Yesterday's Fiction, Tomorrow's News: Post-Truth and Literature in Umberto Eco's Numero Zero
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In contemporary Western society, the concept of truth is destabilizing in face of relativist skepticism and an influx of ‘fake news’. While digital media are often considered accomplice to the ‘post-truth’ problem, the role of literature in the modern world is still largely undescribed. Umberto Eco’s Numero Zero revolves around the Italian news industry in the 1990’s, and can be seen as an early example of post-truth literature. Through a close reading of the novel, this thesis considers the way Numero Zero reflects on the role of literature in a post-truth society, both as a work that reflects explicitly on various kinds of media, and as a novel. In his use of literature as a motif, Eco builds associations between literary readership and intelligence and critical thinking. Additionally, whereas literature once carried significant intellectual weight, it is now easily dismissed as irrelevant and outdated. In its postmodern selfreflexivity, the novel ironically denounces its own importance, but it also empowers itself by reminding the reader of literature’s valuable aspects. Furthermore, as an example of early posttruth literature, the novel investigates the epistemological problems that arise in a post-truth society, in particular through a juxtaposition of fake news and conspiracy theories. Numero Zero confronts the reader with the precarious state of truth and knowledge in modern society, and encourages a continued search for truth in face of post-truth skepticism and apathy.