UMBERTO ECO Biography - Writers


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Name: Umberto Eco                                                                           
Born: 5 January 1932 Alessandria, Italy                                                     
Umberto Eco (born January 5, 1932) is an Italian medievalist, semiotician,                 
philosopher, literary critic and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of             
the Rose (Il nome della rosa, 1980), an intellectual mystery combining semiotics           
in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. Recently               
his 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum has been described as a "thinking person's Da           
Vinci Code," and was re-issued by Harcourt in March 2007.                                   
Eco is President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, University of                 
Bologna. He has also written academic texts, children's books and many essays.             
Eco was born in the city of Alessandria in the region of Piedmont. His father,             
Giulio, was an accountant before the government called upon him to serve in                 
three wars. During World War II, Umberto and his mother, Giovanna, moved to a               
small village in the Piedmontese mountainside. Eco received a Salesian education,           
and he has made references to the order and its founder in his works and                   
His family name is supposedly an acronym of ex caelis oblatus (Latin: a gift               
from the heavens), which was given to his grandfather (a foundling) by a city               
His father was the son of a family with thirteen children, and urged him to                 
become a lawyer, but he entered the University of Turin in order to take up                 
medieval philosophy and literature, writing his thesis on Thomas Aquinas and               
earning his BA in philosophy in 1954. During this time, Eco left the Roman                 
Catholic Church after a crisis of faith.                                                   
After this, Eco worked as a cultural editor for the state broadcasting station             
Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and also lectured at the University of Turin (1956-64).     
A group of avant-garde artists painters, musicians, writers whom he had                     
befriended at RAI (Gruppo 63) became an important and influential component in             
Eco's future writing career. This was especially true after the publication of             
his first book in 1956, Il problema estetico di San Tommaso, which was an                   
extension of his doctoral thesis. This also marked the beginning of his                     
lecturing career at his alma mater.                                                         
In September 1962, he married Renate Ramge, a German art teacher with whom he               
has a son and a daughter. He divides his time between an apartment in Milan and             
a vacation house near Rimini. He has a 30,000 volume library in the former and a           
20,000 volume library in the latter.                                                       
In 1959, he published his second book, Sviluppo dell'estetica medievale, which             
established Eco as a formidable thinker in medievalism and proved his literary             
worth to his father. After serving for 18 months in the Italian Army, he left               
RAI to become, in 1959, non-fiction senior editor of Casa Editrice Bompiani of             
Milan, a position he would hold until 1975.                                                 
Eco's work on medieval aesthetics stressed the distinction between theory and               
practice. About the Middle Ages, he wrote, there was "a geometrically rational             
schema of what beauty ought to be, and on the other [hand] the unmediated life             
of art with its dialectic of forms and intentions" the two cut off from one                 
another as if by a pane of glass. Eco's work in literary theory has changed                 
focus over time. Initially, he was one of the pioneers of "Reader Response".               
During these years, Eco began seriously developing his ideas on the "open" text             
and on semiotics, penning many essays on these subjects, and in 1962 he                     
published Opera aperta ("Open Work").                                                       
In Opera aperta, Eco argued that literary texts are fields of meaning, rather               
than strings of meaning, that they are understood as open, internally dynamic               
and psychologically engaged fields. Those works of literature that limit                   
potential understanding to a single, unequivocal line are the least rewarding,             
while those that are most open, most active between mind and society and line,             
are the most lively and best although valuation terminology is not his                     
business. Eco emphasizes the fact that words do not have meanings that are                 
simply lexical, but rather operate in the context of utterance. So much had been           
said by I. A. Richards and others, but Eco draws out the implications for                   
literature from this idea. He also extended the axis of meaning from the                   
continually deferred meanings of words in an utterance to a play between                   
expectation and fulfillment of meaning. Eco comes to these positions through               
study of language and from semiotics, rather than from psychology or historical             
analysis (as did theorists such as Wolfgang Iser, on the one hand, and Hans-Robert         
Jauss, on the other). He has also influenced popular culture studies though he             
did not develop a full-scale theory in this field.