Numero Zero
Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

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Numero Zero

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Numero Zero

translated from the Italian by
Richard Dixon

Copyright © 2014 by RCS Libri S.p.A.
English translation copyright © 2015 by Richard Dixon


Saturday, June 6, 1992, 8 a.m.
Right from my first year at university I’d taken to translating books from German to pay for my studies. Just knowing German was a profession at the time. You could read and translate books that others didn’t understand (books regarded as important then), and you were paid better than translators from French and even from English. [...] In any event, either you translate or you graduate; you can’t do both. Translation means staying at home, in the warmth or the cold, working in your slippers and learning tons of things in the process. So why go to university lectures?



Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.




Monday, April 6, 1992

“Running a newspaper doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to write. The minister of defense doesn’t necessarily know how to lob a hand grenade.”

“Does he have that kind of money?”

“Don’t be naïve. We’re talking about finance, not business. First buy, then wait and see where the money to pay for it comes from.”


Friday, April 10

‘So, Colonna, please demonstrate to our friends how it’s possible to respect, or appear to respect, one fundamental principle of democratic journalism, which is separating fact from opinion. A great many opinions will be expressed in Domani, and they’ll be clearly identified as such, but how do we show that elsewhere articles give only facts?”

‘Simple,” I said. “Take the major British or American newspapers. If they report, say, a fire or a car accident, then obviously they can’t indulge in saying what they think. And so they introduce into the piece, in quotation marks, the statements of a witness, a man in the street, someone who represents public opinion. Those statements, once put in quotes, become facts — in other words, it’s a fact that that person expressed that opinion. But it might be assumed that the journalist has only quoted someone who thinks like him. So there will be two conflicting statements to show, as a fact, that there are varying opinions on a particular issue, and the newspaper is taking account of this irrefutable fact. The trick lies in quoting first a trivial opinion and then another opinion that is more respectable, and more closely reflects the journalist’s view. In this way, readers are under the impression that they are being informed about two facts, but they’re persuaded to accept just one view as being more convincing.”



“Insinuation doesn’t involve saying anything in particular, it just serves to raise a doubt about the person making the denial. [...] The most effective insinuation is the one that gives facts that are valueless in themselves, yet cannot be denied because they are true.”

Wednesday, April 15, Evening

She was a blend of cheer and melancholy and was watching me with the eyes (how would a bad writer put it?) of a fawn.

Of a fawn? Ah, well . . . it’s just that, as we were walking, she looked up at me because I was taller than she was. And that was it. Any woman who looks at you from below looks like Bambi.



I love you even if you’re stupid, she’d told me — things like that can drive you mad with love. But then perhaps she realized I was more stupid than she could handle, and it ended.




Friday, April 24

“This insistence on professionalism, that it’s something special, makes it sound as if people are generally lousy writers.”

“That’s the point,” I said. “Readers think that people generally are lousy workers, which is why we need examples of professionalism — it’s a more technical way of saying that everything’s gone well. The police have caught the chicken thief — and they’ve acted with professionalism.”

“But it’s like calling John XXIII the Good Pope. This presupposes the popes before him were bad.”

“Maybe that’s what people actually thought, otherwise he wouldn’t have been called good. [...]

“But it was the newspapers that called John XXIII the Good Pope, and the people followed suit.”

“That’s right. Newspapers teach people how to think,” Simei said.

“But do newspapers follow trends or create them?”

“They do both, Signorina Fresia. People don’t know what the trends are, so we tell them, then they know. But let’s not get too involved in philosophy — we’re professionals.”




Friday, May 8
“These days, you know, to answer an accusation you don’t have to prove it’s wrong, all you have to do is undermine the authority of the accuser.”

Saturday, June 6
“We’re not a newsletter for the atheistic and rationalist crowd. People want miracles, not trendy skepticism. Writing about a miracle doesn’t mean compromising ourselves by saying the newspaper believes it. We recount what’s happened, or say that someone has witnessed it. [...] Readers must draw their own conclusions, and if they’re believers, they’ll believe it.”




Thursday, June 11

“Darling, we’ll look for a country with no secrets and where everything is done in the open. In Central and South America you’ll find plenty. Nothing’s hidden, you know who belongs to which drug cartel, who runs the bands of revolutionaries. [...] They are countries that hold no mysteries, everything is done in the open, the police demand to be bribed as a matter of right, the government and the underworld coexist by constitutional decree, the banks make their living through money laundering, and you’ll be in trouble if you don’t have other money of doubtful provenance, they’ll cancel your residency permit. And they kill, but only each other, they leave tourists in peace.”

text checked (see note) August 2022

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