A rigorous exploration for able academics.


Like a collection of TED talks on philosophy and literary history, these 12 dazzling texts explore grand themes of intellectual curiosity such as beauty, secrecy, the invisible, and the sacred.

Each essay was originally presented as a lecture at the Milanesiana Festival in Milan, where Eco (Chronicles of a Liquid Society, 2017, etc.) spoke yearly from 2001 to 2015. They represent “a rough and ready semiotics,” but they maintain a sense of familiarity and oral tradition that aligns the book with works like Plato’s Symposium and other ancient philosophical texts. Eco explores big ideas, some of which were prompted by the festival’s organizers, and with a staggering bibliography of sources, he playfully meanders from the writings of Thomas Aquinas to Alexandre Dumas to Dan Brown. In a 2004 lecture on the sublime, he explores the medieval understanding of beauty in terms of proportion, luminosity, and integrity, all while invoking the golden ratio and the splendor of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings. The following year, Eco delivered a lecture on ugliness that drew on The Tempest’s Caliban, Cyrano de Bergerac, and even a bevy of grotesque Bond villains from Ian Fleming’s novels. It’s a thrill to connect ideas between lectures: Eco’s thoughts on ugliness, beauty, and kitsch return in a 2012 talk on imperfections in art and literature, where he explains, “what we look for in a work of art (at least these days) is not a correspondence to a canon of taste, but to an internal norm, where economy and formal consistency regulate the text in all its parts.” In other words, context is key. But how to contextualize this book, with its heightened erudition and limited accessibility? With philosophical citations that span pages at a time and Eco’s penchant for using the original Latin whenever he can, this book’s “internal norm” is situated in the college-level classroom or the special collections wing of a university library.

A rigorous exploration for able academics.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-674-24089-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.


The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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