Umberto Eco in 1984
5 January 1932|
Alessandria, Piedmont, Italy
|Died||19 February 2016
Milan, Lombardy, Italy
|Cause of death||Pancreatic cancer|
|Alma mater||University of Turin|
|The “open work” (opera aperta), the “intention of the reader” (“intentio lectoris”), the “limits” of interpretation|
There are books on our shelves we haven't read and doubtless never will, that each of us has probably put to one side in the belief that we will read them later on, perhaps even in another life.
Many people who no longer go to church end up falling prey to superstition.
Conspiracies do exist. Probably in this moment in New York there is an economic group making a conspiracy in order to buy three banks. But if they succeed, they are immediately discovered.
It comes down to a question of attention: it's difficult to use the Net distractedly, unlike the television or the radio.
It is psychologically very hard to go through life without the justification, and the hope, provided by religion.
To read a paper book is another experience: you can do it on a ship, on the branch of a tree, on your bed, even if there is a blackout.
When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.
Even today, I frequently meet scientists who, outside their own narrow discipline, are superstitious.
We are a pluralist civilisation because we allow mosques to be built in our countries, and we are not going to stop simply because Christian missionaries are thrown into prison in Kabul. If we did so, we, too, would become Taliban.
You die, but most of what you have accumulated will not be lost; you are leaving a message in a bottle.
To play the trumpet, you must train your lips for a long time. When I was twelve or thirteen I was a good player, but I lost the skill and now I play very badly. I do it every day even so. The reason is that I want to return to my childhood. For me, the trumpet is evidence of the sort of young man I was.
My grandfather had a particularly important influence on my life, even though I didn't visit him often, since he lived about three miles out of town and he died when I was six. He was remarkably curious about the world, and he read lots of books.
It is clear that when you write a story that takes place in the past, you try to show what really happened in those times. But you are always moved by the suspicion that you are also showing something about our contemporary world.
It is sometimes hard to grasp the difference between identifying with one's own roots, understanding people with other roots, and judging what is good or bad.
Followers of the occult believe in only what they already know, and in those things that confirm what they have already learned.
The function of memory is not only to preserve, but also to throw away. If you remembered everything from your entire life, you would be sick.
I think of myself as a serious professor who, during the weekend, writes novels.
Every time that I write a novel I am convinced for at least two years that it is the last one, because a novel is like a child. It takes two years after its birth. You have to take care of it. It starts walking, and then speaking.
Better reality than a dream: if something is real, then it's real and you're not to blame.
The court jester had the right to say the most outrageous things to the king. Everything was permitted during carnival, even the songs that the Roman legionnaires would sing, calling Julius Caesar 'queen,' alluding, in a very transparent way, to his real, or presumed, homosexual escapades.
I started to work in television for three or four years, in 1954. There was one channel of television, black and white. But it could be entertaining and educational. During the evening they showed important plays, opera or Shakespeare's tragedies.
There are more books in the world than hours in which to read them. We are thus deeply influenced by books we haven't read, that we haven't had the time to read.
We are never racist against somebody who is very far away. I don't know any racism against the Eskimos. To have a racist feeling, there must be an other who is slightly different from us – but is living close to us.
When I went from being an academic to being a member of the community of writers some of my former colleagues did look on me with a certain resentment.
History is rich with adventurous men, long on charisma, with a highly developed instinct for their own interests, who have pursued personal power – bypassing parliaments and constitutions, distributing favours to their minions, and conflating their own desires with the interests of the community.
If western culture is shown to be rich, it is because, even before the Enlightenment, it has tried to 'dissolve' harmful simplifications through inquiry and the critical mind.
Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.
As an adolescent I wrote comic books, because I read lots of them, and fantasy novels set in Malaysia and Central Africa.
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.
I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed.
There are more people than you think who want to have a challenging experience, in which they are obliged to reflect about the past.
Semiotics is a general theory of all existing languages… all forms of communication – visual, tactile, and so on… There is general semiotics, which is a philosophical approach to this field, and then there are many specific semiotics.
My maternal grandmother – she was a compulsive reader. She had only been through five grades of elementary school, but she was a member of the municipal library, and she brought home two or three books a week for me. They could be dime novels or Balzac.
The problem with the Internet is that it gives you everything – reliable material and crazy material. So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate?
The mobile phone… is a tool for those whose professions require a fast response, such as doctors or plumbers.
There is no great sport in having bullets flying about one in every direction, but I find they have less horror when among them than when in anticipation.
I think every professor and writer is in some way an exhibitionist because his or her normal activity is a theatrical one. When you give a lesson the situation is the same as writing a book. You have to capture the attention, the complicity of your audience.
I don't want to write a novel per year. I know that I need a break of one or two years. So maybe I invent some new, urgent activity so I don't fall into the trap of starting a new novel.
A transposable aphorism is a malaise of the urge to be witty, or in other words, a maxim that is untroubled by the fact that the opposite of what it says is equally true so long as it appears to be funny.
