The acclaimed author of The Name of the Rose (1980) and Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) returns with a deeply academic collection of previously published essays, speeches and a book review, all examining issues in semiotics, linguistics and medieval history.
Not for the faint of heart—or for those who neglected their homework in Latin or world history—this anthology is for scholars, philosophers, historians, linguists and semioticians. Novelist and literary critic Eco (Emeritus, Semiotics/Univ. of Bologna; The Prague Cemetery, 2011, etc.) has revised each of the pieces, and they retain their full academic regalia: parenthetical citations, long block quotations and dense footnotes. He begins with a discussion of the semantic differences between dictionaries and encyclopedias and then proceeds to a historical analysis of metaphor and a tracing of the philosophical use of the dog—and the barking dog—in the thinking of some heavyweights like Augustine, Abelard, Aquinas and Roger Bacon. Among the more interesting selections is one about how people in the Middle Ages viewed fakes and copies. Since they had few ways to determine authenticity, they were more accepting of them. Dante figures prominently in a number of the pieces. We learn that he accepted the biblical account of the variety of Earth’s languages, and Eco explains the notion that God perhaps gave Adam a sort of Chomsky-an universal grammar rather than an actual language—though he also acknowledges the long attempt to demonstrate that Hebrew was the language of Adam. Eco is generally generous to other scholars, but he does go after Benedetto Croce for a “lack of precision” and an “extremely limited familiarity with the arts.” Another engaging essay deals with what he calls “natural semiosis,” and he revisits and reaffirms some thoughts about Kant and the platypus.
Lush, comprehensive scholarship aimed at a very limited academic readership.