On Literature – Umberto Eco

02 Nov

OLEcoIn this collection of essays and addresses delivered over the course of his illustrious career, Umberto Eco seeks “to understand the chemistry of [his] passion” for the word. From musings on Ptolemy and “the force of the false” to reflections on the experimental writing of Borges and Joyce, Eco’s luminous intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge are on dazzling display throughout. And when he reveals his own ambitions and superstitions, his authorial anxieties and fears, one feels like a secret sharer in the garden of literature to which he so often alludes.

Remarkably accessible and unfailingly stimulating, this collection exhibits the diversity of interests and the depth of knowledge that have made Eco one of the world’s leading writers.

This collection of words has possibly the most offensive cover I have ever seen, purely because I am loath to ever break the spines of my treasured possessions.  After much deliberation, It is difficult to find much else to fault with this particular paperback.

This is a gathering together of essays by semiotician Umberto Eco, a man of eloquence who always manages to make me feel woefully under read.  Eco uses semiotics to decipher and open up the mind, to inform and make connections, the sheer volume of authors and books quoted is genuinely impressive and makes for a weighty read but one that is satisfying and will definitely change the extent of how you view your literature and history.

The author’s eloquence on a number of topics is in evidence as he delves into the minutiae of the written word, from philosophies, technique and propaganda to mention but a few of he subjects covered. There is in evidence of an intricate flow of thought, language and complex patterns, continually unfurling and changing through history.  Eco explores abstract concepts and brings to light other authors to help us decipher a rich tapestry of concept and imagery that is constantly evolving around us.

There are eighteen essays included, some keeping my attention more than others, although all had plenty of substance to them.  The stand out pieces for me were, The American Myth in Three Anti-American Generations, The Power of Falsehood and Between La Mancha and Babel, to name a few.  The final selection on how he writes is engaging as he talks about the experiences of his novels which will intrigue any author and fan of his work as he self analyses his own approach to the joys and pressures of writing.

The way I read this book was fairly disjointed due to being busy with extra hours at work and falling asleep to Star Trek 5 (twice in a week). It is one that does demand complete attention of the reader as the essays have plenty of depth and can at times be a little dry.  Some of its essays were way above me but the knowledge of even more hidden depths within literature spurs me on, knowing I have much more to explore.


Posted by on 02/11/2014 in Languages


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22 responses to “On Literature – Umberto Eco

  1. N@ncy

    02/11/2014 at 18:49

    Great review…..this sounds like a book I would enjoy…especially “concept and imagery that is constantly evolving around us.”


    • Ste J

      02/11/2014 at 18:56

      Yes it would be right up your street, there is a veritable gallery of famous and obscure authors who are sourced as well as lots of analytical thought on language. I think you would get a lot out of this.


  2. Tom Gething

    02/11/2014 at 21:37

    Yes, but what does he say about giant crabs?


    • Ste J

      03/11/2014 at 08:30

      Haha, he is surprisingly quiet on the subject leading me to believe that he must be a sympathiser…


  3. readingwithrhythm

    03/11/2014 at 00:42

    The Mom Person finds Mr Eco quite fascinating. She has a shelf full of his writings. He’s a little much for my tiny canine brain and his words tend to put me to sleep. But that’s ok!


    • Ste J

      03/11/2014 at 08:42

      Sleeping is al so good. I am sure Mr Eco would be happy to know he can lull you into pleasant dreams.


  4. colemining

    03/11/2014 at 02:16

    One of my all-time faves (Eco in general, and these essays, in particular). Might have to pick it up again… Thanks, as always, for keeping my reading list ever-growing!


    • Ste J

      03/11/2014 at 08:43

      With Christmas on the way, I like to think I am doing a public service and giving out present ideas. He does have such a wonderfully eloquent way of teaching his readers as well as fascinating us to go seek out obscure works to learn from.


