From the Tree to the Labyrinth: Historical Studies on the Sign and Interpretation

Umberto Eco, trans. from the Italian by Anthony Oldcorn. Harvard Univ., $39.95 (620p) ISBN 978-0-674-04918-5
Do dogs have "voices" or do they merely make sounds? What language did Adam speak in the Garden of Eden? Eco, the celebrated novelist and semiotician (Kant and the Platypus), muses on these and other thorny interpretive questions in this collection of essays on the history of semiotics and philosophy of language. Beginning with a historical survey of models of semantic representation, Eco develops the idea of the "encyclopedia," a labyrinthian system of interconnected relationships that he sees in opposition to the flawed Neo-Platonic "dictionary" system, one whose rigid absolutism and hierarchy creates a closed system that Eco finds untenable. Seeking to interpret the Middle Ages within such an encyclopedic model, Eco then explores a miscellany of medieval topics in the essays that follow, making the occasional foray into classical or modern thought. Though no modern writer has proved more adept than Eco at translating medieval ephemera to a popular audience, this is not the semiotician at his most accessible. Eco's erudition will make this text a challenge for all but the most determined nonprofessional—a working knowledge of medieval thought and a functional grasp of Latin are practically prerequisites for keeping up with Eco as he moves through centuries of history in search of new connection and meaning. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/03/2014
Release date: 02/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 640 pages - 978-0-674-72816-5
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