* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana IV -- chapter 3: FLOWERS and MORE FOG

from Benali's edition of Dante's Commedia
So often, chapter titles lend a childish, or, well, a less than sophisticated, sense to a book, not that there's anything wrong with that.  Many of my favorite books, YA or children's, rank right up there with my all-time favorites.  Of "grown-up" books, however, I can only think of a few that manage to use chapter titles especially well: Tortilla Flat, Ender's Game, and, of course, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.  In my impatience and eagerness to get to the meat of the next chapter, I often forget to look at the chapter number or, if it's there, the title.  We are now on chapter 3 of Mysterious Flame and only now have I finally looked up at the chapter title.  I flipped back over the first two, and they're great!

  1. What is your impression of Yambo's opinion of himself, especially now that he's seen evidence of his past as a businessman and with (though perhaps he's only invented it, as Gratarolo suggests) Sibilla?
  2. (I will generally leave issues of Italian grammar aside, like, for instance, the differences between tu and lei and their correlates in French, unless you'd like me to load up each post with bits of Italian minutiae; otherwise, if you have a question about anything like this, please ask.)
  3. This chapter makes me really wish I could afford ancient treasure tomes like these!  I am guilty of buying books just because they're pretty, because they feel nice.  I love a library for its smell.  Would I say no to a Nook were it offered me?  Of course not!  But pages and ink and sweat and love packed between stretched, gilt leather covers....  But that's just me.  Is it such a business of passion for Yambo?
  4. "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."  As Yambo has forgotten his past and lost the experiences of love with it, from where will new love build or grow or spring [insert your poetry here]?  In a child, love begins as dependence and trust, and therefore is extended--and only ever around the girth of its own selfishness--to parents, guardians, caregivers.
  5. "Are there drugs for remembering?" // "Maybe Sibilla..."  What is the emotion he's experiencing toward this girl?
  6. So here's the line that provides the chapter's title: "And someone will pluck your flower, mouth of the wellspring, someone who won't even know, a fisher of spongers with take this rare pearl."  The context, of course, provides its own interpretation of jealousy and lust, but there's another use of plucking flowers, or deflowering, which also applies to the source of Yambo's fear--and mixed sense of conquest--for his maybe-relationship with Sibilla.  Also, often, a wellspring is a ready source of ample fog when conditions are right.
  7. Issue of translation and plurals: Umberto Eco carefully supervises the translation of each of his works.  He most certainly was aware of the translator's pluralization of palazzo to palazzos, though the "correct" carry-over pluralization would be palazzi.
  8. At the time the Lira went out for the Euro, 1000 lira was worth about 65 cents (very approximately) --just to give you an idea.
  9. Another brilliant analogy: Yambo compares his loss of past to the loss of the third dimension, leaving everything flat--without depth.
  10. Eco ascribes certain fog quotations to certain characters as their favorites.  Is this meant to indicate character traits or the like, or was the determination arbitrary?
  11. Ah, that last sentence!
Finally, what do you think of the nickname, Yambo?  I don't have an Italian copy of Mysterious Flame, so I don't know if the original uses the Y or the more appropriate Ia (Italian generally skips y/upsilon), like J, K, X, and W (except for carryovers from English or French or whatever else), which are phonetically useless.  It doesn't make much sense to examine it in English, which shows itself mildly as "I am," and all it's Old Testament weight, though I can't totally disregard it.  As it is, "Io," is Italian's first-person singular pronoun.  Closer to its spelling, however, is the Italian of the poetry term, "iamb," "giambo" in Italian ("iambo," "iambe," and "jambo" in others of the Romance languages), which, in English, is a trochee, but in Italian, as "giambo" is actually three syllables, contains in its first two an iamb.  I don't know.  Names are usually important, but I can't find anything more than this.  Thoughts?


  1. Chapter titles: I always go to these political theory talks at AU, and the department had a professor from MSU come in and talk about "Uncle Tom's Cabin". The first chapter is called something like, "In which the reader is introduced to a man of humanity". And it sets up the whole book because the man is Uncle Tom, but he's actually only mentioned indirectly in the chapter through a conversation between Uncle Tom's first master Mr. Shelby and a slave trader named Haley. So the chapter title forces you to think of who the character to whom it refers is and consequentially what it means to be humane. Great stuff.

