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REVIEWS PETER BONDANELLA. Umberto Eco and the Open Text: Semiotics, Fiction, Popular Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. xvi + 218 pp. * ROCCO CAPOZZI, ed. Reading Eco: An Anthology. Bloomington/Indianapolis : Indiana UP, 1997. xxvii + 476 pp. UMBERTO ECO: TWO PORTRAITS OF A PROTEUS Umberto Eco's brilliance in literary and cultural theory, in semiotics, and in creative writing; the immense historical range of his interests; and his free use of several modem and ancient languages make him a paragon ofcomparative literature. Yet for some twenty-five years, work on Eco in this country has taken separate paths: critiques ofhis semiotics; ofhis three famous novels TAe Name ofthe Rose (1 980; here I give the dates ofthe first Italian publication), Foucault's Pendulum (1988), and The Islandofthe Day Before (1994); ofhis tenets on popular, avant-garde, and postmodern culture; and of his ideas ofliterary interpretation. Peter Bondanella's Umberto Eco and the Open Text and the Rocco Capozzi anthology Reading Eco (several other collections are forthcoming) point to a new phase in Eco studies, namely the scrutiny ofhis oeuvre in both its totality and transformations. Bondanella has consistently demonstrated his expertise in presenting major facets ofItalian culture to English-speaking readers, who remain insufficiently familiar with them. Umberto Eco and the Open Text, the first comprehensive study ofits subject in English, follows in the steps ofhis The Cinema ofFederico Fellini (1993) and The Films ofRoberto Rossellini (1993). The most appealing feature of Bondanella's latest study is its obvious usefulness both for those making their first acquaintance with Eco and for specialists. The former will appreciate the clear outline ofEco's most arcane theories and the broad scope ofthe book, which covers all major features of Eco's writings and personality. The latter will find the rich biographical and bibliographical data extremely helpful (often provided or corrected by Eco himself), as well as the many digressions on Eco's Italian context and the ingenious readings ofhis three novels. Bondanella presents Eco by combining the chronological-biographical and thematic principles, which in this case overlap. He concentrates on Eco's major books and ideas but often augments our grasp ofthem with references to obscure publications by or about Eco in both Italian and English. Bondanella has chosen not to write a critical biography (xvi), but rather a portrait of "Eco's always evolving thought" (193). For Bondanella, Eco is much more than an exemplary academic; he is a protean intellectual, always the same in his creative passion and power and always new and contemporary in the forms ofhis creations. He is a Janus figure in every respect. His career is "a complicated Odyssey from Thomist aesthetics to postmodern fiction" (xv), and his writing is a "mixture of humor and erudition" (16); The Name ofthe Rose bridges "the gap between the erudite, academic, philosophical reader and the avid consumer of best-selling pulp fiction and detective stories" (106). Eco stays away from political parties, yet always takes a progressive "engaged political and cultural position" (157). He is an academic and artistic Proteus because his mind is eclectic, receptive, and open; he is "dedicated to such principles as pluralism, freedom ofinformation, democracy, and intellectual tolerance " (88). All the facets ofthis kaleidoscopic figure come together in the powerful conclusion where Bondanella argues that Eco's personal traits converge with postmodern culture, making him an epitome of"the postmodern sensibility" (199). Vol. 23 (1999): 164 ??? COHPAnATIST Every level ofthe book contributes to Bondanella's portrait ofEco as a mutating , but indivisible phenomenon, with each chapter devoted to several complementary topics. The first focuses on his studies ofmedieval aesthetics, known by English -speaking readers from Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (1 986; here I give the date of the English translation, because the Italian versions are often quite different) and The Aesthetics ofThomas Aquinas (1988). The second chapter turns to Eco's neo-avant-garde aesthetics in The Open Work (1989) and The Aesthetics ofChaosmos (1989); Misreadings (1993) is treated as a humorous double ofEco's modernistic doctrines. Bondanella next tackles the analyses ofpopular culture in Apocalypse Postponed (1994) and several essays in The Role ofthe Reader (1979). The fourth chapter deals with Eco's semiotics...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 164-167
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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