I've been on an Umberto Eco kick recently, dipping through his fiction
bestsellers The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum. I've just
finished Travels in Hyperreality, a collection of Eco's essays from the 1960's
through the 80's.
The centerpiece of the book is his essay on Hyperreality, a concept whose
explanation is outside the scope of this short review. Needless to say, it's
another one of those semiological gems that, while hard to express, isn't hard
to recognize and experience.
Many of his other essays in the collection are all over the map subject-wise,
but enjoyable and meaty. "Striking at the Heart of the State" looks into
revolutions in the modern world, and the multinational power systems that run
the world. He points out that terrorism cannot succeed in its aim at toppling
these power systems as the population at large is invested in these systems,
and so attacks on the systems ultimately turns these invested populations
against those who would attack it.
It's not all heavy subject matter (as is usually the case with Eco), for
instance the essay "Lumbar Thought," where Eco makes the connection between
blue jeans and extroverted thought. Or "The World Cup and its Pomps," where he
relates the global obsession of soccer with the Roman circuses.
The book shows its age (it's pre-World Wide Web), and there's the
regional references that require some looking into to get the points he tries
to get across. All in all, still worth a read.