Umberto Eco was born on January 5, 1932, in Alessandria, Italy. He attended the University of Turin, studying medieval philosophy and aesthetics. He became fascinated with semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and their interpretation. This early interest would emerge not only in his academic work but also in his later popular successes, The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.
Eco completed his doctoral work in 1954, publishing his dissertation on Saint Thomas Aquinas in 1956. During the same year, he began his academic career by accepting a post as a lecturer at the University of Turin, a position he held for the next eight years. At the same time, Eco also worked in radio and television in Italy as a cultural editor. He met many influential avant-garde writers and artists. Together, they became the heart of the Italian intellectual community.
In 1962, Eco published Opera aperta (The Open Work, 1989), a seminal book on text and meaning. In this book, Eco argues for the open text, a work that requires the reader to piece together meaning through an examination of the clues left by the writer. As a result, open texts do not have one, enduring meaning but rather many meanings, depending on the reader and the context of the reading. These concepts, while sophisticated and complex, are essential for understanding Eco as a writer of detective fiction. Indeed, for Eco, mystery and detective fiction offers a vehicle to illustrate these very concepts.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Eco found himself in increasing demand as a lecturer, writer, and editor. He wrote for some of the most important, if widely diverse, periodicals in Italy. Beginning in 1959, he was a senior editor at Bompiani publishers in Milan, a position he held through 1975. In 1971, it appeared that Eco had reached the pinnacle of success as a scholar when he accepted a position as the first professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. He also became the vice president of the International Association for Semiotic Studies in 1979, founding and editing VS, the journal of semiotics. Throughout the next two decades, he wrote some of the most important works to date on the study of semiotics.
In 1978, Eco began work on the novel that would become The Name of the Rose. Even Eco was surprised over the attention garnered by his book. The popular reading public enjoyed the riveting mystery, while critics and scholars found the religious, philosophical, and historical content of the story to be worthy of study. In 1988, Eco published Il pendolo di Foucault, published in translation as Foucault’s Pendulum in 1989. This novel, set in the modern world, draws in the esoteric mythology of the Knights Templar for its plot. This novel was also both a critical and popular success.
After the publication of Foucault’s Pendulum, Eco wrote three more novels as well as many books on language, semiotics, and literature. In addition, he has continued to contribute columns to magazines and journals.
Umberto Eco was born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, a small city east of Turin and south of Milan in the northwestern Italian province of Piedmont. He had a home in the Piedmont region his entire life. His father, Giulio Eco, was an accountant in a firm that manufactured bathtubs. His mother was Giovanna Bisio Eco. The young Eco entered the University of Turin and graduated in 1954 with a degree in philosophy. His thesis, Il problema estetico in San Tommaso (1956), was translated into English as The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (1988). In 1961, he received a libera docenza (a degree roughly equivalent to the doctorate) in aesthetics.
On September 24, 1962, Eco married Renate Ramge, a German-born teacher. The couple had two children, Stefano (born 1963) and Carlotta (born 1964). Eco’s first job after graduate school was as cultural editor at the Milan studio of Radiotelevisione Italia (RAI), the Italian radio and television network. With RAI he learned about the workings of popular culture...
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