Why is explaining your work, or guiding your audience such a faux pas to Umberto Eco (postmodern philosopher)?



I've just finished reading "The name of the rose" by Umberto Eco, a postmodern philosopher. At the end of the book he explains that according to him, titles should not be clear. Which is why he chose "The name of the rose", because the word rose has so much meanings, that it loses any specific meaning.

According to Eco titles should not explain the book. I believe he says this would influence the reader too much. Also, he argues against authors explaining their work. He says that ideally, the author would die after writing a book, so as not to influence any potential readers.

I've frequently encountered a similar sentiment amongst other postmodern philosophers, and I don't really understand where their aversion to explanation, or clarity (as in: an obvious singular meaning) comes from. Why is explaining your work, or guiding your audience a faux pas in postmodernism?


Posted 2013-11-15T15:14:38.477


There's nothing special about post-modernism here. It's a general esthetic judgment. It just seems simple-minded, giving the reader everything on a platter, if the title explains what the author wants you take away from the work. "Pride and Prejudice", sure there's a lot more to it than that, but you've kind of given away everything. But "Vanity Fair", sure there's a quote saying what that means and its relevance, but that's not the main thing you take away from it. Frankly, "The Name of the Rose" I thought was pretty transparent, a rose is a rose is a rose, etc. – Mitch – 2018-08-08T16:32:32.330

1Clarity and authorial intent - aren't these two different issues? – DBK – 2013-11-15T22:43:56.400

Because you should WORK yourself on the meaning of words. This is (to some extent) the point of life. Rereading some books later in life may uncover the hidden meaning. PLUS and probably more important is the fact that author himself may not know of the hidden meaning in he's book. So he does NOT truly know how his work will really affect the universe. You can only learn if you FIND it yourself not if you take it presented to you on a gold plate. GOOD book is a guide not an answer. – Asphir Dom – 2013-11-15T23:19:42.763



With all the usual disclaimers about postmodernism in place (i.e. not being a single approach, including a variety of contrasting ideas, etc.)…

The "culprit" here is the wide reception of French literary critic Roland Barthes and his essay The Death of the Author from 1967.

Taking cue from similar ideas by earlier writers, the essay questions the role that authorial intent can play in the interpretation of texts.

Barthes' argues for his proposition in a variety of ways:

  1. Skeptical argument: how can we find out precisely what the writer intended anyway?
  2. Attributing intent is interpretation: The attribution of a specific intent to an author is itself an act of interpretation. (Referring to the author is just a spoof to give more authority to one interpretation over another.)
  3. Downplaying the role of author's individual experience: an author's text is a mouthpiece of centuries of culture preceding him.
  4. A principled reversal of the relation between language and speaker: it is not the speaker who expresses herself through language, but language that expresses itself through the speaker.1

The salient point is that in traditional literary criticism an appeal to the author's intent or experience gives a constraint on possible interpretations and a yardstick to distinguish good and bad interpretations. With the exclusion of the author, this constrains ceases to exist. Now, an attack on the author's role in the interpretation does not necessarily lead to an unconstrained understanding of interpretation. But Barthes' consciously doesn't want to replace the author's authority with some other form of authority and opens up the interpretation game.

The multiplicity of meanings has therefore two sources: the many layers of meaning coming from "tradition"; and the plurality of readers (and their understandings) a text is exposed to. Different strains within postmodernism expound on one or the other (or both).

Further readings:

1 Particularly this last point had a huge impact in the development of postmodernism by the way of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction.


Posted 2013-11-15T15:14:38.477

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Because in postmodernism, since Truth has been abrogated, all that you have left are battles of power in order to have relevancy.

In the case of your examples, however, it is simple elitism and misplaced sense of loyalty.


Posted 2013-11-15T15:14:38.477

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