I was so deeply grieved a few days ago to hear of the loss of one of the greatest modern thinkers and literary figures, Umberto Eco. I am at a loss for words to describe the impact he has had on my life and my way of thinking and seeing. He was Professor of Semiotics at Milan University, social critic and satirist, essayist and story teller. As a founder of the study of Semiotics (the study of signs, symbols; they’re processes and they’re meaningful communication) he opened up a whole vista of study that would parallel and have the same type of impact as Joseph Campbell’s work on Mythology. It has shaped how I perceive life around me, and various “entertainments” such as films, music, art, sports, various media and other meaningful diversions. I am grateful for the translators who translated his work from the Italian to English.
I’m happy to have read all of his Fiction work that has been translated to English. I was first exposed to his work through a university theater history course on modern/contemporary theater and literature. Mandatory reading for this course was Eco’s book, Name of The Rose (at that time back in the early 80’s) he was not quite so well known in the US as he is now. I’m grateful for my history teacher to include this work in the required reading. Accompanying the main story was a “post script” on post modernism written by Eco. Between the story in the main book and his philosophical thoughts on post modernism I was hooked.
Since then I’d read all of his fictions and many of his non-fiction works. Favorites and recommendations include, NAME OF THE ROSE, FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM, THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA. Also I love the children books he wrote that were illustrated by abstract artist Eugenio Carmi, THE BOMB AND THE GENERAL, THREE ASTRONAUTS, and THE GNOMES OF GNU. My favorite non-fiction works are: THE OPEN WORK, MISREADINGS, TRAVELS IN HYPER-REALITY, HOW TO TRAVEL WITH A SALMON, SIX WALKS IN THE FICTIONAL WOODS, BELIEF OR NON-BELIEF (A conversation between Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini), POSTSCRIPT TO THE NAME OF THE ROSE, KANT & THE PLATYPUS, HISTORY OF BEAUTY, TURNING BACK THE CLOCK:HOT WARS AND MEDIA POPULISM, ON UGLINESS, THE INFINITY OF LISTS, and finally, INVENTING THE ENEMY.
So as you see, yes, I’ve read a few of his works. 🙂 Here are 10 quotes:
What is love? There is nothing in the world, neither man nor Devil nor any thing, that I hold as suspect as love, for it penetrates the soul more than any other thing. Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does. Therefore, unless you have those weapons that subdue it, the soul plunges through love into an immense abyss. ― The Name of the Rose
I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it. I was always defined as too erudite and philosophical, too difficult. Then I wrote a novel that is not erudite at all, that is written in plain language, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and among my novels it is the one that has sold the least. So probably I am writing for masochists. It’s only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things. People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged. – interview with the Guardian in 2011
All the stories I would like to write persecute me when I am in my chamber, it seems as if they are all around me, the little devils, and while one tugs at my ear, another tweaks my nose, and each says to me, ‘Sir, write me, I am beautiful’.
On the morning of July 27, 1943, I was told that, according to radio reports, fascism had collapsed and Mussolini was under arrest. When my mother sent me out to buy the newspaper, I saw that the papers at the nearest newsstand had different titles. Moreover, after seeing the headlines, I realized that each newspaper said different things. I bought one of them, blindly, and read a message on the first page signed by five or six political parties – among them the Democrazia Cristiana, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Partito d’Azione, and the Liberal Party. Until then, I had believed that there was a single party in every country and that in Italy it was the Partito Nazionale Fascista. Now I was discovering that in my country several parties could exist at the same time. – from his 1995 essay UR-Facism, from the New York Review of Books
Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means. – The Name of the Rose
I should be at peace. I have understood. Don’t some say that peace comes when you understand? I have understood. I should be at peace. Who said that peace derives from the contemplation of order, order understood, enjoyed, realized without residuum, in joy and truimph, the end of effort? All is clear, limpid; the eye rests on the whole and on the parts and sees how the parts have conspired to make the whole; it perceives the center where the lymph flows, the breath, the root of the whys… ― Foucault’s Pendulum
The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.
The [Da Vinci Code] author Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist. – interview with the Paris Review in 2008
Charlie Brown has been called the most sensitive child ever to appear in a comic strip, a figure capable of Shakespearean shifts of mood; and Schulz’s pencil succeeds in rendering these variations with an economy of means that has something miraculous about it. The text, always almost courtly (these children rarely lapse into slang or commit anacoluthon), is enhanced by drawings able to portray, in each character, the subtlest psychological nuance. Thus the daily tragedy of Charlie Brown is drawn, in our eyes, with exemplary incisiveness. – Eco on the comicstrip Peanuts, for the New York Review of Books in 1985
How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see… We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die. – interview with Der Spiegel in 2009
Rest in Peace: Umberto Eco January 5, 1932 – February 19, 2016