Umberto Eco in June (or the mystery of improbable theses)

Illustrations by Javier Montesol

I recently had the opportunity to close the delivery of the Tiflos Journalism Awards granted by ONCE to works that highlight and give visibility to certain social causes, fundamentally linked to the field of disability. So far, nothing exceptional, except, of course, for the remarkable commitment and effort of all the award-winning journalists. I confess that I arrived slightly late, much to my regret, or perhaps, very much to my thinking. Because it was entering the hall of the Faculty of Information Sciences of the Complutense University of Madrid, where the event was being held, and beginning to wander through the corridors, classrooms and even through the cafeteria of that portentous setting entrusted to one of the best cinematographic fictions of the last twenty-five years such as "Thesis" by Amenábar. I freely think that Amenábar has been and is a hostage to his first work, impressive, as was Bajo Ulloa at another time. In that Faculty, Ángela, or vice versa, Ana Torrent, years after abandoning the spirit of the hive, prepares a thesis on "snuff movies", with the help of Professor Castro, her project director, who is murdered while looking for material. for doctoral work. And between smoke and straw dogs my imagination wandered, when I realized that the majority of students at the Faculty were not aware of the importance that this film had and has in the new Spanish cinema, although there was no group or assembly in the classrooms that did not talk about anything other than the mysterious caso of the impossible theses, a species that had spread among some Spanish politicians seasoning autobiographies and self-presentations. In a rush, I instantly remembered a work written by Umberto Eco in 1977 under the original title “Come si fa una tesi di laurea”.

Begin by noting that the word "thesis", although it comes terminally from Latin, is originally from Greek, as the presence of the digraph "th" reveals. In the transliteration of this term, remember that the original root word of the term is "tithemi", an ethymus that means "I put". Therefore, only someone who is in a position to dispose and intellectually expose any reasoning that aims to establish a position on an idea, whether objective or subjective, can put it. The sameness of the speaker of the thesis, the non-transferable condition of him as a thinking subject, places us in an intrinsically subjective and unique exercise of intellectual production. There is no shortage of theses inspired by metathesis (transposition), epenthesis (superposition) or parenthesis (juxtaposition), although the only thing that should not be missing is diathesis (predisposition). And the measure of each thesis depends on the merit and capacity of the student, which, in the good understanding of Umberto Eco, is variable: “Then come “The Others”. Students who perhaps work and spend the day in the census office of a town of ten thousand inhabitants where there are only stationery stores. Students who, disillusioned with the university, have chosen political activity and pursue another type of training, but who sooner or later will have to fulfill the thesis commitment”. On reading this paragraph, one observes that Umberto Eco flies over with spontaneity, ingenuity, and even with delicate irony, the apparently toneless world of thesis writing techniques, perhaps because four decades ago, in a vividly humanist environment, no It was only possible to put laughter before discouragement, grace before misfortune, thesis before the antithesis. As then, he now also compensates for sarcasm and humor, under the guise of resisting the symphony of tricksters and tricksters. The grotesque is usually the measure of the sublime. And, by coincidences of fate, "The Others", those who behave like gentlemen of fortune in a thesis, could well be characters from Amenábar's work that bears the same title. Avatars of the dead 

The alchemy of the thesis. Umberto Eco refers to this concept when he comes to suggest that reading his essay can be useful and practical for at least two reasons: “You can write a worthy thesis even when you are in a difficult situation, caused by recent or remote discrimination; and the occasion of the thesis can be used (even if the rest of the university period has been disappointing or frustrating) to recover the positive and progressive meaning of the study, not understood as a harvest of notions, but as a critical elaboration of an experience, as an acquisition of knowledge. a capacity (good for the future life) to locate problems, to deal with them methodically, to expose them following certain communication techniques”. Man can be besieged by his own temporary or cognitive limitations, and sometimes he is usually prey to past or present conflicts that limit his ability to express himself. Deploying all the creative talent, capturing the time and ingenuity for the construction of a text, depends without a doubt on the context. For this reason, if a student or researcher lacks the necessary and prudent time to undertake this task, no matter how frustrating it may be, there is no room for shortcuts or entropy, but rather a firm decision not to carry it out. More frustrating is the lie or mystification, which at risk remains that it is a shame that the penitent drags forever. Because Umberto Eco used to say that a thesis is like a pig, everything in it has benefits. Convince yourself, then, that it is better to become a vegetarian if there are no possibilities of accessing meat, more out of obligation than conviction. 

Not in vain have I met autobiography makers who put all their ingenuity in the elaboration of the story of their lives, because they have built a story life. There are those who place non-existent titles on their CVs, but there are also those who deny existing titles on their CVs, lest it be discovered that the son of workers paid hefty fees in elite schools, some with Escurian crest. And there are the children of a good family who, humiliated blood and lineage, by leaving the University, and who when they gave themselves to politics had to irrigate their profile with inventiveness. The life of a politician sometimes begins with his biography, but they seldom know that that very biography can end with him. It is the end of the impunity of the imposture. I remember how ten years ago, in the heat of a new general election in Spain, he had been summoned to have coffee with a deputy in the Cortes, at the very moment he was remaking his resume. The deputy had been born in the neighboring province to which he had electorally corresponded at that time, due to the imperative of his party that was trying to find a place for the political illustrious. And I attended with the perplexity of a toddler a process of assembling and disassembling the biography that put my emotional integrity to the test. I came to think that when I entered that office there was one person and that when I left there was another. Neither Kafka nor Frisch. Circumspect in his constituency. Everything happened in a more traditional way in the Carrera de San Jerónimo. 

