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Horsey, Horsey

John Sturrock, 16 November 1995

The Search for the Perfect Language 
by Umberto Eco, translated by James Fentress.
Blackwell, 385 pp., £24.95, September 1995, 0 631 17465 6
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by Gérard Genette, translated by Thaïs Morgan.
Nebraska, 446 pp., £23.95, September 1995, 0 8032 2129 0
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... damnable for being the mark of our cosmic alienation. In this sense, Genette’s book, like Eco’s, too, in part, is the history of a doomed but often laudably ingenious movement to go against the linguistic grain and rediscover a truly natural language: a language of Nature or of God as it were, the appropriateness of whose signs there could be no ...

Donald Duck gets a cuffing

J. Hoberman: Disney, Benjamin, Adorno, 24 July 2003

Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde 
by Esther Leslie.
Verso, 344 pp., £20, August 2002, 1 85984 612 2
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... Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Frontierland.’ Not until European intellectuals such as Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard began to tour the US in the Reaganite 1980s did Disneyland – by then upgraded to Disney World – again seem avant-garde or, at least, exotic. These live-in fantasies were the acme of American hyper-realism – the ...

Who Knows?

Meehan Crist: The Voynich Manuscript, 27 July 2017

The Voynich Manuscript 
edited by Raymond Clemens.
Yale, 336 pp., £35, November 2016, 978 0 300 21723 0
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... that has baffled historians, cryptographers and bibliophiles for nearly six centuries. When Umberto Eco visited Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which has housed the manuscript since the 1960s, it was the only text he asked to see. The manuscript’s main sections are known to scholars as the ...

Gaslight and Fog

John Pemble: Sherlock Holmes, 26 January 2012

The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Haia Shpayer-Makov.
Oxford, 429 pp., £30, September 2011, 978 0 19 957740 8
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... loos and luggage of people like T.S. Eliot, Ronald Knox, Eric Newby, Vladimir Nabokov and Umberto Eco. He even made it into Edmund Wilson’s bedroom. Although Holmes is a private detective, he’s frequently consulted by Scotland Yard and repeatedly succeeds where it fails. This leads Haia Shpayer-Makov to read in the Holmes saga a powerful ...

Our Trusty Friend the Watch

Simon Schaffer, 31 October 1996

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time 
by Dava Sobel.
Fourth Estate, 184 pp., £12.99, August 1996, 1 85702 502 4
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... on the Bounty with William Bligh and was taken by the mutineers to Pitcairn Island. Hence Umberto Eco playfully suggests at the end of his own recent longitude novel, The Island of the Day Before, that the documents on which his story is based must have been found by Bligh while adrift in the South Seas, who then delivered them ‘to the ...

I just worked it out from the novel

Michael Wood, 24 April 1997

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Harvill, 313 pp., £8.99, October 1996, 1 86046 199 9
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The Club Dumas 
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, translated by Sonia Soto.
Harcourt Brace, 368 pp., $23, February 1997, 0 15 100182 0
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... the Battle of Waterloo) in the service of the kind of scholarly paranoid mystery we associate with Umberto Eco – who indeed makes a discreet appearance as a member of the Club Dumas (‘Look who’s arrived. You know him, don’t you? Professor of semiotics in Bologna’). A question about genre (could these strange events, in this kind of fiction, not ...


Malcolm Bull: Three Cheers for Apocalypse, 9 December 1999

Conversations about the End of Time 
by Umberto Eco and Stephen Jay Gould.
Allen Lane, 228 pp., £14.99, September 1999, 0 7139 9363 4
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Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs throughout the Ages 
by Eugen Weber.
Hutchinson, 294 pp., £18.99, July 1999, 0 09 180134 6
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Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium 
by Richard Popkin and David Katz.
Allen Lane, 303 pp., £18.99, October 1999, 0 7139 9383 9
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... and other forms of mixing primarily as a portent of things to come, is now far more mainstream. As Eco observes, ‘the great revolution of our century is not technical but social ... The simple fact that racism and intolerance are frowned upon today are proof of it. It involved a total reversal of human relations and relationships.’ The point is not that ...


