Results tagged “Umberto Eco” from kwc blog

Getty Villa

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I'm a fan of the Getty Center in LA and have been looking forward to the opportunity to visit the Getty Villa ever since it reopened in the beginning of 2006 after extensive renovations. The villa was constructed as a semi-recreation of the Villa of the Papyri, so named because many rolls of papyrus were discovered inside. Since its restoration, it houses the antiquities collection for the Getty. Architects for the Getty Villa relied on detailed floorplans drawn by Karl Weber, who excavated the Herculaneum villa in the mid-18th century. Volcanic gases forced the original excavation to be halted, and parts of the original villa remain unexplored.

The Getty Villa recreation is fun because it is a fake recreation: the architects were free to take odd liberties that restorations must avoid. Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic columns are intermixed, a Pompeii fountain recreation sits at the end of one of the villa's axes, travertine connects it to Meier's Getty Center, and other historical anachronisms and locational amalgams are present throughout. The architects even went so far as to add a modern "excavation" theme to the renovation. You're forced to walk up flights of stairs so that you enter the villa site from above. You then descend down stairs surrounded by concrete pressed to look like layers of wood. An archeological-styled ramp allows you to cross artificially added levels of the dig.

On the one hand, the architects went to great lengths to use Weber's floor plans of the buried Roman villa -- they even located atrium designs from other villas to determine whether or not the atrium should be one or two levels -- but then they throw accuracy out of the window to represent architectural cross-sections of history, ancient Roman and modern. Perhaps the cross-section is useful, because the Villa is there to house real artifacts of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman past. It is easy to discern simulcra from relic.

I have visited the actual archeological sites at Ercalono/Herculaneum and Pompeii in 2001, seen the old mosaics and paintings, and walked the layers of excavation. More than those sites, though, I was reminded of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park and Cemetary in Glendale, CA, which has a stained-glass recreation of the Last Supper, a full-size David statue, and many other replicas that I briefly talked about here. I had visited Forest Lawn because Umberto Eco mentioned it in his essay on "hyperreal" museums in Travels in Hyperreality and my frequent visits to Glendale made it an easy stop. I dug out my old notes on Travels in Hyperreality for this post to try and find a Forest Lawn quote that would describe the nature of the Villa. Surprisingly, I found this quote instead:

...We try to think how a Roman patrician lived and what he was thinking when he built himself one of the villas that the Getty Museum reconstructs, in its need to reconstruct at home the grandeur of Greek civilization. The Roman yearned for impossible parthenons; from Hellenistic artists he ordered copies of the great statues of the Periclean age. He was a greedy shark who, after having helped bring down Greece, guaranteed its survival in the form of copies. Between the Roman patrician and the Greece of the fifth century there were, we might say, from five to seven hundred years. Between the Getty Museum and the remade Rome there are, roughly speaking, two thousand. The temporal gap is bridged by archeological knowledge; we can rely on the Getty team, their reconstruction is more faithful to Herculaneum than the Herculaneum reproduction was faithful to the Greek tradition. But the fact is that our journey into the Absolute Fake, begun in the spirit of irony and sophisticated repulsion, is now exposing us to some dramatic questions.

I'll have to thank my past self for anticipating the reopening of the Villa and my eventual journey there.

I took a lot of photos and instead of processing them, I went ahead and posted a full set: Getty Villa Photoset (~200 photos). For those that want a briefer tour, I also put together a set of highlights

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Book: Travels in Hyperreality

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I'm close to done transcribing my notes for Travels in Hyperreality, so I'm going to go ahead and post them now. The book is a collection of older essays by Umberto Eco, spanning a huge range of issues from Casablanca to Italian terrorism to (as the title suggests) American obsession with hyper-real recreations of historical works (note: several of the essays are a good preface to Foucault's Pendulum).

Book: Foucault's Pendulum

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I finished this book a long time ago, and I've been meaning to write this entry for quite awhile. However, just like reading this book, I've taken my time saving up the willpower to write this entry. When I first picked this book up, I couldn't stand the first chapter, and it took a good three or four tries before I finally got enough momentum to vault through the book. Perhaps it's appropriate that I've waited until after I read The Golden Ratio, as both books share the same theme of the ability to hallucinate hidden messages in nearly anything.

I'll save the spoilers for the extended section -- this part of the entry should be safe.

Before this book, I had no idea what a Templar was. Maybe I'm a cretin. I had gone twenty-three years without noticing their presence, watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in complete innocence. Now they're everywhere. Just the other day I was walking through Amoeba Music, and there they were, sitting at the front of the CD rack, Templars. It seems like every book I've picked up since Foucault's Pendulum has a Templar connection: Seville Communion, 1602, The Magdelena, and The Golden Ratio (Rosicrucians). I hear The Da Vinci Code revolves around them, and that friggin' book is at the counter of every bookstore I visit. Kavalier and Clay has Jewish tradition/kabbala, Superman, and World War II Europe in common with the Foucault's Pendulum, so there's got to be a Templar hiding in their somewhere. Argh! This book has turned me into a lunatic.

With that bit of paranoia out of the way, let me say that Foucault's Pendulum is both a great and a terrible book. There are certain passages that are absolutely brilliant, and then there's the crushing weight of the overly ambitious plot. I would compare the structure to a book like Godel Escher Bach, though I use the comparison lightly because I think GEB is an awesome book that I liked thoroughly, whereas I only like Foucault's Pendulum intermittenly. To make the isomorphism:

Achilles, Tortoise <=> Casaubon, Belbo Crab <=> Diotallevi Hofstader's dialogues <=> Conversations between Causaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi.

I don't mean the comparison between Achilles, Tortoise, and Crab and Casaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi directly as personalities, as much I want to point out that, just as Hofstader saves the really clever bits for the dialogues, so, too, does Eco save the clever bits for his dialogues between his three main characters. And just as the chapters inbetween the dialogues in GEB can be fatiguing, so is the rest of the text in Foucault's Pendulum. In the case of GEB, the fatigue comes from the large amounts of intellectual ground Hofstader is covering, which is a good thing, because you're reading the book to learn. In Eco's case, the fatigue comes from overly frequent intellectual references and drawn-out storyarcs that try to unite everything under the Sun, from Templars to Rosicrucians to kabbala to love stories to World War II Italy to book publishing to philosophy to science to math to politics. Whereas Hoftsader succeeds in his attempt to bring math, music, art, and AI together, Eco's connections fail to coalesce.

Case in point, while I was reading this book, meta would ask me how it was going, and each time I would say, "oh, it looks like the plot is starting now, so I think the story's about to pick up." I said this at page 100, page 200, page 300... Just when you think that Eco's put his dominoes into place, he starts a new line that tries to extend the puzzle further, and eventually you feel that Eco is losing sight of the overall picture. This book takes soooo long to get going... (spoiler cut)

Cretins, Fools, Morons, and Lunatics

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I just finished Foucault's Pendulum, and this entry on Making Light reminded me of lunatics/Diabolicals/The Plan:
- Making Light: Dinosaurs of Eden