So, perhaps there is a millenarian element after all: as Bacon's representative penetrates the Finis Africae, all the beliefs of the old order - literally - go up in smoke. Even given that Eco is a convinced secularist, it will not have escaped his attention that if such things could happen in 1327, they can happen again. To use Abelard's metaphor: `si est rosa, est flos'. The fact that the book no longer exists by 1328 will not protect the Christian world from the forces of change.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2008 9:05 PM BST

The Rainbow (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Rainbow (Penguin Modern Classics)
by D. H. Lawrence
Edition: Paperback

6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quivering to life beyond the triumph of horrible, amorphous angles, 31 Mar. 2007
'There was a look in the eyes of the Brangwens as if they were expecting something unknown, about which they were eager' - a prescience.

I studied this novel as a teenager and was very struck by it then. 22 years on, it has hit me the same way. Gender difference is everywhere ['The women were different...[they] looked out from the heated, blind intercourse of farm-life, to the spoken world beyond'] as is a brooding, overhanging sexuality which comes over as something unavoidable: a destiny which undermines the false, formal gloss. Women in the novel are defined by `something elsewhere'. Nature whirls around Tom like a storm of his own making in oblivion. Not so for Lydia; when she hears the beck it troubles her; she shrinks from the presence of the gorse bushes.

In Anna, the more she fulfils her consciousness the further from her ideal the world around falls: 'always the shining doorway was a gate into another ugly yard'. It is the same for Ursula. The novel is brilliantly rich in the imagery of fire and regeneration: the phoenix, a the taste of ash of cold fear, fine flames running under the skin, women whose eyes are dark and flowing with fire. Lawrence also litters his text with brilliant juxtapositions of nouns and adjectives but they are never forced, never `clever'. The storyline follows three generations of the Brangwen family from around 1840 into the early years of the twentieth century. Stability is shattered by the invasion of the rural landscape by The Cut, a new route for the Nottingham Canal after the embankment collapse in the 1820s.

The conflict between man and woman forms another central theme: Anna's relationship with Will is stormy; living together is almost an impossibility. Architecture and the image of the rainbow litter the text in parallel with one another. Will attempts an affair with a warehouse-lass with `pellucid eyes, like shallow water'. His wife, noticing a change, responds - `Their children became mere offspring to them, they lived in the darkness and death of their own sensual activities', a sensuality as violent and extreme as death. The change also transforms Will's outward life as he becomes more concerned with issues of education - an interest which he will later try to deny Ursula.

If there is a fulcrum, it is Chapter IX in which Tom is drowned at Marsh Farm, destroyed by the unleashed forces which industrialised society has tried to pin back. Leaving the pub in Nottingham, Tom jests - `Which of us is Noah?' The vocabulary echoes the evening on which Tom proposed to Lensky - `there was a curious roar in the night, which seemed to be made in the darkness of his own intoxication'. His death at this point is his destiny; Lawrence goes to great pain to italicise - `He had to go and look'. `The whole black night was swooping in rings...In his soul, he knew he would fall.' His wife senses his moment of death and, even after the recovery of the body, there is an unnatural strangeness in the behaviour of the women. Lydia and Anna's lines are like a funeral in themselves.

Ursula is about 8 and it clearly shapes her perceptions. She tries, but fails, to reconcile the `Sunday world' with the `weekday world' which governs the practicalities of life. The year as interpreted by Man becomes a cycle culminating in resurrection to death, not life. But, for once, Lawrence loses himself in his discourse - Ursula's thoughts cease to be hers. The result is one of the strongest passages in the whole book: "But why? Why shall I not rise with my body whole and perfect, shining with strong life?"

Ursula's personal life develops with Skrebensky, and her teacher, Miss Inger. But after matriculating in 1900, Ursula decides to become a teacher - a job for which Lawrence himself initially trained, whilst the Boer War has already called Skrebensky. She plans to take a post in Kingston but, under the influence of her parents, accepts a post in a grim school in a local town, where her ideals about teaching are soon shattered. As the Brangwens move from Cossethay to Beldover, one of the most powerful objections to the conformity of industrial society echoes down the decades to our own age. "The streets were like visions of pure ugliness: a grey-black, macadamised road, asphalt causeways, held in between a flat succession of wall, window and door, a new brick channel that began nowhere and ended nowhere. Everything was amorphous, yet everything repeated itself endlessly".

The mythic qualities of the novel intensify with the more openly pagan symbolism of oak trees, prehistoric earthworks and horses. On the Sussex Downs Skrebensky wonders what he is doing with a woman for whom houses and beds have become distasteful things. For Ursula the idea of marrying would drag the darkness of their passion into a sordid, formal reality. The final scenes have a landscape akin to a Tarkovsky dreamscape, littered with the symbolism of Genesis.

There is a `dry, brittle, terrible corruption spreading over the face of the land' from which we have to break free. Industrial society - people groping in the bowels of the earth, new housing, academic lectures at college or the cycle of mechanistic learning and thrashings that Brinsley Street doles out - is all meaningless distraction, a snake of monotonous logic swallowing its own tail. Ursula's vision must `quiver to life' in the spirit. It is an optimistic scenario predicated on Lawrence's belief that World War I was about to end but no vision of democracy: Ursula tells Skrebensky that she would prefer an aristocracy of birth rather one of money and Lawrence called democracy an `equality of dirt'. The Somme was still to come so it is hardly surprising that Women In Love, which started life as the same book, is so much more focused on undercurrents of violence.

"Why shall I not rise with my body whole and perfect, shining with strong life?"
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 27, 2008 10:26 PM GMT

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