From the Tree to the Labyrinth

From the Tree to the Labyrinth

Translated by Anthony Oldcorn
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 640
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  • Book Info
    From the Tree to the Labyrinth
    Book Description:

    How we create and organize knowledge is the theme of this major achievement by Umberto Eco. Demonstrating once again his inimitable ability to bridge ancient, medieval, and modern modes of thought, he offers here a brilliant illustration of his longstanding argument that problems of interpretation can be solved only in historical context.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72816-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-2)

    At the second congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (Vienna, July 1979) I presented a number of “Proposals for a History of Semiotics.” I recommended that we intensify historical studies on the various theories of the sign and of semiosis over the centuries, first of all because I considered it a necessary contribution to the history of philosophy as a whole, and secondly because I was convinced that to do semiotics today one needed to know how it was done yesterday, however much it might have been disguised as something else. And what better place to begin than...

  4. 1 From the Tree to the Labyrinth
    (pp. 3-94)

    For some time now the notions of dictionary and encyclopedia have been used in semiotics, linguistics, the philosophy of language and the cognitive sciences, to say nothing of computer science, to identify two models ofsemantic representation, models that in turn refer back to a general representation of knowledge and/or the world.

    In defining a term (and its corresponding concept), thedictionarymodel is expected to take into account only those propertiesnecessary and sufficientto distinguish that particular concept from others; in other words, it ought to contain only those properties defined by Kant asanalytical(analytical being that...

  5. 2 Metaphor as Knowledge: Aristotle’s Medieval (Mis)Fortunes
    (pp. 95-115)

    In Chapter 1 we observed that Aristotle’s major contribution to the theory of metaphor lay in the emphasis he placed on its cognitive value. Since we are accustomed to seeing the Middle Ages as the age of the rediscovery of Aristotle and indeed of his near-canonization, it should prove interesting to inquire whether the Middle Ages somehow picked up on and profited from this suggestion of his. Let us say from the outset that our investigation was sparked by the conviction that the answer is in the negative. What we must try to understand, then, is why there exists no...

  6. 3 From Metaphor to Analogia Entis
    (pp. 116-170)

    In Chapter 2 we saw how the notion of the cognitive value of metaphor, as outlined in Aristotle, was without influence on the thought of the Latin Middle Ages. Our next step will be to see whether and how a notion of metaphor not directly related to Aristotle’s definitions developed in medieval circles.

    Ideas concerning thefigurae elocutionisreach the Middle Ages from classical rhetoric, especially from the rhetorical works of Cicero, from theRhetorica ad Herennium(formerly attributed to Cicero), and from Quintilian, as well as via Latin grammarians like Donatus and Priscian. To what extent Aristotle’s notions become...

  7. 4 The Dog That Barked (and Other Zoosemiotic Archaeologies)
    (pp. 171-222)

    By no means soft on Scholasticism, in hisDe dignitate et augmentis scientiarum(I, 24), Francis Bacon, after reminding us that Scylla had the face and bosom of a young and beautiful woman, points out that she subsequently revealed herself (according to Virgil’sEclogue VI, 75) “candida succinctam latrantibus inguina monstris” (“with howling monsters girt about her white waist”).¹ Whereupon Bacon goes on to comment that in the writings of the Scholastics one finds concepts appealing at first sight, but which, when you delve more deeply into their distinctions and divisions, rather than proving fertile and capable of generating benefits...

  8. 5 Fakes and Forgeries in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 223-249)

    The modern reader, nurtured on philology, is aware that many forgeries were perpetrated in the course of the Middle Ages. But were the people of the Middle Ages similarly aware? Did they recognize the notion of forgery? And if they recognized the notion, was it the same as our own?

    In formulating these questions, we find ourselves compelled to analyze a series of terms—like falsification, fake, forgery, false attribution, diplomatic forgery, alteration, counterfeit, facsimile, and so on—that we nowadays take for granted. If we are to decide whether similar concepts existed in the Middle Ages, we are inevitably...

  9. 6 Jottings on Beatus of Liébana
    (pp. 250-285)

    Read today in a secular spirit, the Apocalypse or Revelation of Saint John the Divine can be savored as an exercise in Surrealism, without the reader feeling the urge to reduce its absurd or oneiric elements to a decipherable letter. Or it could be interpreted as an exercise in mystical symbolism, lending itself to every possible interpretation, a stimulus for the most unbridled flights of the imagination, and consequently anyone proposing to assign a precise meaning to the text would be accused of betraying its rich poetic suggestion. The Middle Ages on the other hand, true to the Pauline admonition,...

  10. 7 Dante between Modistae and Kabbalah
    (pp. 286-308)

    In hisDe vulgari eloquentia(hereinafterDVE), to explain the existence of a plurality of languages, Dante sticks to the letter of the biblical account in Genesis, which he knew in the Latin text of the Vulgate. So we must stick to the Vulgate too, setting aside any philological concerns regarding its fidelity to the original Hebrew. In any case, as we shall see, Dante occasionally strays, with the highhandedness we have come to expect of him, even from the text of the Vulgate.

    If theDVEis a treatise on language and speech acts, Genesis offered Dante many examples...

  11. 8 The Use and Interpretation of Medieval Texts
    (pp. 309-352)

    In 1920 Jacques Maritain publishedArt et scolastique (Art and Scholasticism)¹ a slim volume containing 115 pages of text and 73 pages of notes (the most important of which are given titles of their own in the book’s table of contents). In it the author assumed (i) that a medieval school of aesthetic thought, attributable in particular to Thomas Aquinas, had existed, and (ii) that this same school of thought was still sufficiently relevant to account for various aspects of contemporary modern art. Let us recall the climate of the time: avant-garde movements had been coming one after the other...