Nothing is big and nothing is small, even less in a world like today where there is hardly any perspective, measurement and in which the lens of reality gives us back broken crystals of understanding. Perhaps for this reason, in politics, but also in the field of law, what seems meager or inconsequential cannot be trivialized and given relative meaning, because the scope of importance or lightness hardly depends on a collective judgment. sensible. It was Ramón y Cajal, in another essay in the form of a reception speech read in 1897 at the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, who pointed it out with Aragonese precision: "Our appreciation of the important and the accessory, of the great and of the small, it settles in a false judgment, in a true anthropomorphic error. In Nature there is neither superior nor inferior nor accessory and principal things. These hierarchies, which our spirit is pleased to assign to natural phenomena, come from the fact that, instead of considering things in themselves and their internal linkage, we look at them only in relation to the utility or pleasure they can provide us. In the chain of life, all the links are equally valuable, because they are all equally necessary. We judge small what we see from afar or we don't know how to see”. 

Says Umberto Eco, “write everything that comes to your mind but only during the first writing”. Although the recommendation is expressed in the context of writing a thesis, it could be useful for an incontinent politician writing his resume, since he would do well to correct mistakes and errors in subsequent writing. The product of the first effort, in literature and journalism, is usually called a "monster", and it is the result of expressing without polish or varnish what is abruptly thought. It is a way of breaking the “horror vacui” of the blank sheet and it seems that the compositions of Argentine tango lyricists carry this denomination, who, as many of them did not know how to read sheet music, suddenly wrote a letter without a beat contained the exact number of syllables corresponding to a given melody. Along with the "monsters", rough and unpolished growths, which give free rein to unexpected thought, are the "dwarfs". For Umberto Eco, dwarfs must stand on the shoulders of giants, and if a dwarf is intelligent, it is best to jump on those shoulders or even on another dwarf. 

With regard to dwarves, which is used purely as a symbol in this text, in one of the scenes of Amenábar's "Thesis", Fele Martínez and Ana Torrent, wrapped in panic, walk through darkened corridors with only a few matches to light up, defeating terror or convincing their own fears. The protagonist drives away fear, between fire and fire, narrating the story "The Princess and the Dwarf" by Oscar Wilde. Originally, the story was called "The Infanta's Birthday" and it talks about Margarita Teresa of Austria, the most Menina of all the Meninas in Velázquez's painting. Since the real time of the scene is not available, a synthesis is possible, by thesis, to put the work in context. On the Infanta's twelfth birthday, a deformed and ugly dwarf performs, producing in the princess a hilarious laugh caused by the monstrosity of the dancer and the ridiculousness of the moment. Instead, the dwarf interprets the laughter as a sign of falling in love, especially when the infanta later requests that the dwarf dance for her again, but without the presence of any witnesses. When the dwarf radiant with love rushes to his appointment with the infanta in the palace, he discovers his own deformity in the reflection of a mirror and suddenly realizes that the princess's interest has nothing to do with love but with the frivolous fun. The dwarf falls dead, upon the discovery of his own deformity. When the princess discovers the lifeless body of the dwarf, dead of unrequited love and shame, she instructs that no one enter the palace with a heart again. 

The story is an example of nihilistic fiction. The Infanta resides in hedonism, in artificiality, in the most obscene narcissism. It is a claustrophobic narcissism that induces morbidity, that senses death. This mirroring relationship, based on a pathological passion of the Infanta for her environment, is an unprotected self-absorption, an isolation that advances and later confirms spiritual death. Like Narcissus, the princess is trapped in her own image. When the queen laughs it is because she does not understand the other, it is the denial of external alterity. It has never descended towards the confines of self-discovery and has never opened itself to knowing the same external reality. The Infanta expresses the common behavior of many politicians. They deny external knowledge, because they wander in their own inbreeding. Therefore, they lack remorse or scruples in their inner journey, because the outer does not concern them. And when they resolve to leave, they understand that there is another reality, the other, hardly understandable, which they subject to savage scrutiny, as if it were part of another species. Therefore, some reactions should not be surprised, in which reality itself can be denied, because reality is only the one presented by the infanta or the politician in his palace. There is no other knowable reality. All this would give for a thesis. A thesis, after all.

Illustrations by Javier Montesol

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Umberto Eco in June (or the mystery of improbable theses)

About the Author

Mario Garces Sanagustin

Mario Garces Sanagustin

Auditor and Auditor of the State. State Treasury Inspector. Member of the Academic Council of Fide.

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