Young Eco's library: mass culture and interpretive freedom in the Fascist period
This thesis carries out an in-depth study of Umberto Eco’s novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004) and highlights its contribution to two fundamental yet inadequately explored aspects of Eco’s oeuvre: its links with the research field of Cultural Studies, and the role of subjectivity and individuality within his semiotic theory of the encyclopedia. To this end, this thesis begins by studying Eco’s semiotic theory and identifies the gaps that The Mysterious Flame contributes to filling. Subsequently, it focuses on how Eco used his semiotic theory to analyse mass culture. Eco’s studies on mass culture will be read against the work of Antonio Gramsci, widely considered the forerunner of Cultural Studies, and research carried out by the scholars of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall above all. On these grounds, the second and third chapters of this thesis focus on The Mysterious Flame. The second chapter interrogates The Mysterious Flame’s representation of the late fascist period in Italy, one that Eco experienced first-hand in his childhood but never studied comprehensively. As this thesis demonstrates, Eco’s novel makes an original contribution to the ongoing debate on fascism, especially regarding the impact that the dictatorship and the war had on Italian public memory, and thus on Italian national identity. After considering the complex links between theory and narrative in Eco’s work, the third chapter emphasises how The Mysterious Flame translates into the realm of narrative the crucial and unresolved question of subjectivity in Eco’s semiotic theory, as well as the consequent problem of the relationship between individual and cultural memory.