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[47] The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana – Umberto Eco

A 60-ish Milanese bookseller suddenly loses his memory–after he regains consciousness from a stroke. Yambo, however, is shocked to find that he can remember every book he has ever read, and every line of poetry and a wealth of literary quotations. Fragments of thoughts piece together a narrative that is continuously drony. These thoughts are deprived of feelings and meanings that are constituent to his personal history. The novel illustrates the power of memory–how it imbues meaning in human being, the meaning that provides the default of one’s humanity, the standard, the cornerstone to which one measures growth and change. Memory and consciousness lay down the time frame for life’s progression. Since the man contrives to recover his past, events of this novel revolve around a continuous paradox that accentuates the power of memory and consciousness and demonstrates what makes a human being human. Yambo’s journey down the memory lane is more than visiting the family house where he lived as a boy and contriving to trigger memory through the associative power of objects. Seeking to reconstruct the past, he would have to remember what the original state of things had been, and this state was precisely what he desperately needs to spur his memory. As he exhumes boxes of old newspapers, comics, records and photo albums, he relives the story (his public story) of his generation (Mussolini, Catholic education of guilt, Fred Astaire, War), he inevitably embarks on an investigation of why he had done what he had done after he left the house.

Memory amalgamates, revises, and reshapes for all of us, no doubt, but as the amnesia-afflicted bookseller is rapt at reconstructing remote events of which he had no prior knowledge, he is deprived of the privilege to nudge and to revise these memories. The fragments of thoughts that have been looming in his mind sporadically confuse the chronological distances and afford no historical texture–the traces of events do not associate with, evoke, and spur on to others. These memories resemble dreams and comatose manifestations that ping on him like de javus, as if he is trapped in some lethargic autism. Revelation of his elusive first love justifies his feeling of being on the cusp of some final truth–the one crucial piece of the puzzle that had molded him and set the course for the rest of his life. Nuances of that relationship might be lost, but it becomes a stopgap for Yambo.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is wittily written with sparks of comic touch and a sense of adventure. Through the comics that Yambo had laboriously concocted we are exposed to a social conscience that (at least to me) is totally foreign, as all the texts were written in Italian. But this doesn’t divest the intriguing power of literature: the premise of literature is distant enough (in time and culture) from our experience that we can yield to its seduction. The appeal originates from a common and yet mysterious encounter, something that is dream-like. In some dreams we have the impressions of remembering, and we believe the memories to be authentic, then we’re forced to conclude (reluctantly) that these memories are not ours. So do memories belong to dreams? What would Freud say about this?

2 Responses

  1. That sounds interesting. I might have to look for this one.

  2. […] journey in unraveling a complicated knot at a sacred institution, the other works seem too dull. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is witty but still doesn’t live up to my expectation. The much lauded Foucault’s […]

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