Certainly, light fiction exists and encompasses mysteries or second-class romance novels, books that are read on the beach, whose only aim is to entertain. These books are not concerned with style or creativity – instead they are successful because they are repetitive and follow a template that readers enjoy.
Every European goes on the streets and sees medieval churches. Not if you live in Indianapolis. The most exciting letters I received were from people in places like that.
I was a fervent Catholic, and I belonged to the national organizations, even becoming one of the national leaders, until the age of 21, 22.
After years of practice, I can walk into a bookstore and understand its layout in a few seconds. I can glance at the spine of a book and make a good guess at its content from a number of signs.
The thought that all experience will be lost at the moment of my death makes me feel pain and fear… What a waste, decades spent building up experience, only to throw it all away… We remedy this sadness by working. For example, by writing, painting, or building cities.
The author may not interpret. But he must tell why and how he wrote his book.
Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: You have to learn the rhythms of respiration – acquire the pace. Otherwise you stop right away.
The most interesting letters I received about 'The Name of the Rose' were from people in the Midwest that maybe didn't understand exactly, but wanted to understand more and who were excited by this picture of a world which was not their own.
The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity.
I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it.
The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.
Media populism means appealing to people directly through media. A politician who can master the media can shape political affairs outside of parliament and even eliminate the mediation of parliament.
The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved. You cannot make a spoon that is better than a spoon… The book has been thoroughly tested, and it's very hard to see how it could be improved on for its current purposes.
As a scholar I am interested in the philosophy of language, semiotics, call it what you want, and one of the main features of the human language is the possibility of lying.
Does the novel have to deepen the psychology of its heroes? Certainly the modern novel does, but the ancient legends did not do the same. Oedipus' psychology was deduced by Aeschylus or Freud, but the character is simply there, fixed in a pure and terribly disquieting state.
I love the secrecy of writing fiction. When I write a novel, I don't tell anybody what I'm doing. I'm living in my private world. And it's a great sensation.
The question of manuscript changes is very important for literary criticism, the psychology of creation and other aspects of the study of literature.
A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands. so the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion.
We invented the car, and it made it easier for us to crash and die. If I gave a car to my grandfather, he would die in five minutes, while I have grown up slowly to accept speed.
Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.
Sometimes you say things with a smile with the precise intention of making it clear that you are not being serious, and are only kidding. If I salute a friend with a smile and say, 'How are you, you old scoundrel!' clearly I don't really mean he's a scoundrel.
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.
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for the survival of that book, he's an imbecile.
When someone has to intervene to defend the liberty of the press, that society is sick.
All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them, good and bad, white and black.
I developed a passion for the Middle Ages the same way some people develop a passion for coconuts.
The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb.
But Italy is not an intellectual country. On the subway in Tokyo everybody reads. In Italy, they don't. Don't evaluate Italy from the fact that it produced Raphael and Michelangelo.
I have to admit that I only read 'War and Peace' when I was 40. But I knew the basics before then.
Poetry is not a matter of feelings, it is a matter of language. It is language which creates feelings.
Captain Cook discovered Australia looking for the Terra Incognita. Christopher Columbus thought he was finding India but discovered America. History is full of events that happened because of an imaginary tale.
Berlusconi is a genius in communication. Otherwise, he would never have become so rich.
From lies to forgeries the step is not so long, and I have written technical essays on the logic of forgeries and on the influence of forgeries on history.
Our most noted satirists are true columnists, and their opinions can be worth more than any well-documented expose.
At a certain moment, I decided to write a story. I had no more small children to tell them stories.
Political satire is a serious thing. In democratic newspapers throughout the world there are daily cartoons that often are not even funny, as is the case especially in many English-language newspapers. Instead, they contain a political message, and the artist takes full responsibility.
But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
With all of its defects, the global market makes war less likely, even between the U.S.A. and China.
When one starts writing a book, especially a novel, even the humblest person in the world hopes to become Homer.
In the United States there's a Puritan ethic and a mythology of success. He who is successful is good. In Latin countries, in Catholic countries, a successful person is a sinner.
Musical compositions can be very sad – Chopin – but you have the pleasure of this sadness. The cheap consolation is: you will be happy. The higher consolation is the pleasure and recognition of your unhappiness, the pleasure of having recognised that fate, destiny and life are such as they are and so you reach a higher form of consciousness.
Homer's work hits again and again on the topos of the inexpressible. People will always do that.
Every European goes on the streets and sees medieval churches. Not if you live in Indianapolis.
Narrativity presumes a special taste for plot. And this taste for plot was always very present in the Anglo-Saxon countries and that explains their high quality of detective novels.
Religion has nothing to do with God. It's a fundamental attitude of human beings, who ask about the origins of life and what happens after death. For many, the answer is a personal god. In my opinion, it's religion that produces God, not the other way round.
I don't see the point of having 80 million people online if all they are doing in the end is talking to ghosts in the suburbs.
The French, the Italians, the Germans, the Spanish and the English have spent centuries killing each other.
When the poet is in love, he is incapable of writing poetry on love. He has to write when he remembers that he was in love.