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...
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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 and acquired an intellectual interest in novels, motion pictures, comic books, and in other mass media. After five years at RAI, he began work as a nonfiction senior editor at Casa Editrice Bompiani, a Milan publishing house. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, he taught at the universities of Turin, Milan, and Florence on subjects ranging from aesthetics and architecture to visual communication. During this time as well, Eco developed the...
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Umberto Eco (EHK-oh), son of Giulio and Giovanna Bisio Eco, spent his childhood in Alessandria, Italy, roughly equidistant from Milan and Turin. He left Alessandria to attend the nearby University of Turin, which awarded him a doctorate in 1954. His doctoral research in medieval studies exposed him to much of the material that he later used in his scholarly books and in his novels Il nome della rosa (1980; The Name of the Rose, 1983) and Il pendolo di Foucault (1989; Foucault’s Pendulum, 1989). Eco’s lifelong intellectual passion has been semiotics, the study of the signs cultures use to communicate, particularly as they relate to the interpretation of literature and meaning.
Following his doctoral studies, Eco spent five years, from 1954 to 1959, with Italian Radio-Television as editor for cultural programming, dealing with those aspects of semiotics that were concerned with mass communication. Midway through his years at the broadcasting company, Eco was appointed assistant lecturer in aesthetics at the University of Turin, remaining there until 1964. In 1962, he married a teacher, Renate Ramge, the mother of their two children, Stefano and Carlotta.
Eco’s appointment to his first university post coincided with the publication of his first book, Il problema estetico in San Tommaso (1956; The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, 1988), an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation. The second edition, retitled Il problema estetico in Tommaso d’Aquino, followed in 1970. Eco moved to the University of Milan as a lecturer in architecture for the 1964-1965 academic year, leaving Milan to relocate at the University of Florence as a professor of visual...
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Umberto Eco has successfully merged the specialized and barely accessible writing of semiotics with forms ranging from popular essays to novels to children’s books. He has demonstrated how to convey complex philosophical theories to broad audiences. He succeeds by writing enticing mysteries or, in the case of one of his children’s books, La bomba e il generale (1989; The Bomb and the General, 1989), by writing a pacifist dialogue that, although appropriate for young children, is concerned fundamentally with signs.
Eco’s scholarly work has become standard fare in college-level communications courses. His popular work has drawn a large, if sometimes bewildered, readership. Perhaps this author’s...
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