The Prague Cemetery Chapter 1
Place Maubert as it appeared in 1899, in a photo by the famous photographer of Paris, Eugène Atget:
as it looked in 1913:
"if he were to turn… would have found… was…"
Eco's uses of tenses (?) is dizzying in the novel's first two pages paragraph. "If he were to turn… what was later… but was still then… but up to 1965 had been called… and years earlier had housed…" Eco discusses a similar use of tenses at length in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, in his dissection of the short story Sylvie by Gerard de Nerval: "All these shifts from imperfect to present or past perfect, or from the past perfect continuous to the present and vice versa, are certainly unexpected and frequently imperceptible, but never unmotivated." (Six Walks, 43)
Eco loves lists. He wrote an entire book on them, 2009's An Infinity of Lists, curated an exhibit at the Louvre on lists, and included a comprehensive essay on his theory of lists in Confessions of a Young Novelist (where he mentions "lists that become chaotic through an excess of ire, hatred, and rancor," many of which examples are to be found in Prague Cemetery).
- Eco: "The list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order -- not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries." more
stuff in the list
Eco's list contains, obviously, artifacts and detritus of the 19th century. Being mindful of over-intepretation, it's possible that they also hint at:
- - pendulum: obviously invokes Eco's Foucault's Pendulum
- - "butterflies under crazed glass" - invokes Nabokov, who will be referenced later in the book. See Eco and Nabokov
- - "mediocre watercolors of flowers" - given the subject matter of the book, possibly a reference to Hitler, who spent his youth as an artists and whose works are universally dubbed "mediocre." Hitler painted many watercolors of flowers, seen here.
- - Muses of History and Comedy: Eco, "Until the age of fifty and throughout all my youth, I dreamed of writing a book on the theory of comedy. Why? Because every book on the subject has been unsuccessful, at least all the ones I’ve been able to read. Every theoretician of comedy, from Freud to Bergson, explains some aspect of the phenomenon, but not all. This phenomenon is so complex that no theory is, or has been thus far, able to explain it completely. So I thought to myself that I would want to write the real theory of comedy. But then the task proved desperately difficult. If I knew exactly why it was so difficult, I would have the answer and I would be able to write the book." source