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Serendipities. Language And Lunacy (The Italian Academy Lectures] [SIGNED]: Eco, Umberto

Serendipities. Language And Lunacy (The Italian Academy Lectures] [SIGNED]

Eco, Umberto

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ISBN 10: 0231111347 / ISBN 13: 9780231111348
Published by Columbia University Press, U.S.A., 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
From BASEMENT BOOKS (Sandia Park, NM, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

First Edition, First Printing. Hard cover 8vo - over 7" - 9" Tall backed in yellow cloth. Fine book in About Fine DJ w/wrinkled top edge, now in clear protective cover. SIGNED BY AUTHOR ON TITLE PAGE. ix, 130pp inc. Notes, Index. Explores how serendipities - unanticipated truths - often spring from mistaken ideas. Size: 8vo - over 7" - 9" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 017497

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Serendipities. Language And Lunacy (The ...

Publisher: Columbia University Press, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: About Fine

Signed: Signed by Author

Edition: First Edition, First Printing.

About this title

Synopsis:

Best-selling author Umberto Eco's latest work unlocks the riddles of history in an exploration of the "linguistics of the lunatic," stories told by scholars, scientists, poets, fanatics, and ordinary people in order to make sense of the world. Exploring the "Force of the False," Eco uncovers layers of mistakes that have shaped human history, such as Columbus's assumption that the world was much smaller than it is, leading him to seek out a quick route to the East via the West and thus fortuitously "discovering" America. The fictions that grew up around the cults of the Rosicrucians and Knights Templar were the result of a letter from a mysterious "Prester John"―undoubtedly a hoax―that provided fertile ground for a series of delusions and conspiracy theories based on religious, ethnic, and racial prejudices. While some false tales produce new knowledge (like Columbus's discovery of America) and others create nothing but horror and shame (the Rosicrucian story wound up fueling European anti-Semitism) they are all powerfully persuasive.

In a careful unraveling of the fabulous and the false, Eco shows us how serendipities―unanticipated truths―often spring from mistaken ideas. From Leibniz's belief that the I Ching illustrated the principles of calculus to Marco Polo's mistaking a rhinoceros for a unicorn, Eco tours the labyrinth of intellectual history, illuminating the ways in which we project the familiar onto the strange.

Eco uncovers a rich history of linguistic endeavor―much of it ill-conceived―that sought to "heal the wound of Babel." Through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, and Egyptian were alternately proclaimed as the first language that God gave to Adam, while―in keeping with the colonial climate of the time―the complex language of the Amerindians in Mexico was viewed as crude and diabolical. In closing, Eco considers the erroneous notion of linguistic perfection and shrewdly observes that the dangers we face lie not in the rules we use to interpret other cultures but in our insistence on making these rules absolute.

With the startling combination of erudition and wit, bewildering anecdotes and scholarly rigor that are Eco's hallmarks, Serendipities is sure to entertain and enlighten any reader with a passion for the curious history of languages and ideas.

Review:

The multitalented Umberto Eco--novelist, critic, and literary theorist--turns his attention to the history of linguistics. In linguistics, as in the other sciences, Eco explains, there are serendipities: "Even the most lunatic experiments can produce strange side effects, stimulating research that proves perhaps less amusing but scientifically more serious." In his earlier book The Search for the Perfect Language, for example, he discussed the project of discovering the language spoken before the collapse of the Tower of Babel. Although misconceived, the project by chance led to advances in mathematical logic, artificial intelligence, and even world peace--the goal of artificial languages like Esperanto and the unfortunately named Volapük. In the five essays in Serendipities, Eco explores some related serendipitous episodes in the history of linguistics; as always, his characteristic blend of playfulness and erudition is bound to be irresistible to any lover of language.

The first essay, "The Force of Falsity," discusses false documents with momentous repercussions, such as the letter of Prester John, which encouraged European explorers and conquerors to seek its supposed author, the Christian ruler of a distant and fantastically wealthy land. In the second essay, Eco considers Dante's relation to the idea of the perfect language. The third essay discusses early misinterpretations of Egyptian, Chinese, and Mexican ideograms. The Jesuit savant Athanasius Kircher, for example, devoted page upon page to mystical interpretations of a hieroglyph that later turned out to represent nothing more profound than the Greek letter lambda. The remaining two essays are devoted to single authors: "The Language of the Austral Land" concerns Gabriel de Foigny's instructive parody of contemporary attempts to devise the perfect language, while "The Linguistics of Joseph de Maistre" endeavors, with indifferent success, to make sense of the counterrevolutionary Savoyard's musings on the nature of language. --Glenn Branch

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