  12. 9 Toward a History of Denotation
    (pp. 353-384)

    Denotation (along with its counterpart,connotation) is considered, depending on the context, as either a characteristic or a function (i) of individual terms (what does the word “dog” denote?); (ii) of declarative propositions (the sentence “the dog barks” may denote a state of the world, that there is a dog barking—but, if “the dog” is taken as denoting a species—all dogs, that is—then it could denote a characteristic common to the entire canine race); (iii) of nominal phrases and definite descriptions (the phrase “the President of the Republic” may denote, depending on the context and the circumstances...

  13. 10 On Llull, Pico, and Llullism
    (pp. 385-423)

    We have only to leaf through a few studies on Christian Kabbalism (for instance, Secret 1964; French 1972; Evans 1973) to meet up with the cliché of Ramon Llull the Kabbalist, served up with minimal variations. Llull as magus and alchemist appears in the context of magic in the Prague of Rudolf II, as well as in the library of John Dee, who “was deeply immersed in Llullism and apparently accepted the traditional attitude toward the Llullist-cabalist synthesis” (French 1972: 113). Llull is present in the works of professed Kabbalists (such as Burgonovus, Paulus Scalichius, and the superficial and credulous...

  14. 11 The Language of the Austral Land
    (pp. 424-439)

    The subject of a perfect language has appeared in the cultural history of every people. Throughout the first period of this search, which continued until the seventeenth century, this utopia consisted in the search for the primigenial Hebrew in which God spoke to Adam or that Adam invented when giving names to the animals and in which he had had his first dialogue With Eve. But already in Dante’sDe vulgari eloquentiaanother possibility had been broached: that God had not given Adam primordial Hebrew but rather a general grammar, a transcendental form with which to construct all possible languages....

  15. 12 The Linguistics of Joseph de Maistre
    (pp. 440-456)

    In the story of the centuries-old search for a perfect language, a central chapter must be devoted to the rediscovery of a series ofmatrix languagesor of a primordial mother tongue. For many centuries, the leading claimant for the position of mother tongue was Hebrew. Subsequently, other candidates would appear upon the scene (even Chinese, for example), but finally the search would lose its utopian fervor and its mystical tension as the science of linguistics was born and, with it, the Indo-European hypothesis (see Eco 1993: ch. 5).

    For a long time, though, the idea of a primigenial language...

  16. 13 On the Silence of Kant
    (pp. 457-487)

    Paragraph II.4 of linguist Tullio De Mauro’sIntroduzione alla semantica(“Introduction to Semantics”) is entitled “Il silenzio di Kant” (“The Silence of Kant”) and clearly alludes (given the context) to Kant’s silence regarding the problem of language. Since then, much has been written on the subject of Kantian semiotics (we have only to think, in Italian, of the contributions of Emilio Garroni). But did De Mauro’s title really exclude Kant from a history of linguistics, if not semiotics? If Kant was (putatively) silent on the issue, not so De Mauro, who immediately went on to point out two crucial passages in...

  17. 14 Natural Semiosis and the Word in Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (I promessi sposi)
    (pp. 488-507)

    Writing the history of semiotic ideas does not only mean examining the philosophical or linguistic theories that deal explicitly with the sign or with communication. Often ideas that are not altogether irrelevant concerning these phenomena are expressed, however indirectly, in the declarations writers and artists have made about their poetics, or, alternatively, they can be extrapolated from the way in which processes of signification and communication are staged at the level of the narrative.

    From this point of view it is legitimate, though by no means common practice, to ask oneself whether there exists a Manzonian semiotics, deducible not so...

  18. 15 The Threshold and the Infinite: Peirce and Primary Iconism
    (pp. 508-530)

    This essay was written in response to a number of objections raised by the section in myKant and the Platypus(hereinafterK & P) in which I proposed the notion of “primary iconism” to explain the perceptual processes. I hypothesized a starting point orprimum, which was at the origin of all subsequent inferential processes. The fact that I insisted on this point reflected a concern first evidenced in 1990 with myLimits of Interpretationand which became clearer in philosophical terms in the opening chapter ofK & P, where I postulated a “hard core of Being.” The nucleus of...

  19. 16 The Definitions in Croce’s Aesthetic
    (pp. 531-547)

    It may seem odd to include a critique of Benedetto Croce’sAestheticin a collection of essays devoted to the history of semiotics and the philosophy of language. But, apart from the fact that the full title of Croce’s work(The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General)¹ entitles us to speculate on what “linguistics in general” might mean for Croce, the present chapter will deal for the most part with the lack of precision of the definitions on which theAestheticis founded. In a volume that opened with a critique of the most...

  20. 17 Five Senses of the Word “Semantics,” from Bréal to the Present Day
    (pp. 548-563)

    The term “semantics” has a number of different meanings, several of which seem to be completely at odds with one another. This state of affairs is often a source of considerable embarrassment in dealing with our students, to whom we find ourselves having to explain that our discipline is a bit like the country where some people call “red” what others call “white” and vice versa. With the result that, every time we use the word “red,” we would have to assign it a superscript or subscript number, specifying that we mean “red1, in such and such a sense.”


  21. 18 Weak Thought versus the Limits of Interpretation
    (pp. 564-586)

    In 1983, a symposium entitledIl pensiero debole (Weak Thought), edited by Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovati, was published by Feltrinelli. The notion of “weak thought” had been proposed by Vattimo, and in that collection of essays thinkers of various stripes were invited to discuss its definition. To my knowledge, not all of those invited to join in the debate agreed to take part, and so my own contribution appeared in a context in which those who bought into the project of “weak thought” were more numerous than those with reservations. Furthermore, in their introduction, Vattimo and Rovatti, after...

  22. References
    (pp. 587-612)
  23. Index
    (pp. 613-633)