Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.
February 19, 2016 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Umberto Eco, the Italian semiotician, author, and critic, has died at age 84.
posted by freelanceastro (184 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh man. I read Focault's Pendulum on a trip to Europe about 20 years ago. I always described it as a mistake because I missed out on a lot of Europe.

It lead me to read his essays, which I'm eternally grateful for.

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posted by lumpenprole at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


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posted by reedcourtneyj at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:29 PM on February 19, 2016


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Foucault's Pendulum - a visionary.
posted by thebestusernameever at 4:30 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Foucault's Pendulum changed the way I thought about novels. It was the beginning of a long journey that has led me into Pynchon, Letham, DFW, Danielewski, Calvino, and many many others. Truly a gift to my life. And a global giant who left a mark upon most of the world.

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posted by hippybear at 4:30 PM on February 19, 2016 [20 favorites]


"To dream of living in a new and unknown city means imminent death. In fact, the dead live elsewhere, nor is it known where."

-Gerolamo Cradano, Somniorum Synesiorum, Basel, 1562, I, 58.
From the epigraph to chapter 64 of Foucault's Pendulum

Even in death, you deserve a dam fine citation.


posted by clavdivs at 4:33 PM on February 19, 2016 [14 favorites]


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posted by longdaysjourney at 4:35 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by glitter at 4:35 PM on February 19, 2016


Damn, I don't think I can think of an author who blended history, fiction and semiotics in one big cohesive mass as well as Eco.

You'll be missed
posted by Ferreous at 4:36 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by Iridic at 4:36 PM on February 19, 2016


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I've never made it through Foucault's Pendulum. The first time because I couldn't get into it and the second or third time because other stuff came up. Still, I read and enjoyed many of his other novels, most especially The Island of the Day before. I know lots of people hated the chapter about the consciousness and thought process of a rock, but I loved it so much that as soon as I finished reading it the first time I went back and read it again.

Also, the end of Baudolino, with the creatures all shaped remarkably differently and yet complete unaware of their anatomical differences, but obsessed with their trivial theological differences.

I'm going to go online and reserve these on the library web site before word gets out and the line builds. Also Foucault's pendulum, which I really need to get too soon.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:36 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:38 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fuck you, 2016. Fuck. You.


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posted by eriko at 4:39 PM on February 19, 2016 [27 favorites]


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The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, and all of his essays landed him among my favorite authors.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2016


The Name of The Rose had a profound effect on the way I viewed history when I read it. I have been a great admirer of Eco ever since. Another profound loss for 2016.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


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Well, heck. I suppose the increasing rapidity of these notable passings is a feature of demographics along with the accelerating explosion of mass communication over the last century but that doesn't make the news any friendlier.
posted by notyou at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Grim Reaper continues the year as it started.

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posted by nubs at 4:42 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by acb at 4:42 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by painquale at 4:43 PM on February 19, 2016


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Search for the Perfect Language was illuminating.
posted by eclectist at 4:44 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


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posted by dreaming in stereo at 4:44 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by dhruva at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by gauche at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2016


This is very embarrassing, but I have to admit that even though I consider myself relatively well-educated and well-read, and I recognize both the name Umberto Eco as well as the title Foucault's Pendulum, I always assumed he was from the 19th century.

I'm sorry you passed away, Signore Eco.
posted by yhbc at 4:46 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by tychotesla at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by dinty_moore at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Beardman at 4:48 PM on February 19, 2016


Came to say almost exactly what hippybear said. FP shook my mind up tremendously, changed me. Thank you, signore.
posted by penduluum at 4:49 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by pb at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2016


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Also what hippybear said
posted by humanfont at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Thorzdad at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Atom Eyes at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2016


Asked whether he had read The Davinci Code (in The Paris Review), he admits, "Yes, I am guilty of that too." The interviewer says, "That novel seems like a bizarre little offshoot of Foucault’s Pendulum." And Eco gives the best answer ever written about Brown: "The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist."

I don't know what to say. Foucault's Pendulum came out right as I was going to college. I devoured it. Everything I found of his, I devoured. Almost, anyway. Queen Loana still sits on a shelf. I don't seem to have a copy of Baudolino anymore, so when a pretty copy showed up at the thrift store, I got it. I re-read The Name of the Rose a couple of months ago, and it was still as absorbing and strange and labyrinthine as it had been when I was much younger. I've got The Prague Cemetery open in my lap--not his best work, but the one closest to hand--looking over all the titles of his I haven't come across yet. And now there won't be any more, ever.

