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Umberto Eco (1932–2016)

The Italian semiotician Umberto Eco died on Friday. Eco also became a best-selling novelist, according to Jonathan Kandell in the New York Times. Writes Kandell, “As a semiotician, Eco sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols—words, religious icons, banners, clothing, musical scores, even cartoons.” A professor at the University of Bologna, Eco wrote over twenty nonfiction books on his research. But he turned to writing fiction as well, publishing the book The Name of the Rose (1980), a murder mystery that also included passages of philosophy and Christian theology, which sold over ten million copies and was translated to around thirty languages.

Later books included Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), The Island of the Day Before (1994), and Baudolino (2000). Eco received Italy’s highest literary award, the Premio Strega. He was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by France.

In publishing his seminal series of essays in the 1980s, “Travels in Hyperreality” (reviewed by Max Kozloff in Artforum), Eco turned his perspectives on iconism and simulation into trenchant musings on American culture, writing, “Holography could prosper only in America, a country obsessed with realism, where, if a reconstruction is to be credible, it must be absolutely iconic, a perfect likeness, a ‘real’ copy of the reality being represented.”