Umberto Eco quotes

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Umberto Eco

Birthdate: 5. January 1932
Date of death: 19. February 2016

Umberto Eco was an Italian novelist, literary critic, philosopher, semiotician, and university professor. He is widely known for his 1980 novel Il nome della rosa , a historical mystery combining semiotics in fiction with biblical analysis, medieval studies, and literary theory. He later wrote other novels, including Il pendolo di Foucault and L'isola del giorno prima . His novel Il cimitero di Praga , released in 2010, topped the bestseller charts in Italy.Eco also wrote academic texts, children's books, and essays, and edited and translated into Italian books from French, such as Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises in Style” . He was the founder of the Department of Media Studies at the University of the Republic of San Marino, president of the Graduate School for the Study of the Humanities at the University of Bologna, member of the Accademia dei Lincei, and an honorary fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford.Eco was honoured with the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement in 2005 along with Roger Angell. Wikipedia

Works

„We live for books.“

—  Umberto Eco, book The Name of the Rose

Benno of Uppsala
The Name of the Rose (1980)

„Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry.“

—  Umberto Eco, book The Name of the Rose

William of Baskerville
Source: The Name of the Rose (1980)
Context: 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...

„Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

„Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes. Add to the Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism (which never much fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic mythology and the Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola... But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism.

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„Not every specific semiotics can claim to be like a natural science. In fact, every specific semiotics is at most a human science, and everybody knows how controversial such a notion still is.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.4
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: Not every specific semiotics can claim to be like a natural science. In fact, every specific semiotics is at most a human science, and everybody knows how controversial such a notion still is. However, when cultural anthropology studies the kinship system in a certain society, it works upon a rather stable field of phenomena, can produce a theoretical object, and can make some prediction about the behavior of the members of this society. The same happens with a lexical analysis of the system of terms expressing kinship in the same society.

„Affected as they are by a constitutive solipsism, philosophies can say everything about the world they design and very little about the world they help to construct.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.7
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: A philosophy does not play its role as an actor during a recital; it interacts with other philosophies and with other facts, and it cannot know the results of the interaction between itself and other world visions. World visions can conceive of everything, except alternative world visions, if not in order to criticize them and to show their inconsistency. Affected as they are by a constitutive solipsism, philosophies can say everything about the world they design and very little about the world they help to construct.

„As subjects, we are what the shape of the world produced by signs makes us become.
Perhaps we are, somewhere, the deep impulse which generates semiosis. And yet we recognize ourselves only as semiosis in progress, signifying systems and communicational processes.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[I] Signs, 1.13 : Sign and subject
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: !-- The subject is constantly reshaped by the endless resegmentation of the content. In this way (even though the process of resegmentation must be activated by someone, who is probably the collectivity of subjects), the subject is spoken by language (verbal and nonverbal), by the dynamic of sign-functions rather than by the chain of signifiers. --> As subjects, we are what the shape of the world produced by signs makes us become.
Perhaps we are, somewhere, the deep impulse which generates semiosis. And yet we recognize ourselves only as semiosis in progress, signifying systems and communicational processes. The map of semiosis, as defined at a given stage of historical development (with the debris carried over from previous semiosis), tells us who we are and what (or how) we think.

„Philosophical entities exist only insofar as they have been philosophically posited. Outside their philosophical framework, the empirical data that a philosophy organizes lose every possible unity and cohesion.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.6
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: When semiotics posits such concepts as 'sign', it does not act like a science; it acts like philosophy when it posits such abstractions as subject, good and evil, truth or revolution. Now, a philosophy is not a science, because its assertions cannot be empirically tested … Philosophical entities exist only insofar as they have been philosophically posited. Outside their philosophical framework, the empirical data that a philosophy organizes lose every possible unity and cohesion.
To walk, to make love, to sleep, to refrain from doing something, to give food to someone else, to eat roast beef on Friday — each is either a physical event or the absence of a physical event, or a relation between two or more physical events. However, each becomes an instance of good, bad, or neutral behavior within a given philosophical framework. Outside such a framework, to eat roast beef is radically different from making love, and making love is always the same sort of activity independent of the legal status of the partners. From a given philosophical point of view, both to eat roast beef on Friday and to make love to x can become instances of 'sin', whereas both to give food to someone and to make love to у can become instances of virtuous action.
Good or bad are theoretical stipulations according to which, by a philosophical decision, many scattered instances of the most different facts or acts become the same thing. It is interesting to remark that also the notions of 'object', 'phenomenon', or 'natural kind', as used by the natural sciences, share the same philosophical nature. This is certainly not the case of specific semiotics or of a human science such as cultural anthropology.

„A philosophy has a practical power: it contributes to the changing of the world.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.7
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: A philosophy has a practical power: it contributes to the changing of the world. This practical power has nothing to do with the engineering power that in the discussion above I attributed to sciences, including specific semiotics. A science can study either an animal species or the logic of road signals, without necessarily determining their transformation. There is a certain 'distance' between the descriptive stage and the decision, let us say, to improve a species through genetic engineering or to improve a signaling system by reducing or increasing the number of its pertinent elements.
On the contrary, it was the philosophical position of the modern notion of thinking subject that led Western culture to think and to behave in terms of subjectivity. It was the position of notions such as class struggle and revolution that led people to behave in terms of class, and not only to make revolutions but also to decide, on the grounds of this philosophical concept, which social turmoils or riots of the past were or were not a revolution. Since a philosophy has this practical power, it cannot have a predictive power. It cannot predict what would happen if the world were as it described it. Its power is not the direct result of an act of engineering performed on the basis of a more or less neutral description of independent data.

„At the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: At the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the US, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson's The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

„Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.

„Every specific semiotics (as every science) is concerned with general epistemological problems.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.4
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: Every specific semiotics (as every science) is concerned with general epistemological problems. It has to posit its own theoretical object, according to criteria of pertinence, in order to account for an otherwise disordered field of empirical data; and the researcher must be aware of the underlying philosophical assumptions that influence its choice and its criteria for relevance. Like every science, even a specific semiotics ought to take into account a sort of 'uncertainty principle' (as anthropologists must be aware of the fact that their presence as observers can disturb the normal course of the behavioral phenomena they observe). Notwithstanding, a specific semiotics can aspire to a 'scientific' status. Specific semiotics study phenomena that are reasonably independent of their observations.

„Not long ago, if you wanted to seize political power in a country you had merely to control the army and the police. Today it is only in the most backward countries that fascist generals, in carrying out a coup d'état, still use tanks.“

—  Umberto Eco

Il costume di casa (1973); as translated in Travels in Hyperreality (1986)
Context: Not long ago, if you wanted to seize political power in a country you had merely to control the army and the police. Today it is only in the most backward countries that fascist generals, in carrying out a coup d'état, still use tanks. If a country has reached a high degree of industrialization the whole scene changes. The day after the fall of Khrushchev, the editors of Pravda, Izvestiia, the heads of the radio and television were replaced; the army wasn't called out. Today a country belongs to the person who controls communications.

„There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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