What was that line from the Laurie Anderson song? When my father died, they put him in the ground; when my father died, it was like a whole library burned down. Eco is a beautiful library and a beautiful librarian, and I am going to miss him.
posted by mittens at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2016 [73 favorites]


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posted by Naamah at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2016


"Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors."
The Name of the Rose


Umberto Eco on lists: "We like lists because we don't want to die."

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posted by Lorin at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


"I began writing in March of1978, prodded by a seminal idea; I felt like poisoning a monk."

There are many worse reasons to write a novel.

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posted by GenjiandProust at 4:55 PM on February 19, 2016 [17 favorites]


Un-fucking-believable. Reading Foucault's Pendulum, completely changed my concept of what a novel could be and achieve. I don't think I had ever been so turned inside out by words.
posted by vverse23 at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by drezdn at 5:00 PM on February 19, 2016


What in the actual fuck is going on with this fucking shitty year?
posted by boo_radley at 5:00 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


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So is there, finally, a word processor like the one described in Foucault's Pendulum? I'd pay good cash money for that.
posted by kram175 at 5:01 PM on February 19, 2016


On passing, when you've been lauded as an amazing novelist and critic, yet semiotician precedes both of those in your obituary, well, kudos. It looks like it's time for some rereading.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2016


god dammit, I just read Numero Zero and was hoping that was a warm-up to another mindfucking door-stopper.

I've been warming up to another reading of FP, but reading this thread made me realize that I don't remember a thing about Baudolio.

Queen Loana is pretty autobiographical, or that's at least how it felt.

The Prague Cemetery was excellent, as well.

This sucks.
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posted by lkc at 5:03 PM on February 19, 2016


The internet misheard. It was supposed to have been an Eco chamber.

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posted by Devonian at 5:04 PM on February 19, 2016


I may need to read Foucault's Pendulum again. The first time, it struck me as a giant in-joke that got out of hand and swallowed its own tail. I adore The Name of the Rose, however, and really enjoyed the mix of history and fiction in Baudolino (though I think Rushdie did it better in The Enchanted of Florence). I've got Prague Cemetery on my Kindle; reading it now will be a different experience.

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posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:05 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by vrakatar at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2016


Kant and the Platypus had a huge influence on my understanding of how the mind processes information. Between his very accessible writings on semiotics and his fabulous fiction, he is among my very favorite writers. He will be missed.

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posted by OHenryPacey at 5:11 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


noooooooo, no, no, no, no. I am officially boycotting this year, fuck this year.
posted by Frowner at 5:11 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


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posted by yeahlikethat at 5:12 PM on February 19, 2016


OK DEATH, WE GET IT, YOU'RE A BADASS

NOW PLEASE TAKE A FUCKING BREAK
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


. .

One for Eco and one for Robert Forward whose works I had confused with Eco's.
posted by Mitheral at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by Ink-stained wretch at 5:22 PM on February 19, 2016


People talk a lot about influences as a writer, and in some small way I suppose Eco was that for me, but mainly he was an influence as a reader. "Books leading to other books", he led me to many of the names mentioned above - Calvino, Borges, other essayists, other philosophers. Without Eco I'm not sure where or even who I would be today. And like life itself, I won't claim to have always understood or agreed with the things he wrote, but he added new colour and hues to it, and gave me the sight to see them.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:22 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Rosicrucians finally caught up with him. Crap.
posted by slkinsey at 5:24 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


. damn
posted by coolxcool=rad at 5:26 PM on February 19, 2016


Loved Foucault's Pendulum, How to Travel with a Salmon...

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posted by combinatorial explosion at 5:27 PM on February 19, 2016


Just mentioned him in the thread on The Garden of Earthly Delights painting. He stays with you.
posted by Trochanter at 5:28 PM on February 19, 2016


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One of the few challenging authors worth the time. (For me at least.)
posted by nom de poop at 5:30 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Just mentioned him in the thread on The Garden of Earthly Delights painting. He stays with you.
posted by Trochanter at 5:28 PM on February 19 [+] [!]"

Eco was to words what Bosch was to images.
posted by cerulgalactus at 5:31 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


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(And I wonder what he might have said about the periods in obit threads.)
posted by postcommunism at 5:31 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Mine was among those minds changed by the Pendulum.
posted by wotsac at 5:32 PM on February 19, 2016


People talk a lot about influences as a writer, and in some small way I suppose Eco was that for me, but mainly he was an influence as a reader.