    1. It's like he knows that he wasn't happy, even if he can't remember why, and he thinks that maybe this woman could be A)the cause of some of it, but also B)the potential cure.
    2. Tú and Usted in Spanish and du and Sie in German. I wonder how many languages either don't have a formal/informal you distinction or have dropped it like ours.
    3. Oh I agree. But I can't afford a book that's hundreds of years old, and they also don't make them that way anymore. I love the edition of "The Mysterious Flame" that I got in the mail today, but is it going to last 300 years or look super classy on a bookshelf? Probably not.
    4. That's an interesting point. Paola is really more of a parental type of love than a wife to him at this point. I was also wondering about the morality of this. If he's basically a new person, is it really a sin if he never falls in love with his wife and wants to love someone else? I mean, I would probably say yes still, but you at least have to feel a little bad for him, I think. Rochester again?
    5. I think that it's what I said earlier about her potentially being the cure.
    6. Good catch.
    7. Another good catch.
    8. So they actually got these really cheap then. I guess I failed to understand HOW cheap.
    10. Arg, I'd have to look.

    I was wondering about this, too. Yambo just does not seem very Italian. I looked up the Italian Wikipedia page, though, and it gives his nickname as Yambo, too. Couple of things: 1. The world's just becoming more and more multilingual (everywhere except here--well actually even here with Spanish, I suppose). 2. We know that he and his friends all speak like 5 languages, so I'm sure that it worked.

  2. Nickname first: in the next chapter, however, we learn, vaguely, that he gave himself the nickname when he was a boy.

  3. I'll have to do the rest tomorrow, but one ancillary note: I mentioned in the opener "Tortilla Flat" for its great titles (very like what you said about "Uncle Tom's Cabin"), and I totally forgot that "Tortilla Flat," among other things, has my all time favorite, of all books, fog scene, when they're out in the forest looking for treasure and avoiding ghosts. I wonder what Eco thinks of Steinbeck--VERY different from Joyce and Borges.

  4. Yeah, that would be interesting. I'd like to think that he could respect maybe even enjoy him even though the style may not be his cup of tea, but who knows?

  5. 1 – I agree. What interests me now is the possibility of an amnesiac inventing his past. People without amnesia (though I believe that all of us, due to inadequate memories of varied capacity, are a little bit amnesiac) do this quite frequently as it is; the difference is the true amnesiac may not know the difference. Maybe something feels right—ignites, even briefly, that mysterious flame—and he believes it links to a true memory, but, obviously, he has no way of knowing if it really does or not. Truly he’s been erased. Imagine if he didn’t have friends and contacts who could verify the truth for him? But what of private moments or moments like those—if they exist—with Sibilla, whom he will never ask and who will never say anything voluntarily.
    2 – I am often sad that English has dropped it. Of course, there’s a certain level of social stress that comes, at least in Italy, about when and when not to use it. Generally, though, I’m in favor of any additional depth of language.
    3 – Again, when I was in Italy (I expect you’ll tire of hearing that), in Padova (Padua) specifically, I regularly passed a book binding shop. A little family owned place with dusty windows and mountains of paper and hides stacked everywhere around enormous, wooden tables that looked like they’d been built from the walls of wooden war ships. I couldn’t afford anything there, but I so wanted to take a few books of mine and have them rebound there, for there they did true leather binding and gold embossing and folio and quarto folding in the old styles. Beautiful, beautiful products….
    4 – Despite what happens in the next chapter, I would be surprised if, without his past returned intact, he’d ever be able to romantically love her again. Emotionally, he’s a child; however, maybe a natural altruism has remained? As far as sin is concerned, I don’t know. I’m glad I’m not God and don’t have to judge.
    5 – Agreed.

  6. 2. Hmm... I don't know. In a way, it's fitting that the language of Britain and the US, two countries that democratized faster than the others dropped the distinction. OTOH, I'm drawn to things that are old and also things that, as you said, add depth. So it's the egalitarian part of me versus the elitist part of me.
    3. That's really awesome.


Be sure to subscribe to the thread to receive discussion updates.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...