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.

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 general semiotics transforms, for the very fact of its theoretical claim, its own object.“

—  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.

„What is frequently appreciated in many so-called symbols is exactly their vagueness, their openness, their fruitful ineffectiveness to express a 'final' meaning, so that with symbols and by symbols one indicates what is always beyond one's reach.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[4] Symbol
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: What is a symbol? Etymologically speaking, the word σύμβολον comes from σνμβάλλω, to throw-with, to make something coincide with something else: a symbol was originally an identification mark made up of two halves of a coin or of a medal. Two halves of the same thing, either one standing for the other, both becoming, however, fully effective only when they matched to make up, again, the original whole. … in the original concept of symbol, there is the suggestion of a final recomposition. Etymologies, however, do not necessarily tell the truth — or, at least, they tell the truth, in terms of historical, not of structural, semantics. What is frequently appreciated in many so-called symbols is exactly their vagueness, their openness, their fruitful ineffectiveness to express a 'final' meaning, so that with symbols and by symbols one indicates what is always beyond one's reach.

„Semiosis is, according to Peirce, "an action, or influence, which is, or involves, an operation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into an action between pairs".“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, O.I.
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: The sign is usually considered as a correlation between a signifier and a signified (or between expression and content) and therefore as an action between pairs. Semiosis is, according to Peirce, "an action, or influence, which is, or involves, an operation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into an action between pairs".

„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.

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„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.

„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.

„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.

„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.

„I don't even have an E-mail address.“

—  Umberto Eco

As quoted in "Of Eco And E-mail" by Anthony Haden-Guest, in The New Yorker (26 June 1995) http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/06/26/of-eco-and-e-mail
Context: I don't even have an E-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.

„Philosophies can be judged, at most, on the grounds of the perspicacity with which they decide that something is worthy of becoming the starting point for a global explanatory hypothesis.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.8
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: I am not saying that philosophies, since they are speculative, speak of the nonexistent. When they say 'subject' or 'class struggle' or 'dialectics', they always point to something that should have been defined and posited in some way. Philosophies can be judged, at most, on the grounds of the perspicacity with which they decide that something is worthy of becoming the starting point for a global explanatory hypothesis. Thus I do not think that the sign (or any other suitable object for a general semiotics) is a mere figment.

„The sign is a gesture produced with the intention of communicating, that is, in order to transmit one's representation or inner state to another being.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[I] Signs, 1.2.2
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: The sign is a gesture produced with the intention of communicating, that is, in order to transmit one's representation or inner state to another being. The existence of a certain rule (a code) enabling both the sender and the addressee to understand the manifestation in the same way must, of course, be presupposed if the transmission is to be successful; in this sense, navy flags, street signs, signboards, trademarks, labels, emblems, coats of arms, and letters are taken to be signs.<!-- Dictionaries and cultivated language must at this point agree and take as signs also words, that is, the elements of verbal language. In all the cases examined here, the relationship between the and that for which it stands seems to be less adventurous than for the first category.

„Signs are not empirical objects.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.6
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: Signs are not empirical objects. Empirical objects become signs (or they are looked at as signs) only from the point of view of a philosophical decision.

„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.“

—  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.

„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.

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

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