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 sign is not only something which stands for something else; it is also something that can and must be interpreted.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[2] Dictionary vs. Encyclopedia, 2.1 : Porphyry strikes back, 2.1.1 : Is a definition an interpretation?
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: A sign is not only something which stands for something else; it is also something that can and must be interpreted. The criterion of interpretability allows us to start from a given sign to cover, step by step, the whole universe of semiosis.

„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.

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„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.

„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.“

—  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.

„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.

„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.

„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.

„The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.“

—  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 principle of interpretation says that "a sign is something by knowing which we know something more"“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.2
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: The principle of interpretation says that "a sign is something by knowing which we know something more" (Peirce). The Peircean idea of semiosis is the idea of an infinite process of interpretation. It seems that the symbolic mode is the paramount example of this possibility.
However, interpretation is not reducible to the responses elicited by the textual strategies accorded to the symbolic mode. The interpretation of metaphors shifts from the univocality of catachreses to the open possibilities offered by inventive metaphors. Many texts have undoubtedly many possible senses, but it is still possible to decide which one has to be selected if one approaches the text in the light of a given topic, as well as it is possible to tell of certain texts how many isotopies they display.

„The interpretation of metaphors shifts from the univocality of catachreses to the open possibilities offered by inventive metaphors.“

—  Umberto Eco, book Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

[O] : Introduction, 0.2
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984)
Context: The principle of interpretation says that "a sign is something by knowing which we know something more" (Peirce). The Peircean idea of semiosis is the idea of an infinite process of interpretation. It seems that the symbolic mode is the paramount example of this possibility.
However, interpretation is not reducible to the responses elicited by the textual strategies accorded to the symbolic mode. The interpretation of metaphors shifts from the univocality of catachreses to the open possibilities offered by inventive metaphors. Many texts have undoubtedly many possible senses, but it is still possible to decide which one has to be selected if one approaches the text in the light of a given topic, as well as it is possible to tell of certain texts how many isotopies they display.

„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.

„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.

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

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