Totally. The Name of the Rose opened a lot of those same doors for me. I've kinda been saving Foucault's Pendulum for a time when I could give it the kind of attention it deserves. Seems every time I crack it open my eyes go blurry after a page or two. Moving it up the list again.
posted by Lorin at 5:36 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by nobody at 5:36 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Seems every time I crack it open my eyes go blurry after a page or two.

Gotta say it's rejected me a few times, too. And it's not like I'm not enjoying it, either. It's only a few feet away from me, though -- maybe this time....
posted by Trochanter at 5:39 PM on February 19, 2016


And then I set down to read it again, only to be reminded of the friend I lost to the Rosicrucians (literally) last year.
posted by wotsac at 5:40 PM on February 19, 2016



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goddamnit
posted by vers at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2016


for the man who revolutionized having a vocabulary with which to call people fascists on the internet

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posted by Pope Guilty at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


well shit. on the plus side, I guess, he was older than I'd reckoned.
posted by juv3nal at 5:42 PM on February 19, 2016


Seems every time I crack it open my eyes go blurry after a page or two.

Try again, it's an amazing thing.

RIP
posted by Max Power at 5:42 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by NailsTheCat at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Cpt. The Mango at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2016


Damn. I picked up Foucaults Pendulum on a whim in the college bookstore while buying textbooks because the back of the jacket talked about some editors, a plot, and an amazing computer program out of control. It had very little to do with that, but it overtook me with its madness and brilliance. Like others have said it really changed the way I looked at and read stories. I never saw pinball the same either.

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posted by doctoryes at 5:52 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


'The visitor enters and says, "What a lot of books! Have you read them all?" At first I thought that the question characterized only people who had scant familiarity with books, people accustomed to seeing a couple of shelves with five paperback mysteries and a children's encyclopedia bought in installments. But experience has taught me that the same words can be uttered also by people above suspicion. It could be said that they are still people who consider a bookshelf as a mere storage place for already read books and do not think of the library as a working tool. But there is more to it than that. I believe that, confronted by a vast array of books, anyone will be seized by the anguish of learning and will inevitably lapse into asking the question that expresses his torment and his remorse. ...

'But the question about your books has to be answered, while your jaw stiffens and rivulets of cold sweat trickle down your spine. In the past I adopted a tone of contemptuous sarcasm. "I haven’t read any of them; otherwise, why would I keep them here?" But this is a dangerous answer because it invites the obvious follow-up: "And where do you put them after you’ve read them?"

The best answer is the one always used by Roberto Leydi: "And more, dear sir, many more," which freezes the adversary and plunges him into a state of awed admiration. But I find it merciless and angst-generating. Now I have fallen back on the riposte: "No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office," a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy, and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure.' ('How to Justify a Private Library')
posted by mittens at 5:54 PM on February 19, 2016 [27 favorites]


Thank you, Mr. Eco, for putting all those words in the specific combinations you chose to put them in.

RIP

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posted by mistersquid at 5:56 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


In a world of shades of grey, for me Foucault's Pendulum is an absolute. I adore that book unreservedly. So much so that I've made pilgrimages to Musée des Arts et Métiers on its account to visit with that very pendulum.
“There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics…Cretins don’t even talk; they sort of slobber and stumble…Fools are in great demand, especially on social occasions. They embarrass everyone but provide material for conversation…Fools don’t claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation, and when they really offend, they’re magnificent…Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says that all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, therefore cats bark…Morons will occasionally say something that’s right, but they say it for the wrong reason…A lunatic is easily recognized. He is a moron who doesn’t know the ropes. The moron proves his thesis; he has logic, however twisted it may be. The lunatic on the other hand, doesn’t concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars…There are lunatics who don’t bring up the Templars, but those who do are the most insidious. At first they seem normal, then all of a sudden…”
Thank you, Signore Eco. For everything.

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posted by the painkiller at 5:58 PM on February 19, 2016 [19 favorites]


Mama Mia!
The role of the reader, ATOS, interpretation and overinterpretation, SATPL... I wouldn't know where I would be without your guidance.
posted by xtian at 6:02 PM on February 19, 2016


Awww. I just recently got back into Eco by reading The Prague Cemetery. At least I got to see him speak when he did the speaking tour for that book. He was as smart and interesting as you'd expect.

