Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th / 21st-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

image_caption = Umberto Eco in May 2005
name = Umberto Eco
birth = birth date and age|df=yes|1932|1|5 Alessandria, Italy
death =
school_tradition = Semiotics
main_interests = Reader-response criticism
notable_ideas = the "open work" ("opera aperta")
influences = Joyce, Borges, Peirce, Kant, Lévi-Strauss, Merleau-Ponty, Adorno, Gramsci, Kafka, Baudelaire, Pareyson, Croce, Conan Doyle
influenced =

Umberto Eco (born 5 January 1932) is an Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic and novelist, best known for his novel "The Name of the Rose" ("Il nome della rosa", 1980), an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. His 1988 novel "Foucault's Pendulum" has been described as a "thinking person's "Da Vinci Code" [ cite news|url=|title=Religious conspiracy? Do me a fervour|first=Jane|last=Sullivan|publisher=The Age|date=2004-12-24|accessdate=2006-04-04] .

Eco is President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, University of Bologna. He has also written academic texts, children’s books and many essays.


Eco was born in the city of Alessandria in the region of Piedmont.His father, Giulio, was an accountant before the government called upon him to serve in three wars. During World War II, Umberto and his mother, Giovanna, moved to a small village in the Piedmontese mountainside. Eco received a Salesian education, and he has made references to the order and its founder in his works and interviews. [ [ Don Bosco in Umberto Eco’s latest book] N7: News publication for the salesian community p.4 June 2004]

His family name is supposedly an acronym of "ex caelis oblatus" (Latin: a gift from the heavens), which was given to his grandfather (a foundling) by a city official. [ [ A Short Biography of Umberto Eco] 22 March 2004]

His father was the son of a family with thirteen children, and urged Umberto to become a lawyer, but he entered the University of Turin in order to take up medieval philosophy and literature, writing his thesis on Thomas Aquinas and earning his BA in philosophy in 1954. During this time, Eco left the Roman Catholic Church after a crisis of faith. [ [ Umberto Eco (1932-) - Pseudonym: Dedalus] 2003]

After this, Eco worked as a cultural editor for the state broadcasting station Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and also lectured at the University of Turin (1956–64). A group of avant-garde artists—painters, musicians, writers—whom he had befriended at RAI (Gruppo 63) became an important and influential component in Eco's future writing career. This was especially true after the publication of his first book in 1956, "Il problema estetico di San Tommaso", which was an extension of his doctoral thesis. This also marked the beginning of his lecturing career at his alma mater.

In September 1962, he married Renate Ramge, a German art teacher with whom he has a son and a daughter. He divides his time between an apartment in Milan and a vacation house near Rimini. He has a 30,000 volume library in the former and a 20,000 volume library in the latter.Fact|date=September 2008


In 1959, he published his second book, "Sviluppo dell'estetica medievale", which established Eco as a formidable thinker in medievalism and proved his literary worth to his father. After serving for 18 months in the Italian Army, he left RAI to become, in 1959, non-fiction senior editor of Casa Editrice Bompiani of Milan, a position he would hold until 1975.

Eco's work on medieval aesthetics stressed the distinction between theory and practice. About the Middle Ages, he wrote, there was "a geometrically rational schema of what beauty ought to be, and on the other [hand] the unmediated life of art with its dialectic of forms and intentions" — the two cut off from one another as if by a pane of glass. Eco's work in literary theory has changed focus over time. Initially, he was one of the pioneers of "Reader Response".

During these years, Eco began seriously developing his ideas on the "open" text and on semiotics, penning many essays on these subjects, and in 1962 he published "Opera aperta" ("Open Work").

In "Opera aperta", Eco argued that literary texts are fields of meaning, rather than strings of meaning, that they are understood as open, internally dynamic and psychologically engaged fields. Those works of literature that limit potential understanding to a single, unequivocal line are the least rewarding, while those that are most open, most active between mind and society and line, are the most lively and best — although valuation terminology is not his business. Eco emphasizes the fact that words do not have meanings that are simply lexical, but rather operate in the context of utterance. So much had been said by I. A. Richards and others, but Eco draws out the implications for literature from this idea. He also extended the axis of meaning from the continually deferred meanings of words in an utterance to a play between expectation and fulfillment of meaning. Eco comes to these positions through study of language and from semiotics, rather than from psychology or historical analysis (as did theorists such as Wolfgang Iser, on the one hand, and Hans-Robert Jauss, on the other). He has also influenced popular culture studies though he did not develop a full-scale theory in this field.

Action in anthropology

Eco co-founded "Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici" (known as "VS "in Italian academic jargon), an influential semiotic journal. VS has become an important publication platform for many scholars whose work is related to signs and signification. The journal's foundation and activities have contributed to the growing influence of semiotics as an academic field in its own right, both in Italy and in the rest of Europe.

Most of the well-known European semioticians, among them Umberto Eco, A.J. Greimas, Jean-Marie Floch, Paolo Fabbri, Jacques Fontanille, Claude Zilberberg, Ugo Volli and Patrizia Violi, have published original articles in "VS".

