Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco (1932-2016), semiologist, philosopher, mass media expert and narrator, was a teacher and professor emeritus at the University of Bologna. He received the Sigillum Magnum, the university's most prestigious award.
Umberto Eco

He was born in Alessandria on 5th January 1932 and studied at the University of Turin under Luigi Pareyson, graduating in 1954 with a dissertation on the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, subsequently published as a book in 1956. His range of cultural interests extended far beyond aesthetics and medieval philosophy, however, and brought him into contact not only with avant-garde music, literature and painting but also the novelties of mass communication. In fact, after the publication of his dissertation and a book on medieval aesthetics, he began to analyse phenomena of mass society and musical and literary experimentalism, with the publication of famous essays such as “The Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno” (in 1961, subsequently in Diario minimo, 1963) and “The Open Work” (Opera aperta,1962).

His work with the Italian state broadcaster (RAI) and then with the publishers Bompiani — together with his involvement in the setting up of “Group 63” and his first teaching appointments at the Faculty of Architecture in Florence — gave him a privileged vantage point from which to view society and mass culture (Apocalittici e integrati, 1964), leading to the embryonic beginnings of a semiological approach. In ”The Absent Structure” (La struttura assente,1968), he also distanced himself from some of the excesses of structuralism. His interest in semiotics intensified in the 70s, leading to the publication of “A Theory of Semiotics” (Trattato di semiotica generale, 1975), an original theoretical synthesis drawing on different sources of inspiration in linguistics (F. de Saussure and L. Hjelmslev) and philosophy (Ch.S. Peirce) which proposed a new discipline to the global academic-cultural audience he now commanded.

Eco’s discussions of systems and processes of signification were followed by numerous other works (Lector in fabula, 1979; “Semiotics and Philosophy of Language” - Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio, 1984; “The Limits of Interpretation” - I limiti dell’interpretazione, 1990; “Kant and the Platypus” - Kant e l’ornitorinco, 1997), in which his dialogues with numerous other disciplines and approaches (narratology, analytical philosophy, deconstruction, cognitivism) were interspersed with the production of novels, starting with “The Name of the Rose” - Il nome della rosa (1980) and continuing with “Foucault's Pendulum” - Il pendolo di Foucault (1988), “The Island of the Day Before” - L’isola del giorno prima (1994), “Baudolino” - Baudolino (2000), “ The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana” - La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (2004), “ The Prague Cemetery” - Il cimitero di Praga (2010) and “Numero zero” Numero zero (2015).

In 1975 Umberto Eco became full professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. His contribution to the University has been fundamental: after helping to set up the first Drama, Art and Music Studies (DAMS) course in Italy at the beginning of the 70s, he established the Communication Sciences degree programme (1992), which he directed in person in its initial years. In 1990 he founded the Advanced School of Humanistic Studies, over which he presided until his death.

He became professor emeritus in 2008 and on 19th June 2015 he received the golden Sigillum Magnum, the most prestigious award of the University of Bologna.

On 20th March 2016 the covered square of the Salaborsa Library in Bologna was named after Umberto Eco.

 

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L'Alma Mater, perché? (in Italian)