      • Elizabeth Melton Parsons

        04/11/2014 at 02:26

        Well, your review sparked my interest, but since I read for pure entertainment and relaxation not sure I’d enjoy this. But hey, if I can find a used copy cheap, I’ll sure it a try. 🙂


        • Ste J

          04/11/2014 at 20:40

          A cheap copy would indeed be a bargain, each essay ranges from as few as five pages to 30 odd so it is a book you could dip into, if you felt in the mood.


  5. Sherri

    03/11/2014 at 11:13

    Yikes…that cover gives me the creeps too, those poor broken spines 😦 But it is edgy, I suppose. Your reading and writing qualities truly do amaze me Ste, how do you read such a book and then review it so excellently? It sounds over my head but I can see the parts that would definitely intrigue and benefit. Did ever finish Star Wars?


    • Ste J

      04/11/2014 at 20:51

      Star Trek, don’t mistake those two or you will get emails telling you the differences lol. I will get to a Trek marathon one day and watch them all, perhaps that is a blog post in itself. Eco is so learned that I did have to really concentrate on parts of it and some of the books I hadn’t read but it was so informative that I found that I had learned a lot from it.

      The cover looks good with all the old books but really is sad when you take time to look at the damage. How do I read and review it? Well it can be a challenge sometimes to find that angle that gets me started, it is all down to random thoughts that come my way though. It is difficult to explain how I write, I just do…lol.


      • Sherri

        04/11/2014 at 21:13

        Oh no! I can’t believe I said Star Wars!!!! What an insult lol. It’s so strange because I had Star Trek in my head when I wrote that. Haha…I’ll watch out for those emails, yikes….! I absolutely loved the original Star Trek – had a crush on William Shatner once, and if that doesn’t age me then I don’t know what does. Well, I’m still in awe and really don’t know how you do it. But I’m glad you do 🙂


        • Ste J

          04/11/2014 at 21:17

          And I shall keep on doing it as long as keyboards exist or there are electrodes that allow me to do it, which is the lazy connoisseurs way. I never got into the original series but the films were great and I love the Motion Picture although it gets a lot of hate.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. shadowoperator

    03/11/2014 at 14:27

    Hi, Ste J! Kudos for daring even to read Eco–I’ve never even read any of his fiction without feeling woefully out of step and behind the times in my understanding. I think he’s just too smart for me, or that I don’t understand semiotics properly or something. Anyway, I’m glad someone is able to read him.


    • Ste J

      04/11/2014 at 20:54

      Eco is awesome, I love all his work and it does surprise me that you haven’t gotten into him with the body of work you read. I think you should have another go at books sometime as I think you are more than a match for him.


  7. Letizia

    03/11/2014 at 20:05

    I agree with you that the style can be a bit dry at times (perhaps due to the translation? I can’t remember if he ever writes in English). But the ideas themselves are often so interesting that it’s worth getting past that.

    You would cringe if you saw my library… full of books with their spines broken, oh dear!

    hope you catch up on your sleep soon…


    • Ste J

      04/11/2014 at 20:42

      I never thought of the translation issue, The translations are usually so well done that I don’t even think of them in the original, a spur to learn new languages if ever there was one.

      I always get so distraught over damaged books, perhaps I should man up but I really can’t bear to hurt my babies.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. RoSy

    08/11/2014 at 00:35

    Disclaimer: No books were hurt in the making of that book cover 😉


    • Ste J

      08/11/2014 at 18:52

      Haha, perhaps they were stunt books, or just very good actors.


  9. LuAnn

    10/11/2014 at 13:07

    If some of Eco’s essays were above you Ste J, I don’t stand a chance. 🙂 When I saw the cover of this book I wondered if you would have a comment on it, knowing how you feel about those precious spines of your books.


    • Ste J

      11/11/2014 at 15:19

      I did get a little emotional when I picked the book up and that may have distracted me somewhat from the early essays. I don’t think they are beyond you or anybody, some just assume you are familiar with certain books, which sadly I am not which of course drives me on to read more!



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