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Serendipities: Language And Lunacy

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Home » Books » Nonfiction » Philosophy » General


Language And Lunacy

By Umberto Eco, William Weaver (Translated by)

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Format: Paperback, 176 pages
Published In: United Kingdom, 01 September 1999
SERENDIPITIES is an iconoclastic, dazzlingly erudite and witty demonstration, by one of the world's most brilliant thinkers, of how myths and lunacies can produce historical developments of no small significance. In Eco's words, 'even errors can produce interesting side effects'. Eco's book shows how: -- believers in a flat earth helped Columbus accidentally discover America -- the medieval myth of Prester John, the Christian king in Asia, assisted the European drive eastward -- the myth of the Rosicrucians affected the Masons, leading in turn to the widespread belief in a Jewish masonic plot to dominate the world and other forms of paranoid anti-Semitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Promotional Information

Any book by Umberto Eco is the subject of widespread interest and review coverage By the author of the worldwide bestseller THE NAME OF THE ROSE 'Umberto Eco is a polymath to an extent most will regard as practically inhuman' Frank Kermode, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS 'Packed with intellectual meat, curious learning, strange clever connections...A small treasure of a book' Malcolm Bradbury, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 'A thought-provoking and entertaining little book' DAILY TELEGRAPH 'The unpredictable brilliance of his discussion will excite anyone interested in the history of languages and ideas' SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

About the Author

Umberto Eco is Professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna and one of the world's most famous -- and admired -- writers.


Consider the platypus. With its famous molelike body carrying a beaver's tail and a duck's beak, the beast confounded the first Western scientists who studied it in 1798. Was it a mammal or a reptile? Did it lay eggs? Was it just a taxonomic hoax? The platypus eventually found its rightful place in the animal kingdom, but as Eco (Travels in Hyperreality, etc.) shows in these challenging essays, the questions it raised about language and perception still animate some sharply contested semiotic debates. Writing with his customary keenness of intellect, Eco ranges widely over metaphysical terrain, drawing on Aristotle, Heidegger and C.S. Peirce to inform his discussions. Revising aspects of Kant's philosophy in terms of cognitive studies, Eco ponders how we identify the things around us and argues that meaning in the world is ultimately contractual and negotiable. When Aztecs first saw horses ridden by Spanish conquistadors, for example, they used their previous knowledge to surmise that the invaders were riding deer. In another example, Eco investigates how we can recognize a Bach suite for solo cello, even when played by different soloists or transcribed for the recorder. Throughout, Eco gamely reconsiders his 1976 work, A Theory of Semiotics, over which many a gauntlet was testily thrown, and revisits other key moments in the history of semiotic research. This collection will certainly appeal to specialists. But Eco's ability to balance technical subject matter with broadly intelligible anecdotes and illustrations should make it valuable and pleasurable for anyone seeking a gallant introduction to the philosophy of language. (Nov.) FYI: Also in November Harvest will release Eco's Serendipities in paperback ($12, ISBN 0-15-600751-7) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

"Examines, with wit and elegance, some of the many cases in which a mistaken belief has led to a sound result . . . Delightful."-The Atlantic Monthly "Rich in historical anecdotes . . . Throughout, his treatments are informative, intellectually sophisticated, and thoroughly entertaining."-Library Journal

EAN: 9780753808788
ISBN: 0753808781
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Dimensions: 19.8 x 16.9 x 1.4 centimetres (0.17 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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1 review(s)
All Reviews
Something of an addendum to Eco's "The Search For The Perfect Language", Serendipities will be of interest to anyone curious about the history of language and folly. This thought provoking collection of five essays does require some previous reading of history to be at it's most effective, as Eco's proposals are more accessible with some prior knowledge, however any reader will be drawn to reconsider (or consider for the first time) how folly and language can influence history and how the often world-changing consequences and repercussions of man's actions are based on said folly.

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