Surrealpolitik: Numero Zero

Author: Umberto Eco

London: Vintage (2015)

Quick Summary

A paranoid tale about a newspaper that will never be published, but exists only as a threat "to tell the truth about everything" in the hopes that the corrupt elite will make a decent offer to the prospective publisher so he can join them. The interesting thing about this novel is that it is a terrible novel. It is transparently just Eco's excuse to rant about Operation Gladio and the state of the newspapers. As a rant it's both informative and amusing. As a novel it's just a flimsy hanger for opinions, for characters to say what Eco wants to say. It's all talk. Talk talk talk talk talk. It is wrapped cleverly in a bit of detective action, starting and ending with a mysterious non-drip of a tap, water that must have been turned off in the narrator's flat, but by whom? It starts with that, then we get the story, then we understand the significance -- someone may be after the narrator because he knows too much. But the story is nothing more than commentary in dialogue form about how newspapers make the news and distort reality, and how one investigative journalist, on the trail of Gladio and an out-there theory about Mussolini having a double, ends up dead. So it's enormously cliched and unsurprising and free of plot, but the good news is that for my purposes, it's an example of what happens when you try to use facts and absurdities too directly to make an overtly political point. You get a bad novel. It's useful to me that he gets into Operation Gladio and issues of radical uncertainty regarding the reality-making function of the news, and its interdependent dance with powerful elites.


There are 13 quotes currently associated with this book.

"In other words, we have to say to our owner: this is how Domani would have been had it appeared yesterday. Understood? And, if we wanted to, even if no one had actually thrown the bomb, we could easily do an issue as if."

"Or throw the bomb ourselves if we felt like it," sneered Braggadocio.

"Let's not be silly," cautioned Simei. Then, almost as an afterthought, "And if you really want to do that, don't come telling me." (page 32)
Tags: [Terror, Conspiracy, Literary/Poetic, Gaslighting, Paranoia, Crime/Noir]
"Not just that, but you have to go and search out the information they're hiding from you. Car ads, when they're not lying, are keeping quiet about something. You have to go through the specifications in the trade magazines, and you find it's one hundred and eighty-three centimetres wide." (page 44)
Tags: [Disinformation, Literary/Poetic]
"Isn't that going a bit far?"

"Suspicions never go too far. Suspect, always suspect, that's the only way you get to the truth. Isn't that what science says?"

"That's what it says, and that's what it does."

"Bullshit -- even science lies. Look at the story of cold fusion. They lied to us for months and then it was found to be total nonsense." (page 49)
Tags: [Literary/Poetic, Paranoia]
It's not the news that makes the newspaper, but the newspaper that makes the news. (page 60)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Propaganda, Lead Quote Candidate, Media, Disinformation, Literary/Poetic, Gaslighting, Paranoia]
"It is signed by Veruccio Veriti. So, what's the point of this denial of a denial? Point number one, that the newspaper has received the information from sources close to Signor Perniketti. This always works. The sources aren't given, but it implies the newspaper has confidential sources, perhaps more reliable than Perniketti. Use is then made of the journalist's notebook. No one will ever see the notebook, but the idea of an actual record tends to inspire confidence in the newspaper and suggests that there is evidence. Lastly, insinuations are made that are meaningless in themselves but throw a shadow of suspicion over Perniketti. Now I don't say all denials have to take this form -- this is just a parody -- but keep in mind the three fundamental elements for a denial of a denial: other sources, notes in the reporter's notebook, and doubts about the reliability of the person making the denial. Understood?"

"Very good," they replied in chorus. (page 67)
Tags: [Humor, Propaganda, Media, Disinformation, Literary/Poetic, Paranoia]
"But I agree that rather than giving out information someone would be able to check, it's better to limit yourself to insinuation. Insinuation doesn't involve saying anything in particular, it just serves to raise a doubt about the person making the denial. For example: 'We are happy to note the explanation, but we understand that Signor Perniketti' -- always keep to Signor, rather than Onorevole or Dottor; Signor is the worst insult in our country -- 'has sent dozens of denials to countless newspapers. This must indeed be a full-time compulsion.' This way, readers become convinced he is paranoid. You see the advantage of insinuation: by saying that Perniketti has written to other newspapers, we are simply telling the truth, which can't be denied. The most effective insinuation is the one that gives facts that are valueless in themselves, yet cannot be denied because they are true." (page 68-69)
Tags: [Humor, Propaganda, Media, Disinformation, Literary/Poetic]
The competition was now in full flow, and Fresia intervened once more. 'Why are aspirins different from iguanas? Because have you tried swallowing an iguana?'

"That's enough," said Simei. "This is schoolboy stuff. Don't forget, our readers aren't intellectuals. They haven't read about the surrealists, who used to make exquisite corpses, as they called them. Our readers would take it all seriously and think we were mad. Come on, we're fooling around, we have work to do." (page 72-73)
Tags: [Surrealism, Humor, Propaganda, Disinformation, Literary/Poetic, Madness]
Maia didn't appear to be too upset by the objection and shrugged us off. "I mean the opposite of the eye of the storm or the minister who thunders. For example, Venice is the Amsterdam of the South, sometimes imagination exceeds reality, given that I'm a racist, hard drugs are the first step towards smoking joints, don't make yourself at home, let's stand on ceremony, those who pursue pleasure are always happy, I may be senile but I'm not old, Greek is all maths to me, success has gone to my head, Mussolini did a lot of bad after all, Paris is horrid though Parisians are nice, in Rimini everyone stays on the beach and never sets foot in the clubs."

"Yes, and a whole mushroom was poisoned by one family. Where do you get all this tripe?" asked Braggadocio. (page 110-111)
Tags: [Humor, Carnival, Literary/Poetic]
"The point is that newspapers are not up there for spreading news but for covering it up. X happens, you have to report it, but it causes embarrassment for too many people, so in the same edition you had some shock headlines -- mother kills four children, savings at risk of going up in smoke, letter from Garibaldi insulting his lieutenant Nino Bixio discovered, etc. -- so news drowns in a great sea of information. I'm interested in what Gladio did in Italy form the 1960s until 1990. Must have been up to all kinds of tricks, would have been mixed up with the far-right terrorist movements, played a part in the bombing at Piazza Fontana in 1969, and from then on -- the days of the student revolts of '68 and the workers' strikes that autumn -- it dawned on someone that he could incite terrorist attacks and put the blame on the Left." (page 194)
Tags: [Conspiracy, Media, Literary/Poetic, Paranoia]
"A charade, with Andreotti, the then prime minister, helping to cover it all up, and those who ended in jail were minor players. The point is, everything we heard was false or distorted, and for twenty years we've been living a lie." (page 204)
Tags: [Conspiracy, Media, Literary/Poetic, Paranoia]
"Only in 1984 does an investigating judge, Felice Casson, discover that the explosive used at Peteano came from a Gladio arms depot...And you understand that if a military secret service has three policemen blown up, it won't be out of any dislike for the police but to direct the blame at far-left extremists." (page 210)
Tags: [Fascism, Conspiracy, Media, Disinformation, Literary/Poetic, Gaslighting, Paranoia]
"But is it really all over, or are certain diehard groups still working away in the shadows? I think there is more to come." (page 213)
Tags: [Literary/Poetic, Paranoia]
"You're forgetting, my love, that Italy is slowly turning into one of those havens you want to banish yourself to. If we've managed to both accept and forget all those things the BBC has recounted, it means we are getting used to the idea of losing the sense of shame." (page 249)
Tags: [Apathy/Resistance, Everyday Life, Culture, Literary/Poetic]