Share

cover art for History of Ideas 11: Umberto Eco

Past Present Future

History of Ideas 11: Umberto Eco

Episode 11 in our series on the great essays explores Umberto Eco’s ‘Thoughts on Wikileaks’ (2010). Eco writes about what makes a true scandal, what are real secrets, and what it would mean to expose the hidden workings of power. It is an essay that connects digital technology, medieval mystery and Dan Brown. Plus David talks about the hidden meaning of Julian Assange.


More from the LRB:

Andrew O’Hagan on Julian Assange

‘I’d never been with a person who had such a good cause and such a poor ear.’

Frank Kermode on the Name of the Rose

‘This novel has so much in it that differs from any known kind of detective story that we must look to Eco’s pre-semiotic career for help.’

Jenny Diski on Eco and ugliness

‘The breadth of Eco’s search spreads out to include disgust, horror, fear, obscenity, misogyny, perversity, bigotry, social exclusiveness, repression, inexplicability, evil, deformation, degradation, heterogeneity.’

More episodes

View all episodes

  • 69. The Great Political Fictions: Middlemarch (part 1)

    52:03
    Our series on the great political novels and plays resumes with George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872), which has so much going on that it needs two episodes to unpack it. In this episode David discusses the significance of the book being set in 1829-32 and the reasons why Nietzsche was so wrong to characterise it as a moralistic tale. Plus he explains why a book about personal relationships is also a deeply political novel.To get two bonus episodes from our recent Bad Ideas series – on Email and VAR – sign up now to PPF+ and enjoy ad-free listening as well www.ppfideas.comNext time: Middlemarch (part 2) on marriage, hypocrisy, guilt and redemption.Coming soon on the Great Political Fictions: Phineas Redux, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Time Machine, Mother Courage and her Children, and much more.
  • 68. The History of Bad Ideas: Mesmerism

    53:22
    For our last episode in this series David is joined by Helen Lewis to discuss Mesmerism – aka animal magnetism – an eighteenth-century method of hypnosis for which great medical benefits were claimed. Was its originator, Franz Mesmer, a charlatan or a healer? Was his movement science or religion or something in between? And what can it tell us about twenty-first century phenomena from online social contagion to hypnotherapy? To get two bonus Bad Ideas episodes – on Email and VAR – sign up now to PPF+, where you will also get all our past and future bonus episodes plus ad-free listening www.ppfieas.com Coming next: The Great Political Fictions resumes with Middlemarch, the greatest of them all.
  • 67. The History of Bad Ideas: The Death of the Author

    48:38
    For our penultimate episode in this series David talks to Kathleen Stock about Roland Barthes’s idea of the Death of the Author (1967). Once very fashionable, the notion that readers not writers are the arbiters of what a text means has had a long and sometimes painful afterlife. As well as exploring its curious appeal and its persistent blindspots, Kathleen discusses her personal experience of how it can go wrong.Two bonus Bad Ideas episodes for PPF+ subscribers – on Email and VAR – will be available very soon. Sign up now and get ad-free listening too! www.ppfideas.comComing Next: Helen Lewis on MesmerismComing Soon: The Great Political Fictions Part 2, starting with Middlemarch
  • 66. The History of Bad Ideas: Anti-Suffragettes

    54:11
    In this episode of our series on the lingering hold of bad ideas David talks to the writer and broadcaster Helen Lewis about the arguments made at the turn of the last century against giving the vote to women. Why were so many women against female enfranchisement? What did attitudes to women in politics reveal about the failings of men? And where can the echoes of these arguments still be heard today?Helen Lewis’s Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights is available wherever you get your books https://bit.ly/3wp8DNX Sign up now to PPF+ to get ad-free listening and bonus episodes to accompany every series. Coming soon: two bonus bad ideas just for PPF+ subscribers www.ppfideas.com Next time on The History of Bad Ideas: Kathleen Stock discusses The Death of the Author.
  • 65. The History of Bad Ideas: Taxonomy

    46:50
    For the latest episode in our series about the hold of bad ideas, we welcome back the geneticist Adam Rutherford to talk about Linnaean taxonomy, a seemingly innocuous scheme of classification that has had deeply pernicious consequences. From scientific racism to social stratification to search engine optimisation, taxonomy gets everywhere. Can we escape its grip?Sign up now to PPF+ to get ad-free listening and bonus episodes to accompany every series. Coming soon: two bonus bad ideas just for PPF+ subscribers www.ppfideas.com Next time on The History of Bad Ideas: Helen Lewis on women against the enfranchisement of women.
  • 64. The History of Bad Ideas: Antisemitism

    49:49
    Today’s bad idea is one with a very long history: David talks to the historian Christopher Clark about antisemitism and the reasons for its endless recurrence. What has made discrimination against the Jews different from other kinds of violent prejudice over the course of European history? How did the ‘Jewish Question’ become the battleground of German politics? Why do so many Christians have a love-hate relationship with Judaism? And where does the state of Israel fit into this story?For ad-free listening and bonus episodes – including more bad ideas – subscribe to PPF+ www.ppfideas.comNext time on The History of Bad Ideas: Adam Rutherford on Taxonomy.
  • 63. The History of Bad Ideas: Facebook Friends

    50:04
    In today’s episode about seemingly good ideas gone badly wrong David talks to the philosopher and journalist Kathleen Stock about Facebook Friends, something that was meant to make us happier and better connected but really didn’t. How did online friendship become so performative? Does its failings say more about Facebook and its business models or does it say more about us? And why are academics so susceptible to the madness of social media?For ad-free listening and bonus episodes – including more bad ideas – subscribe to PPF+ www.ppfideas.comNext time on The History of Bad Ideas: historian Christopher Clark on Antisemitism
  • 62. The History of Bad Ideas: The Gold Standard

    44:42
    In the second episode in our series on bad ideas David talks to the political economist Helen Thompson about the gold standard, which was meant to anchor the world economy until it all fell apart a hundred years ago. Why does gold so often appear like a stable basis for money in an unstable world – and why not silver? What made the gold standard a source of instability instead?  How can money work if it has no material basis? And is quantitative easing a bad idea as well?For ad-free listening and bonus episodes – including more bad ideas – subscribe to PPF+ www.ppfideas.comNext time on The History of Bad Ideas: Kathleen Stock on Facebook Friends
  • 61. The History of Bad Ideas: Eugenics

    55:24
    For the first episode in our new series about the hold of bad ideas David talks to the geneticist and science broadcaster Adam Rutherford about eugenics: from its origins in the 19th century through its heyday in the 20th century to its continuing legacy today. Is eugenics bad science, bad morality, bad politics – or all three? What are the fears that keep drawing people back to trying to control the consequences of human reproduction? And is a new age of consumerist eugenics upon us?For ad-free listening and bonus episodes – including more bad ideas – subscribe to PPF+ www.ppfideas.comNext time on The History of Bad Ideas: Helen Thompson on the Gold Standard