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Eco's Chaosmos

Eco's Chaosmos: From the Middle Ages to Postmodernity

Cristina Farronato
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    Eco's Chaosmos
    Book Description:

    While Umberto Eco's intellectual itinerary was marked by his early studies of post-Crocean aesthetics and his spectacular concentration on linguistics, information theory, structuralism, semiotics, cognitive science, and media studies, what constitutes the peculiarity of his critical and fiction writing is the tension between a typically medieval search for a code and the hermeneutic representative of deconstructive tendencies. This tension betweencosmosandchaos, order and disorder, is reflected in the wordchaosmos.

    In this brilliant assessment of the philosophical basis of Eco's critical and fictional writing, Cristina Farronato explores the other distinctive aspect of Eco's thought - the struggle for a composition of opposites, the outcome deriving from his ability to elicit similar contrasts from the past and re-play them in modern terms. Focusing principally on how Eco's scholarly background influenced his study of semiotics, Farronato analyzesThe Name of the Rosein relation to William of Ockham's epistemology, C.S. Peirce's work on abduction, and Wittgenstein's theory of language. She discussesFoucault's Pendulumas an explicit comment on the modern debate on interpretation through a direct reference to Early Modern hermetic thought, correlatesThe Island of the Day Beforeas a postmodern mixture of science and superstition, and reviewsBaudolinoas an historical/fantastic novel that once again situates the Middle Ages in a postmodern context.Eco's Chaosmosdemonstrates how Eco's use of semiotic theory is important for an understanding of the postmodern aspects of today's literature and culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7425-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    Umberto Eco was born in Alessandria, a town in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont, on 5 January 1932. He was therefore a child when first Fascism and later the Resistance movement swept over Italy. His Piedmontese roots remain at the core of his personality, both as a man and as an intellectual; in fact, they often surface in his essays and fiction, which comment on the raw and matter-of-fact character of his ancestors and his people, on their indifference to opposing factions’ sudden changes of front, and on the political decisions made by a faraway and obsolete Italian government....

  7. 2 From Cosmos to Chaosmos: Eco and Joyce
    (pp. 8-31)

    Eco’s omnivorous interest is manifested throughout his writings. The reading public knows him as the author of four successful novels, but his narrative talent ought not to obscure his scholarly accomplishments, as he has produced an immense quantity of ground-breaking critical work.

    In spite of Eco’s success as an internationally known author and his cutting-edge critique, he remains, as he likes to designate himself, ‘a medievalist in hibernation.’ The phrase certainly does not imply a turning back of his theory to the medieval past, which would be unthinkable; instead, it casts light on his intellectual position with respect to the...

  8. 3 Semiotics as a Solution: From a Theory of Aesthetics to the Study of Culture
    (pp. 32-60)

    One of the most influential figures at the University of Turin during Eco’s years as a student was Luigi Pareyson, an energetic professor of philosophy who had proposed the first comprehensive study of aesthetics after Benedetto Croce. Although I do not aim at an intellectual biography of Umberto Eco here, this episode in his life is fundamental, because it was Pareyson who aroused his interest in medieval aesthetics and who provoked his first reflections on the concept of ‘form,’ reflections that would occupy him intermittently in the years to come.

    Pareyson’s theory offered a way of overcoming Croce’s late Romantic...

  9. 4 The Aesthetics of Reception and the Reflection on the Reader: From the Labyrinth to the Southern Seas
    (pp. 61-105)

    Once upon a time there was … a Reader!

    In the 1970s and 1980s, in response to the dominant criteria established by formalism and the New Criticism, a debate was created by new schools of theory that called into question the role of the reader of texts and the implications of the reading process. Against the idea of impersonality, which, according to the formalists, ought to be cultivated by the critical theorist while interpreting a text, reader response criticism refocused on the text/reader relation, bringing to light the impossibility of aseptic neutrality on the part of the critic.

    After years...

  10. 5 Intertextuality: The Middle Ages, Postmodernity, and the Use of Citation
    (pp. 106-122)

    Following the analysis of Eco’s theory of reception, I would like to propose the study of a technique fundamental to understanding how the label ‘postmodern’ suits Eco’s fiction: the technique of arranging the literary text as a network of quotations.

    Although the word ‘intertextuality’ is of recent use in literary studies and is usually associated with postmodernity, its implications seem similar to those of earlier terms such as ‘allusion,’ ‘tradition,’ and ‘influence.’ But despite their longer history, even these ideas could not have developed until notions of originality and genius came to the foreground, around the mid-eighteenth century. Is it...

  11. 6 A Theory of Medieval Laughter: The Comic, Humour, and Wit
    (pp. 123-139)

    If we wanted to find a unifying theme to illuminate Eco’s writings and personality, we would have to think of ‘wit.’ A ‘serious’ intellectual, Eco much resembles a medieval scholar who delights in language games and paradoxes. We find a passion for wit and laughter in almost all his writings, in which the seriousness of the argument is often illustrated by entertaining and witty examples. A Rabelaisian taste for the use of certain rhetorical devices characterizes Eco’s style more than anything else in both his written and his oral presentation.

    Eco writes in the preface to Giorgio Celli’sLa scienza...

  12. 7 The Whodunit and Eco’s Postmodern Fiction
    (pp. 140-168)

    The objective of this chapter is not to demonstrate whether or not Eco’s novels are postmodern. The term, as I have mentioned, is problematic, owing to different critical definitions and different critical perspectives on it. Furthermore, Eco, as a philosopher, is a self-conscious author well aware of his postmodern position, as I suggested in chapter 4. The question of the postmodernism of Eco’s fiction is therefore easily answered; the voluminous literature on the subject deals with the problems involved.

    Of more interest for this study is how the relation between Eco’s treatment of medieval and of postmodern theory is played...

  13. 8 Baudolino and the Language of Monsters
    (pp. 169-191)

    Umberto Eco’s most recent literary production,Baudolino(2000), like his previous novels combines fiction and historical detail. Once again, history blends with a plot that seems oriented towards the detective novel. But this time the theme of the fantastic journey in unexplored lands in the manner of Marco Polo’sMilioneprevails over the search for accountable murderers and the struggle for the semiotic solution of a puzzling enigma. One mysterious death does occur at the core of the novel, but its investigation is forgotten for approximately two hundred pages and is explained as a simple accident towards the end.


  14. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 192-198)

    Umberto Eco is a proud product of Italian intellectual life. He was a child gifted in everything (maybe, as he has written, with the exception of soccer!), and those who knew him were aware he would be successful. But very few would have predicted his great international ‘exploit’ as a novelist and as a theorist. I have tried to account for his personal success in terms of a felicitous theoretical choice, a blending of the medieval and the postmodern.

    Medieval philosophy is somehow closer to contemporary thought than is so-called modern philosophy. We find, for example, that, like the thinkers...

  15. Appendix A
    (pp. 199-204)
  16. Appendix B
    (pp. 205-208)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 209-228)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-240)
  19. Index
    (pp. 241-246)