Thanks for all the wonderful symbols.


posted by benito.strauss at 6:05 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by jkaczor at 6:06 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Gelatin at 6:08 PM on February 19, 2016


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RIP Signore. The Marriage of Cadmus of Harmony is one of my all time favorite meta reads.
posted by nikitabot at 6:09 PM on February 19, 2016


Like so many of us, Eco changed me as a person, as a reader, and as a writer. I am forever grateful for what he shared, and much saddened by his passing.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:11 PM on February 19, 2016


RIP. Foucaults Pendulum and the Name of the Rose were so amazing.
posted by Fibognocchi at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by JohnFromGR at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by casaubon at 6:15 PM on February 19, 2016


Edit window too short. Pardon my brain fart above, especially in an obit thread.

I'm getting my brilliant Italians mixed up. Thank you for The Name of the Rose and especially Foucault's Pendulum. I realize you are not Roberto Calasso.
posted by nikitabot at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just read the title and yelled so loudly my wife asked what was the matter. I have on my shelf:
- Foucault's Pendulum
- The Name of the Rose
- Postscript to The Name of the Rose
- Baudalino
- Travels in Hyperreality
- The Search for the Perfect Language
- How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays
- Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language
- Six Walks in the Fictional Woods
- Misreadings
- History of Beauty
- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loama
- Kant & the Platypus
- The Island of the Day Before
- Serenditipies: Language and Lunacy
- Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

and probably a few others. To say I have been affected by the author is an understatement.

. Truly. .

Preterition

Adso was also useful to me in dealing with another matter. I could have had the story unfold in a Middle Ages where everyone knew what was being talked about, as in a contemporary story, in which, if a character says the Church would not approve his divorce, it is not necessary to explain what the Church is and why it does not approve the divorce. But in a historical novel this cannot be done, because the purpose of the narration is also to make clearer to us contemporaries what happened then and how what happened then matters to us as well.

Hence the risk of what I would call Salgarism. When the characters escape through the forest, pursued by enemies, and stumble over a baobab root, the narrator suspends the action in order to give us a botany lesson on the baobab. Now this has become topos, charming, like the defects of those we have loved; but it should not be done.

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posted by grimjeer at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


I always do keep meaning to take another stab at Foucault's Pendulum.

I read The Name of the Rose years ago for a class on medieval monasticism. I keep coming back to it every few years. I get something new from it every time I read it.

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posted by MrBadExample at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by Cash4Lead at 6:21 PM on February 19, 2016


I realize you are not Roberto Calasso

But you did get me scrambling to Google to assure myself he was still alive. Which I am glad of!
posted by mittens at 6:22 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by viramamunivar at 6:22 PM on February 19, 2016


A great writer; the semiotics were interesting (and now that I'm older I should rethink how those ideas figure into the fiction) but damn! great books that reframe what a novel is (I feel the same "holyshitmetawowwhatwtfr" about Calvino or Borges). A couple of things I still need to read. Great stuff. A tremendous loss.
posted by Capybara at 6:24 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by hap_hazard at 6:33 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by drnick at 6:38 PM on February 19, 2016


Between Lee and Eco: if there's an author's heaven, I bet they have a hell of a newsletter.
posted by Trochanter at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by allthinky at 6:50 PM on February 19, 2016


🌹
posted by metaquarry at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Said it this morning in the Harper Lee thread, but if 2016 could take a fucking break, I'd appreciate it. My heroes keep dying.

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posted by Celsius1414 at 7:00 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the postscript to "The Name of the Rose", Eco said:
(A difference) lies between the text that seeks to produce a new reader and the text that tries to fulfill the wishes of the readers already to be found in the street... (Writer of the first kind) wants to reveal the reader to himself.

"The Name of the Rose" certainly did that for me, and I'm eternally grateful to have that reading experience.

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posted by of strange foe at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


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posted by ZeusHumms at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2016


Some authors have a way with words. He had a way with ideas. His work had a place in my pantheon it will be hard to replace.
posted by irisclara at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Just saw the news, am on a skype call with my SO. She told me that she had actually slowed down when reading The Name of the Rose so it would last longer. I've read all of his novels (although I don't think I could do Island of the Day Before again) and think I should do a re-read.

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posted by Hactar at 7:09 PM on February 19, 2016


In your dialogue with Cardinal Martini, you wrote that 'the preoccupation with the end of the world is nowadays more a feature of the secular than the Christian world. The Christian world turned this thought into an object of meditation, and the lay world pretended to ignore it while being haunted by it.' Can we speak about a lay apocalypse?