Patrick Parrinder, 5 August 1993

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony 
by Roberto Calasso, translated by Tim Parks.
Cape, 403 pp., £19.99, June 1993, 9780224030373
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... in the Greek inheritance and of a lofty refusal of any kind of commitment to modernity. Since Umberto Eco is Italy’s leading cultural theorist cum-novelist, it is not for nothing that Calasso has been dubbed the ‘anti-Eco’. He begins with an epigraph from Sallust – ‘These things never happened, but are ...

In the Know

Simon Schaffer, 10 November 1994

Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture 
by William Eamon.
Princeton, 490 pp., £38.50, July 1994, 0 691 03402 8
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The Business of Alchemy: Science and Culture in the Holy Roman Empire 
by Pamela Smith.
Princeton, 308 pp., £30, July 1994, 0 691 05691 9
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... word ‘serendipity’ and Voltaire to produce his tale of Zadig. Ginzburg’s Bologna colleague Umberto Eco uses the story at the start of his Name of the Rose, where the monkish detective William of Baskerville, a follower of Roger Bacon and a medieval version of Sherlock Holmes, gives a complete description of a lost horse by reading its prints in ...

Embracing Islam

Patrick Parrinder, 4 April 1991

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 
by Salman Rushdie.
Granta, 432 pp., £17.99, March 1991, 9780140142242
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... fiction of high formal intelligence and calculated entertainment, complaining of recent novels by Umberto Eco and Julian Barnes that they are too cerebral and dispassionate for his liking. Tackling a major contemporary writer who seems to have settled for quietism – V.S. Naipaul – Rushdie attributes his ‘utter weariness’ to a withering of the ...

Where’s the omelette?

Tom Nairn: Patrick Wright, 23 October 2008

Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War 
by Patrick Wright.
Oxford, 488 pp., £18.99, October 2007, 978 0 19 923150 8
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... of the deeper shifts the globalisation process is bringing about. They are attempts at what Umberto Eco ridicules as ‘turning back the clock’, in his recent book of the same title. In Age of Extremes, Eric Hobsbawm pointed out that after the Cold War’s end capitalism was for the first time ‘on its own’: deprived of older forms to ...

Maybe he made it up

Terry Eagleton: Faking It, 6 June 2002

The Forger’s Shadow: How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature 
by Nick Groom.
Picador, 351 pp., £20, April 2002, 9780330374323
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... Forgery is creative rather than contemptible, rather in the way that a sign, according to Umberto Eco, is anything you can use to lie with. Since there can be no talk of authenticity without the concept of a fake, the phoney is the true ground of great art. The forger both buttresses the authority of the canon and is cast out by it, thus becoming ...

Check out the parking lot

Rebecca Solnit: Hell in LA, 8 July 2004

Dante's Inferno 
by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders.
Chronicle, 218 pp., £15.99, May 2004, 0 8118 4213 4
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... and oracular proportions. A quarter of a century ago, everyone from Jean Baudrillard to Umberto Eco scanned it as a sort of crystal ball in which the future could be seen; the New York Times routinely portrays it not as Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, but as his Ship of Fools (Schwarzenegger’s election as governor has deeply gratified ...

Semiotics Right and Left

Christopher Norris, 4 September 1986

On Signs: A Semiotics Reader 
edited by Marshall Blonsky.
Blackwell, 536 pp., £27.50, September 1985, 0 631 10261 2
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... get to grips with the politics of everyday experience without giving in to either temptation. Umberto Eco has a marvellous piece, ‘Strategies Of Lying’, which analyses Nixon’s shrewd manipulation of narrative codes in the televised ‘confession’ that followed the Watergate scandal. What the President tried to bring off was a crafty ...

Into the Eisenshpritz

Elif Batuman: Superheroes, 10 April 2008

Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories 
by Will Eisner.
Norton, 493 pp., £18.99, November 2007, 978 0 393 06107 9
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by David B..
Cape, 368 pp., £12.99, March 2006, 0 224 07920 4
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by Adrian Tomine.
Faber, 108 pp., £12.99, September 2007, 978 0 571 23329 8
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Misery Loves Comedy 
by Ivan Brunetti.
Fantagraphics, 172 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 1 56097 792 6
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... freeze objects by blowing on them but by his second life as Clark Kent. In an essay on Superman, Umberto Eco characterised superhero comics generically as an amalgam of ‘mythopoeic’ and ‘novelistic’ narratives: Superman is simultaneously an epic-eternal hero who exists outside time (the Man of Steel), and a ‘consumable’ romantic-novelistic ...

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