Making truth laugh : an investigation of Umberto Eco's comic worlds : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at Massey University

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
This thesis discusses Umberto Eco's use of comedy in his three postmodern novels, The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, and The Island of the Day Before. It argues that while Eco draws on the tradition of learned wit to create works rich in comedy, his argument is lost because of the erudition of his literary game playing. Eco uses a variety of comic techniques, especially irony, to attack the subjects which annoy him, such as librarians, academia, Roman Catholicism, and publishers. He sincerely believes that humour will enable readers to see the faults in society and, more importantly to him, to then change the world. Unfortunately for Eco, his irony is misread. Eventually this misreading shapes Eco's own writing, as the third book shows. This in itself is deeply ironic, as Eco has strong views on reader response criticism, which the response to his work proves to be flawed. The first chapter is a general survey of comic techniques. It draws on Eco's writing about comedy, building a picture of his comic techniques and explains the response Eco expects to his comic writing. The tradition of learned wit and postmodern writing are also discussed, and the links between them are spelled out. Given the importance of game playing in both learned wit and postmodern fiction, game theory is explored. Eco's history of playing intellectual practical jokes is discussed as intellectual game playing is part of his comic repertoire. The remaining chapters cover each novel separately, discussing and accessing the comic devices Eco uses in each work. Attention is paid to the literary sources of Eco's comedy. The main source is Jorge Carlos Borges, who appears as a major character in The Name of the Rose. James Joyce and Cervantes are also important sources.
Eco, Umberto, Criticism and interpretation, Irony in literature, Comedy, Nom della rosa, Pendolo di Faoucault, Isola del gioro prima