ECO: In his Apocalypse, John sees the sea become blood, the stars fall from the heavens, the locusts swarming up out of the bottomless pit, the armies of Gog and Magog being deployed, the Beast rising up out of the waters... It's clear that today's secular world is not moved by this sort of description; we are moved instead by the wretched condition of one section of humanity, by acid rain, by holes in the ozone layer, by the proliferation of nuclear waste, by changes in the climate, by glaciers melting, by certain species becoming extinct, by the incredible rate of scientific development, and so on. In the religious way of thinking, the end of time is an episode, a rite of passage which leads to the shining city, celestial Jerusalem. In a secular way of thinking, it's the end of everything, and that's why the thought of it tends to be repressed. This, as it happens, is regrettable, because meditation on death ought to be the central subject of any philosophy. But all too often we stop at 'Carpe diem! Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.' If you raise the subject of death with lay people in Italy nowadays, they respond by saying, 'Let's not talk about it!' But why not? As it happens, I am a philosopher; thinking about death is my job! Why shouldn't I speak about my specialist area? In one of my letters to Cardinal Martini I tell the story I have told before of my meeting with an old Communist. At the time I was a young Catholic, and every evening at six o'clock in the town square, I used to meet up with this much older man, who was a fervent Communist. We used to have endless friendly but heated arguments. One day I asked him, in a provocative way, how he could, as an athiest, attribute any meaning to death. He replied: 'By asking for my funeral not to be a religious ceremony. In that way, I'll die, but I'll leave behind a message for others.'

I greatly admired this man, because he had an acute awareness of the continuity of history, as well as a sense of community. His own death took on meaning in his eyes in so far as he could use it to transmit something of value to others. It's a remarkable non-religious way of thinking about death. In secular society, you have to go to the educated classes to find such an ideal. On the other hand, even the lowliest believer, no matter how humble or uneducated, can be convinced that death is no more than a transition. Judaeo-Christianity made history out to be a journey, and in this history less attention is paid to the end of all things than to the sequence of transitions. The only thing to disappear completely on the day of the Last Judgement will be purgatory. And even then we won't lose much, because, according to the historian Jacques Le Goff, purgatory is a recent invention!

[...]

Where does this need to think about the end of the world come from?

ECO: It's a sort of optical illusion linked to the fact that we know men are mortal. Men are mortal, but should the world necessarily be so? Human beings are the only animals who know that they are bound to die. I have never met a dog capable of saying that all dogs are mortal. Man projects this fundamental idea on to the universe. If the man who is my father dies, won't the world in which I live die also? It's an intuitive move that cannot be prevented rationally, for a very simple reason: experience teaches us that men are mortal and that we will all die one day. But we don't have the same experience of the end of the universe, because no one has experienced the end of the universe. Even if the world is no more than the aggregate of mortal beings, that doesn't mean that it is itself mortal.

The transferrence of our own experience on to that of the universe is a logical error about which Kant said a lot: we conceive of the idea of the world, the idea of which God or the idea of liberty as though it is something which exceeds our sensory experience, but we make the mistake of applying categories to those ideas that are valid only within the limits of our sensory experience. One cannot apply to the world the laws which the world imposes on the objects of the world. We are taken in by the Greek idea (this reminds me of Plato) of the universe considered as a great animal. And by the way, what else is the Adam Kadmon of the cabbala? Any cosmogony starts from the personification of the constitutive elements of the universe which is considered to be a great animal. But the universe isn't an animal (any more than it is a mineral). Animals can become extinct without a certain 'condition of existence' which manifested itself through them also becoming extinct.
-- in Conversations about the End of Time (London, 1999)

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posted by junco at 7:10 PM on February 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


Foucault's Pendulum ought to be prescribed to bookish, smartish young men before they get all grand-unifying-conspiracy-theory about things. Consider it the inoculation with the best side-effects. RIP, sir.
posted by holgate at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Where will Dan Brown get his ideas to ruin now?
posted by Trochanter at 7:22 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Damn it. This has been a rough day. My library is turning into a mausoleum with Lee and Eco on the same day.
posted by jadepearl at 7:29 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't remember the exact details, but on one long journey in the early 90s while staying overnight some people I'd just met decided to do an impromptu book exchange. Everyone tossed a book into a pile. Then went round in turn taking a different book off the pile. When it came to me just too titles remained Atlas Shrugged and Foucault's Pendulum. I chose FP. I think my enture life would be different had I picked up Ayn Rand instead.
posted by humanfont at 7:41 PM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


. <--it seems particularly fitting here, given semiotics.
posted by exlotuseater at 7:54 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:55 PM on February 19, 2016


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Yeah, I read Foucault's Pendulum in college. I was pretty clueless at the time about a lot of the references - about a third of the way through I had to stop and start the book over again because of it. But I did go on and finish because there was so much brilliance there that kept me going. The whole theme of the absurdities of occult conspiracies has stayed with me ever since - "sooner or later, they bring up the Templars."