Articles by younger, less famous scholars dealing with new research perspectives in semiotics also find place in almost every issue of "VS".

In 1988, at the University of Bologna, Eco created an unusual program called "Anthropology of the West" from the perspective of non-Westerners (African and Chinese scholars), as defined by their own criteria. Eco developed this transcultural international network based on the idea of Alain Le Pichon in West Africa. The Bologna program resulted in a first conference in Guangzhou, China, in 1991 entitled "Frontiers of Knowledge." The first event was soon followed by an Itinerant Euro-Chinese seminar on "Misunderstandings in the Quest for the Universal" along the silk trade route from Canton to Beijing. The latter culminated in a book entitled "The Unicorn and the Dragon" which discussed the question of the creation of knowledge in China and in Europe. Scholars contributing to this volume were from China, including Tang Yijie, Wang Bin and Yue Dayun), as well as from Europe: (Furio Colombo, Antoine Danchin, Jacques Le Goff, Paolo Fabbri, Alain Rey...) [ [ "A Conversation on Information" Interview with Umberto Eco by Patrick Coppock, February, 1995] ] [ [ "Ur-Fascism"] (essay in "The New York Review of Books", 22 June 1995)]

In 2000 a seminar in Timbuktoo (Mali), was followed by another gathering in Bologna to reflect on the conditions of reciprocal knowledge between East and West. This in turn gave rise to a series of conferences in Brussels, Paris, and Goa, culminating in Beijing in 2007. The topics of the Beijing conference were "Order and Disorder","New Concepts of War and Peace", "Human Rights" and "Social Justice and Harmony". Eco presented the opening lecture. The following anthropologists gave presentations: from India (Balveer Arora, Varun Sahni, Rukmini Bhaya Nair); from Africa (Moussa Sow); from Europe (Roland Marti, Maurice Olender); from Korea (Cha Insuk); from China (Huang Ping, Zhao Tinyang). Also on the program were scholars from the domains of law or science: (Antoine Danchin, Ahmed Djebbar, Dieter Grimm). [ [ "Vegetal and mineral memory"] , November 2003. Considers, among other things, encyclopedias]

Eco's interest in East/West dialogue to facilitate international communication and understanding also correlates with his related interest in the international auxiliary language Esperanto.


Eco's fiction has enjoyed a wide audience around the world, with good sales and many translations. His novels often include references to arcane historical figures and texts and his dense, intricate plots tend to take dizzying turns.

Eco employed his education as a medievalist in his novel "The Name of the Rose", a historical mystery set in a 14th century monastery. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, aided by his assistant Adso, a Benedictine novice, investigates a series of murders at a monastery that is set to host an important religious debate. Eco is particularly good at translating medieval religious controversies and heresies into modern political and economic terms so that the reader can appreciate their substance without being a theologian. "The Name of the Rose" was later made into a motion picture starring Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham and Christian Slater. "The Name of the Rose" is a creative and biographical tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, represented in the novel and the film by the blind monk and librarian Jorge. Borges, like Jorge, lived a celibate life consecrated to his passion for books, and also went blind in later life.

"Foucault's Pendulum", Eco's second novel, has also sold well. In "Foucault's Pendulum", three under-employed editors who work for a minor publishing house decide to amuse themselves by inventing a conspiracy theory. Their conspiracy, which they call "The Plan", is about an immense and intricate plot to take over the world by a secret order descended from the Knights Templar. As the game goes on, the three slowly become obsessed with the details of this plan. The game turns dangerous when outsiders learn of The Plan, and believe that the men have really discovered the secret to regaining the lost treasure of the Templars.

"The Island of the Day Before" was Eco's third novel. The book is about a man in the Renaissance marooned on a ship within sight of an island which he believes is on the other side of the international date-line. The main character is trapped by his inability to swim and instead spends the bulk of the book reminiscing on his life and the adventures that brought him to be marooned.

"Baudolino", a fourth novel by Eco, was published in 2000. Baudolino is a peasant lad endowed with a vivid imagination and a most unusual capacity for learning the many languages which flourished in the Twelfth Century. When he is bought by the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, his world expands: he is trained as a scholar and called upon to create Authentic documents by diverse authors.

"The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana", is Eco's fifth novel, about Iambo Bodoni, an old bookseller specialized in antiques who emerges from a coma with only memories to recover his past. Umberto Eco declared it would be his last novel.Fact|date=August 2008

Eco's work illustrates the concept of intertextuality, or the inter-connectedness of all literary works. His novels are full of subtle, often multilingual, references to literature and history. For instance, the character William of Baskerville is a logically-minded Englishman who is a monk and a detective, and his name evokes both William of Ockham and Sherlock Holmes (by way of "The Hound of the Baskervilles"). Eco cites James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges as the two modern authors who have influenced his work the most (Source: 'On Literature').

