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...

„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.“

—  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.

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„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.

„To see human beings as signifying animals — even outside the practice of verbal language — and to see that their ability to produce and to interpret signs, as well as their ability to draw inferences, is rooted in the same cognitive structures, represent a way to give form to our experience.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.8
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: Certainly, the categories posited by a general semiotics can prove their power insofar as they provide a satisfactory working hypothesis to specific semiotics. However, they can also allow one to look at the whole of human activity from a coherent point of view. To see human beings as signifying animals — even outside the practice of verbal language — and to see that their ability to produce and to interpret signs, as well as their ability to draw inferences, is rooted in the same cognitive structures, represent a way to give form to our experience. There are obviously other philosophical approaches, but I think that this one deserves some effort.

„No algorithm exists for the metaphor, nor can a metaphor be produced by means of a computer's precise instructions, no matter what the volume of organized information to be fed in.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[3] Metaphor, 3.12. Conclusions
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: No algorithm exists for the metaphor, nor can a metaphor be produced by means of a computer's precise instructions, no matter what the volume of organized information to be fed in. The success of a metaphor is a function of the sociocultural format of the interpreting subjects' encyclopedia. In this perspective, metaphors are produced solely on the basis of a rich cultural framework, on the basis, that is, of a universe of content that is already organized into networks of interpretants, which decide (semiotically) the identities and differences of properties. At the same time, content universe, whose format postulates itself not as rigidly hierarchized but, rather, according to Model Q, alone derives from the metaphorical production and interpretation the opportunity to restructure itself into new nodes of similarity and dissimilarity.

„These systems can be studied from a syntactic, a semantic, or a pragmatic point of view.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.4
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: A specific semiotics is, or aims at being, the 'grammar' of a particular sign system, and proves to be successful insofar as it describes a given field of communicative phenomena as ruled by a system of signification. Thus there are 'grammars' of the American Sign Language, of traffic signals, of a playing-card 'matrix' for different games or of a particular game (for instance, poker). These systems can be studied from a syntactic, a semantic, or a pragmatic point of view.

„However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.

„The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.“

—  Umberto Eco

Ur-Fascism (1995)
Context: [Ur-Fascism] depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering's alleged statement ("When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," "universities are a nest of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

„For the Kabalist, the fact that God expresses Himself, even though His utterances are beyond any human insight, is more important than any specific and coded meaning His words can convey.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[4] Symbol, 4.4 : The symbolic mode, 4.4.4 : The Kabalistic drift
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: Scholem … says that Jewish mystics have always tried to project their own thought into the biblical texts; as a matter of fact, every unexpressible reading of a symbolic machinery depends on such a projective attitude. In the reading of the Holy Text according to the symbolic mode, "letters and names are not conventional means of communication. They are far more. Each one of them represents a concentration of energy and expresses a wealth of meaning which cannot be translated, or not fully at least, into human language" [On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (1960); Eng. tr., p. 36]. For the Kabalist, the fact that God expresses Himself, even though His utterances are beyond any human insight, is more important than any specific and coded meaning His words can convey.
The Zohar says that "in any word shine a thousand lights" (3.202a). The unlimitedness of the sense of a text is due to the free combinations of its signifiers, which in that text are linked together as they are only accidentally but which could be combined differently.

„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.

„A general semiotics studies the whole of the human signifying activity — languages — and languages are what constitutes human beings as such, that is, as semiotic animals. It studies and describes languages through languages.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.8
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: A general semiotics studies the whole of the human signifying activity — languages — and languages are what constitutes human beings as such, that is, as semiotic animals. It studies and describes languages through languages. By studying the human signifying activity it influences its course. A general semiotics transforms, for the very fact of its theoretical claim, its own object.

„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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