That's the only book of his I've ever finished, though. I tried Island of the Day Before but just couldn't get into it and never finished. I adore the film version of Name of the Rose and have often thought of reading the book but haven't gotten to it yet. (It's going on the to-read list for sure, now.)
posted by dnash at 8:02 PM on February 19, 2016


I don't think I ever readdressed a memorial thread but his essay on "The Loss of Privacy", collected in 2007, has been pivotal on an essay I started years ago and the gist I found in Ecos' line "...the fool becomes a universal model."
Adversely, the elevation of Bush in OO' baffled me and like with Reagan before. you start to wonder WTF is going on and here we are.

Ego Sum Professor, Deus non est
posted by clavdivs at 8:29 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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I banned myself from reading novels in college, and The Name Of The Rose was the first book I picked up after graduation. Of all the books I've read since, only a few have been that absorbing.
posted by peripathetic at 8:29 PM on February 19, 2016


This is old-school, but let me say a word for Opera aperta (1962), translated into English as Open Form, a really splendid book about the kinds of artworks that suggest response rather than dictate it. Grazie ed addio, egregio signore professore.
posted by homerica at 8:29 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by buzzv at 8:55 PM on February 19, 2016


My then-wife had bought for her sister who lived overseas The Name of the Rose, which had recently been published in its English translation.

She was packing it into a little "CARE package" of treats, when I picked it up and began leafing through it, gingerly because it was pristine in its hard-bound newness.

I'd heard of it, distantly. I knew it was a sensation in Europe. So, I started reading the first page. Then the second. Then the third. I literally could not put it down at that point, the whole while reading it half-opened because I didn't want to crack the spine of this book that was a gift.

I loved that book from that day forward, always numbering it among my all-time favorites. I immediately bought Foucault's Pendulum upon its publication in English. The characters didn't grab me as William and Adso and the Venerable Jorge had. But it was a book teeming with ideas and names, and, though I can't remember a lot of the plot at this point, it stuck with me in all its labyrinthine, conspiratorial complexity.

I had the pleasure of hearing him speak on his book tour for, I believe, The Island of the Day Before. He was charming and erudite. I lined up to have him sign my copy and, when I got before the great man, stammered out something about how much NotR had meant to me.

He was a huge influence on me at the time and to this date (I occasionally bring out the notion of describing something in ideal terms to someone the way Brother William describes Brunellus the horse he's never seen), introducing me to semiotics, de Saussure, medievalism, myriad secret societies, and so many other topics, all in the guise of involved, entertaining stories.

I am now officially due to reread at least some of his fictional work (my youthful hubris that I could just pick up and understand his semiotics texts a thing of the past).

My profound gratitude for all the introductions he made to so many ideas.

aav.
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posted by the sobsister at 8:59 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I bought a worn copy of Foucault's Pendulum many years ago, not really knowing anything about it beyond its author & title. I naively thought that, having liked The Name of the Rose and lots of physics, I'd enjoy FP, too. It took me a while to get around to starting it, and a long time to finish it. I don't think "enjoy" is the right word for the way I experienced it. It was more a cycle of reading, getting confused, re-reading, getting annoyed with Eco for the complexity, reading further, finding the complex facets coming together into a jewel, getting excited about reading more, having to jump back to re-connect dots that were required by the current chapter, getting annoyed with Eco for making it so irresistible to keep going, repeat. I've never had another experience of a novel poking at my brain as if it were challenging me to a fight, a fight whose uncertain outcome mattered less than the adrenaline rush I'd get from engaging in it.
posted by NumberSix at 9:18 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sadly I never dove into his work beyond The Name of the Rose, but I do have an Umberto Eco story (half the fun of which is being able to say "I have an Umberto Eco story"). When I graduated from college, Eco was present at the commencement ceremony to receive an award, and he gave a brief speech. The crowd's reaction was polite but muted. After him was the keynote speaker, Gary Knell, the president of the Sesame Workshop. He started his speech talking about his time at UCLA and his work on Sesame Street, and then...

...Cookie Monster popped up from the table next to the podium, wearing a tiny graduation cap. The crowd went nuts. C'mon, it's Cookie Monster! He did a little skit with Knell about the then-recent "cookies are a sometimes food" idea, saying he was going to change his name to Brussels Sprout Monster. But of course by the end of the bit he gave in and devoured a cookie, and the whole stadium was charmed and delighted and cheering.

