After the opening essay on the general significance of literature, Eco examines a number of major authors from the Western canon. A stimulating chapter on the poetic qualities of Dante's Paradiso is followed by one on the style of the Communist Manifesto. The next three essays centre on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature: one on the French writer Nerval's masterpiece, Sylvie (a major influence on Eco and a novella that he translated into Italian), one on Oscar Wilde's love of paradox, and one on Joyce's views on language. The last three pieces deal with the road that leads from Cervantes via Swift to Borges' Library of Babel, then an essay on Eco's own anxiety about Borges' influence on him, and the volume ends with an article on the enigmatic Italian critic and anthropologist Piero Camporesi.
On Literature is a provocative and entertaining collection of sprightly essays on the key texts that have shaped Eco the novelist and critic. This volume will appeal to anyone interested in how new light is shed on old masters by a great contemporary mind.