Saturday, January 1, 1994

Q&A Umberto Eco: Cults

Originally appeared in The Boston Book Review, 1994.

They landed then at a sixth island, still farther to the west, where all the natives talked among themselves incessantly, one telling another what he would like the other to be and do and vice versa. Those islanders, in fact, could live only if they were narrated; if a transgressor told unpleasant stories . . . the others would cease telling anything about him, and he would die.
     Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

HB: I’ve read an interview with you in which you denounce interviewing.

UE: My theory is that the interview has taken the place of the review. Newspapers are so full of interviews that once they have interviewed the author they forget to review the book. In a review you trust that a person will give you an opinion about a book; in an interview the author is usually advertising himself. The interview is unfair for the reader. And the author is at his best in the book, losing years and years to it. In the interview, he gives his worst, so you also get the worst of the author.

In the present state of Italian press, the interview has become a way to fill up the newspaper. In Italy, every writer and scholar can be disturbed during the day — I don’t answer my phone — “Ingrid Bergman is dead. What is your opinion?” What opinion can you have about it? You say, obviously, I’m sad, a great actress. “There was a flood in your native city. What is your opinion?”

HB: You’re against it?

UE: Obviously. And today Italian politics is made up of fake interviews in which they ask somebody something, then change it slightly or isolate a sentence in order to get a response from other politicians. It’s a sort political discussion made up of mutual misunderstandings.

HB: Of course, as a journalist, you regularly interview yourself for your own opinions.

UE: That’s true. It was understood from the beginning that my column would not have to be bound to events. If I had read Homer the night before, I would be free to write about Homer.