I had a bad view of the stage, so I watched the whole thing on the Jumbotron. The way the camera framed the scene had Gary Knell on the left, behind his podium, and Cookie Monster on the right, behind his table. Then, in between them, you could clearly see Umberto Eco sitting one row back, watching the whole thing unfold with what looked like faintly bewildered amusement.

At the time I felt very embarrassed that my collective graduating class had snubbed a brilliant writer and thinker in favor of a Muppet. But I just checked YouTube, and it turns out someone filmed the skit as it played on the Jumbotron. Despite the shitty quality, it seems to me he's enjoying it more than I remembered. I hope he did.

With affection and apologies from UCLA Class of 2005:

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posted by brookedel at 9:29 PM on February 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


I read Eco and Edmund Wilson at a very young, impressionable, even permeable age - changed me and gave me direction all at once.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:30 PM on February 19, 2016


I came to Eco backwards, discovering Semiotics first, and didn't read his fiction until much later.

He was two great writers.

What a year.
posted by rokusan at 9:40 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:48 PM on February 19, 2016


I read Foucault's Pendulum twice. Once for the story, then immediately again for the author's voice. Eco was an amazing man, and we are poorer for his loss.
posted by SPrintF at 9:53 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read and loved The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, and have Prague Cemetery as yet unread, but one of my favorite pieces of his writing is "Travels in Hyperreality" where he drives down the California coast, visiting wax museums and replicas of the Last Supper, until he is done in by trying to describe the Madonna Inn:

"Let's say, that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudí, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli. But that doesn't give you an idea. Let's say ... Chopin's Sonata in B-flat sung by Perry Como in an arrangement by Liberace and accompanied by the Marine Band."
posted by gingerbeer at 10:19 PM on February 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


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posted by ogooglebar at 10:26 PM on February 19, 2016


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I will admit I have never read the novels. Just the essays.
Scusami Umberto. I will remedy tonight.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 10:40 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by adso at 10:57 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by romakimmy at 11:04 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by chicainthecity at 11:12 PM on February 19, 2016


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As he wrote in Baudolino: “What is life if not the shadow of a fleeting dream?”
posted by LeLiLo at 11:15 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by newdaddy at 11:21 PM on February 19, 2016


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A man who went full on, all out and never compromised.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 11:21 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by misteraitch at 11:25 PM on February 19, 2016


Thank you for vaccinating me at a young age against conspiracy theories.

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posted by benzenedream at 11:25 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


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posted by adso at 11:57 PM on February 19 [1 favorite −]

Can't favourite that one enough.
posted by Trochanter at 11:52 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


:(

I'm an actual, professional semiotician. Guess because of whom...
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:53 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


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posted by Lyme Drop at 11:54 PM on February 19, 2016


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posted by infini at 12:00 AM on February 20, 2016


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posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:01 AM on February 20, 2016


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posted by zinc saucier at 12:39 AM on February 20, 2016


I'm a semiotician in no small part thanks to Eco. His Lector in fabula is the next big influence on how I started to think about literature besides Foucault's What is an author? Always important - thank you, Umberto.

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posted by sapagan at 12:46 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]



posted by Phssthpok at 2:20 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by heatvision at 2:56 AM on February 20, 2016


RIP Umberto Eco.

A reread of Baudolino is in order while I wait for the flurry of new-bought novels to hit the secondhand shops where I first encountered him.
posted by comealongpole at 2:59 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Travels in Hyperreality & The Name of the Rose got me through some strange times. Foucault's, much to my delight, completely freaked out my conspiracy obsessed friends. I love Calvino, too. Perhaps I should learn Italian to read them in the original language. At any rate, I am crushed.

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posted by talking leaf at 3:17 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by Pendragon at 3:20 AM on February 20, 2016



posted by mfoight at 4:07 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


When I moved to Italy after university, and hoped to work in publishing, I was given Umberto Eco's home number by a friend of his wife's. When I'd gathered the courage to call, I got his answerphone, on which I left my name, and that I'd try some other time. (I'm not sure I ever tried my luck again, after.)

A few months later I bought a copy of Il pendolo di Foucault - and came across an elusive character who bears my rather uncommon surname. (He appears first as editor of the Les Cahiers du Mystère, and later, via various permutations of the name, as an alias of the Comte de Saint-Germain, and possibly even the revenant chief of the Russian secret police, Račkovskij.)