Honorary doctorates

Since 1985, Umberto Eco has been awarded over thirty Honorary doctorates from various academic institutions worldwide, including the following:1985 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.
1986 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Odense University, Denmark.
1987 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Loyola University, Chicago.
1987 - Doctor Honoris Causa, State University of New York.
1987 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Royal College of Arts, London.
1988 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Brown University.
1989 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Université de Paris, Sorbonne Nouvelle.
1989 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Université de Liège. Belgium.
1990 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria.
1990 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Glasgow.
1990 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
1992 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Kent at Canterbury.
1993 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Indiana University.
1994 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Tel Aviv.
1994 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Buenos Aires.
1995 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Athens.
1995 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Laurentian University at Sudbury, Ontario.
1996 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw.
1996 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Tartu, Estonia.
1997 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Institut d'études politiques de Grenoble.
1997 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha.
1998 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Lomonosov University of Moscow.
1998 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Freie Universität, Berlin
2000 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Université du Québec à Montréal, Quebec.
2002 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
2002 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Siena, Siena.
2007 - Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
2008 - Doctor Honoris Causa, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.




*"Il nome della rosa" (1980; English translation: "The Name of the Rose", 1983)
*"Il pendolo di Foucault" (1988; English translation: "Foucault's Pendulum", 1989)
*"L'isola del giorno prima" (1994; English translation: "The Island of the Day Before", 1995)
*"Baudolino" (2000; English translation: "Baudolino", 2001)
*"La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana" (2004; English translation: "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana", 2005)

Books on philosophy

Areas of philosophy Eco has written most about include semiotics, linguistics, aesthetics and morality.

*"Il problema estetico in San Tommaso" (1956 - English translation: "The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas", 1988, Revised)
*"Sviluppo dell'estetica medievale", in "Momenti e problemi di storia dell'estetica" (1959 - "Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages", 1985)
*"Opera aperta" (1962, rev. 1976 - English translation: "The Open Work" (1989)
*"Diario Minimo" (1963 - English translation: "Misreadings", 1993)
*"Apocalittici e integrati" (1964 - Partial English translation: "Apocalypse Postponed", 1994)
*"Le poetiche di Joyce" (1965 - English translations: "The Middle Ages of James Joyce", "The Aesthetics of Chaosmos", 1989)
*"Il costume di casa" (1973 - English translation: "Travels in Hyperreality", "Faith in Fakes", 1986)
*"Trattato di semiotica generale" (1975 - English translation: "A Theory of Semiotics", 1976)
*"Il Superuomo di massa" (1976)
*"Dalla periferia dell'impero" (1977)
*"Lector in fabula" (1979)
*"The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts" (1979 - English edition containing essays from "Opera aperta", "Apocalittici e integrati", "Forme del contenuto" (1971), "Il Superuomo di massa", "Lector in Fabula").
*"Sette anni di desiderio" (1983)
*"Postille al nome della rosa" (1983 - English translation: "Postscript to The Name of the Rose", 1984)
*"Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio" (1984 - English translation: "Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language", 1984)
*"I limiti dell'interpretazione" (1990 - "The Limits of Interpretation", 1990)
*"Interpretation and Overinterpretation" (1992 - with R. Rorty, J. Culler, C. Brooke-Rose; edited by S. Collini)
*"La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea" (1993 - English translation: "The Search for the Perfect Language (The Making of Europe)", 1995)
*"Six Walks in the Fictional Woods" (1994)
*"Incontro - Encounter - Rencontre" (1996 - in Italian, English, French)
*"In cosa crede chi non crede?" (with Carlo Maria Martini), 1996 - English translation: "Belief or Nonbelief?: A Dialogue", 2000)
*"Cinque scritti morali" (1997 - English translation: "Five Moral Pieces", 2001)
*"Kant e l'ornitorinco" (1997 - English translation: "", 1999)
*"Serendipities: Language and Lunacy" (1998)
*"How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays" (1998 - Partial English translation of "Il secondo diario minimo", 1994)
*"Experiences in Translation" (2000)
*"Sulla letteratura", (2003 - English translation by Martin McLaughlin: "On Literature", 2004)
*"Mouse or Rat?: Translation as negotiation" (2003)
*"Storia della bellezza" (2004, co-edited with Girolamo de Michele - English translation: "History of Beauty"/"On Beauty", 2004)
*"Storia della bruttezza" (Bompiani, 2007 - English translation: "On Ugliness", 2007)
*"Dall'albero al labirinto: studi storici sul segno e l'interpretazione" (Bompiani, 2007)
*"Turning back the clock: Hot wars and media populism" (2007 - English translation by Alastair McEwen)


*"Come si fa una tesi di laurea" (1977)

Books for children

(art by Eugenio Carmi)
*"La bomba e il generale" (1966, Rev. 1988 - English translation: "The Bomb and the General"'
*"I tre cosmonauti" (1966 - English translation: "The Three Astronauts"')
*"Gli gnomi di Gnu" (1992)

External links

* [ Official Website]
* [ Porta Ludovica] : An extensive Umberto Eco resource.
* [ "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" Annotation Project, a Wiki]
*imdb name|id=0248767|name=Umberto Eco


* [ Audio: Eco talk at UC Berkeley (1982): "From Aristotle to Sherlock Holmes" (online audio recording)]

NAME=Eco, Umberto
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Writer and philosopher
DATE OF BIRTH=1932-01-05
PLACE OF BIRTH=Alessandria

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