January 5 - Umberto Eco

Bio: Born on January 5, 1932, Umberto Eco is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist. He is best known for his groundbreaking 1980 novel Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose), an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. He has since written further novels, as well as academic texts, children’s books and many essays.

Anecdotes:

  • His family name is supposedly an acronym of ex caelis oblatus (from Latin: a gift from the heavens), which was given to his grandfather (a foundling) by a city official.
  • Eco claims that he wants his epitaph to be a quotation from a book by Tommaso Campanella: a character says “Wait, wait”, and the other replies “I cannot.”
  • Asked about his omnivorous scholarship, Eco takes a contrary stance, insisting that genuine learning demands a “stubborn incuriosity. Galileo appeared curious, but there were many subject matters he had simply cut away. According to Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes knew everything about chemistry, but he still believed the sun turned around the earth. In order to be so perceptive about the meaning of a spot on someone’s shoe, you have to ignore the solar system. As for my own incuriosities, I am so uninterested in them that I do not even know they exist.”
  • In an interview with the Washington Post, Eco declared that he considered it a compliment for his work to be described as difficult: “Only publishers and television people believe that people crave easy experiences.”
  • In one of his weekly columns he first mused upon the “software schism” dividing users of Macintosh and DOS operating systems. Mac, he posited, is Catholic, with “sumptuous icons” and the promise of offering everybody the chance to reach the Kingdom of Heaven (“or at least the moment when your document is printed”) by following a series of easy steps. DOS, on the other hand, is Protestant: “it allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions… and takes for granted that not all can reach salvation.” Following this logic, Windows becomes “an Anglican-style schism: big ceremonies in the cathedral, but with the possibility of going back secretly to DOS in order to modify just about anything you like.”
  • He is an avid book collector. He has a 30,000 volume library in his apartment in Milan and a 20,000 volume library in his vacation house near Urbino.

Final sentences:

[So I might as well stay here, wait, and look at the hill.] It’s so beautiful.

I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom; I no longer know what it is about: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.

For heaven’s sake, I’m not yet a decrepit old fool.

Sources: 1-2-3-4-5


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