Which means one of two scenarios: either Eco was still working on his manuscript, and my message inspired the (multiple) name for one of his characters - or else (and more likely, given that I'd left my message such a short time before his novel was published), what he heard that evening, listening to the day's messages, was that one of his fictional characters called him at home. I like to think he'd have got a kick out of that.

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posted by progosk at 4:45 AM on February 20, 2016 [17 favorites]


Quite unfortunate news. Might be a good occasion to re-visit my favourite Eco-esque novel: Q (free to download, legally).
posted by ersatz at 5:04 AM on February 20, 2016


Eco is an author, like David Foster Wallace, who I came to first through his essays. Reading How to Travel with A Salmon is like eating candy.
posted by How the runs scored at 5:25 AM on February 20, 2016


the painkiller took the words out of my mouth. Eco had a way of writing things where you paused and said "damn I wish I said that!"

It has been a long time, but to the best of my recollection I read Foucault's Pendulum in two sittings. It is one of those very rare books that kept me up until three in the morning and I do not expect that ever to happen again. There are things that man is not meant to know and there are truths that cannot be proven and there are things that cannot be said. I'm not sure but I bet it was Eco who really hammered that home for me.

Here is the blurb from Taleb on Eco's library:

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
posted by bukvich at 5:39 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


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posted by saulgoodman at 6:27 AM on February 20, 2016


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posted by crocomancer at 6:55 AM on February 20, 2016


I LOVED the film of The Name of the Rose but could never get through the book.

I read Foucault's Pendulum while I was writing my graduate thesis (so it must be said that part of my motivation was displacement activity) but I have a distinct memory of sitting up in bed late into the night with an unabridged dictionary next to me and just desperately struggling to keep up and not feel so DUMB. I can't think offhand of a book that has challenged me that much, that I also managed to finish.

This past autumn I spent an afternoon alone in Paris' Musée des Arts et Métiers, where the original Pendulum is, and the book is, well, bookended...it's a very atmospheric and thought provoking spot.

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posted by hearthpig at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2016


I was going to make a quip about the Illuminati must be starting the takeover but really Foucault's Pendulum is just the final conspiracy novel, all others a shadow and required reading for nutcases but I guess they'd miss the point.

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(his commentary on the usage of the period here would certainly have been fascinating)
posted by sammyo at 8:18 AM on February 20, 2016


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posted by neushoorn at 8:25 AM on February 20, 2016


I had a computer called Abulafia for, like, 8 years in there.

If I were starting a business it would be called Garamond/Manutius.
posted by miyabo at 9:20 AM on February 20, 2016


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posted by motty at 9:36 AM on February 20, 2016


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posted by cleroy at 10:47 AM on February 20, 2016


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As many have said, he completely transformed what I thought a novel - writing, nay, thinking - could be. He led me to discover Borges and the rest, magic realism, what post-modernism was really all about and probably changed the whole way I look at and thought about the world.

2016 really needs to give it a bloody rest.
posted by parm at 11:06 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by Splunge at 12:58 PM on February 20, 2016




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posted by bouvin at 1:52 PM on February 20, 2016


  . 
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posted by limeonaire at 3:03 PM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


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posted by hydropsyche at 4:05 PM on February 20, 2016


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posted by mgrrl at 4:30 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by Ignorantsavage at 4:56 PM on February 20, 2016


because meditation on death ought to be the central subject of any philosophy

petrarch's secret: "For there can be no doubt that to recollect one's misery and to practice frequent meditation on death is the surest aid in scorning the Seductions of this world, and in ordering the soul amid its stoles and tempests, if only such meditation be not superficial, but sink into the bones and marrow of the heart."

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posted by kliuless at 6:39 PM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by esto-again at 3:44 AM on February 21, 2016


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posted by ASeveredHead at 4:43 AM on February 21, 2016


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posted by Wobbuffet at 7:05 AM on February 22, 2016


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posted by seyirci at 10:02 AM on February 22, 2016


How To Travel With A Salmon, Umberto Eco
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by casaubon at 3:15 AM on February 20 [+] [!]
I see what you did there.
posted by _dario at 4:33 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by chance at 5:35 PM on February 22, 2016


Protocols
A revealing 2011 conversation with Umberto Eco, who died last week at 84, about anti-Semitism in fiction, his novel ‘The Prague Cemetery,’ and the difference between fiction and lies

posted by Joe in Australia at 5:50 PM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]




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posted by Legomancer at 11:44 AM on February 23, 2016


How Umberto Eco Tagged Today’s Fascists

Dayum.
posted by Trochanter at 11:58 AM on February 23, 2016




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