In an exclusive interview with the Anadolu Agency made in April when he visited Istanbul, acclaimed Italian philosopher, semiotician and author Umberto Eco gives 'not-so-cliche' answers to a number of 'cliche questions' by AA:
Q: If you had power, what would be three things you would change?
A: To abolish interviews! Well, others are so trivial that to have the peace in the world which does not concern me so much because I have still little time to live but it is for my grand children and so forth... I don't have a third thing to change, more or less the world bad or good can go on like that.
Q: If you were to get stranded on an island, what would be the three items you would take with you?
A: Ah, three things. Because they usually ask what kind of book. My answer is the phonebook. So many names that I can invent a lot of new stories. Once I have the phonebook, let's say maybe one of my block flute records because alone on an island you need something to do. I can't take my computer because there is no electrical power. So a block flute recording (whistles a tune) I can make Bach. The third, a swimming suit to swim. For breaking the coconuts I think I can find some stone on the island. Provided that I have my eyeglasses. If not, I need my eyeglasses.
Q: Is there a book you read again and again throughout your life?
A: Many. The phonebook first of all. There is a book that I read since my youth. I made classes in the university in Italy, America and France. And, finally I translated it into Italian. "Sylvie" of Gerard de Nerval. Well-known in this city. A short story that I have always considered marvellous. Every time I re-read it I discovered something new. Even when I read it for last time in order to translate it I found secret rhythms that were inside, that escaped me before. So that I finished translating it 8 or 9 years ago I feel very sad because I don't know what to do with that.
Q: Is there a movie you watch again and again throughout your life?
A: "Stage Coach" by John Ford. 1939. It is the quintessence of movies. If I have to save a movie for another planet in order to teach martians what film is, I would bring it. Two weeks ago I had my grandchild in my country house, he is twelve years old, new generations, they are unable to watch old movies because the rhythm is too slow for them, but I practically obliged him to watch it and he said at the end "It was worthwhile." All the movie techniques, all the movie ideas are there. 1939. After that, practically it was useless to do other movies.
Q: If you were to come to world again, what profession would you choose?
A: A piano bar player. These people that work after midnight with a cigarette in mouth and a whisky. They play piano in a night club, in a hotel. With possibly face of Humphrey Bogart.
Q: What is one thing that you wonder the most about?
A: Being a philosopher by profession I am always concerned with questions that have not yet an answer. So I could speak for hours and hours. The most terrible is: Do you exist really? Or you are a pigment of my sick imagination?
Q: Do you believe in the afterlife?
A: After me there will be a lot of lives around. I have not a good answer because I have not yet been there. But when I go I'll keep you informed.
Q: What was the most basic advice you have given to your children?
A: I think that a father or also a mother, gives the real basic advice in the moment they do not realise it. In the moment you are not thinking you are teaching something to your son or daughter. In that moment probably you give them the most important advice and information.
Q: If you were given chance to meet some historical figure, who would you choose?
A: I never tried to meet with persons that I admired very much. I refuse to meet them, not to disturb or destroy my image. So I am not interested in meeting them. They will not tell me something more than that they already have in their books or in their paintings or in their compositions. So I don't know any reason to meet Bach, it is enough what he left to me. Otherwise, it would be mere pop cult.
Q: What's your favourite place in Istanbul?
A: Practically [...] from lacernas to the Asian coast [...] I went every where. What impressed me most, I don't know, but since I wrote then many things in my novel Baudolino about Constantinople, probably the element that struck my imagination were the cisterns. But I like subterranean always. That might be the memory of the womb of my mother.