On Ugliness

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Overview

In the mold of his acclaimed History of Beauty, renowned cultural critic Umberto Eco's On Ugliness is an exploration of the monstrous and the repellant in visual culture and the arts. What is the voyeuristic impulse behind our attraction to the gruesome?

About the Author

Umberto Eco is a world-renowned writer of fiction, essays, and ...

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Overview

In the mold of his acclaimed History of Beauty, renowned cultural critic Umberto Eco's On Ugliness is an exploration of the monstrous and the repellant in visual culture and the arts. What is the voyeuristic impulse behind our attraction to the gruesome?

About the Author

Umberto Eco is a world-renowned writer of fiction, essays, and academic treatises and is undoubtedly one of the finest authors of our time. Among his best-selling novels are The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, and Baudolino.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A few years ago, Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco offered an eye-opening history of beauty. Now he flips the picture to its opposite, contemplating the ugly, the monstrous, the truly revolting. But as he shows convincingly, artists and indeed the general public have always been oddly transfixed by the unsightly. A compelling view of a hideous subject.
Amy Finnerty
In History of Beauty, Umberto Eco explored the ways in which notions of attractiveness shift from culture to culture and era to era. With On Ugliness, a collection of images and written excerpts from ancient times to the present, all woven together with a provocative commentary and translated by Alastair McEwen, he asks: Is repulsiveness, too, in the eye of the beholder? And what do we learn about that beholder when we delve into his aversions? Selecting stark visual images of gore, deformity, moral turpitude and malice, and quotations from sources ranging from Plato to radical feminists, Eco unfurls a taxonomy of ugliness. As gross-out contests go, it's both absorbing and highbrow.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Italian literary and cultural critic Eco opens this visually dazzling and intellectually provocative companion volume to his History of Beauty (2004) by arguing that ugliness has been defined through the ages only as the opposite of beauty. Eco attempts to go further in this analysis of ugliness-part history, part cultural criticism-which echoes premises from his previous survey: a correspondence between the public's tastes and artists' sensibilities must be assumed, and cultural and historical contexts determine how both beauty and ugliness are portrayed and received. Each chapter juxtaposes images with brief excerpts from texts through the centuries, and Eco's choices are superb: a discussion of "industrial ugliness" includes excerpts from Baudelaire, DeLillo and the Eiffel Tower's originally negative reception; the delightful chapter on kitsch includes Hermann Broch and Eco's own hilarious description of California's Madonna Inn. Eco's thoughts on ugliness in contemporary culture are the most interesting: in an age of goth and cyborg aesthetics, the boundaries between beauty and ugliness are perhaps permanently blurred. This unusual and eclectic study will appeal to cultural and art historians as well as to the general reader with an interest in a rarely examined topic. 300 color illus. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Italian literary and cultural critic Eco opens this visually dazzling and intellectually provocative companion volume to his History of Beauty (2004) by arguing that ugliness has been defined through the ages only as the opposite of beauty. Eco attempts to go further in this analysis of ugliness-part history, part cultural criticism-which echoes premises from his previous survey: a correspondence between the public's tastes and artists' sensibilities must be assumed, and cultural and historical contexts determine how both beauty and ugliness are portrayed and received. Each chapter juxtaposes images with brief excerpts from texts through the centuries, and Eco's choices are superb: a discussion of "industrial ugliness" includes excerpts from Baudelaire, DeLillo and the Eiffel Tower's originally negative reception; the delightful chapter on kitsch includes Hermann Broch and Eco's own hilarious description of California's Madonna Inn. Eco's thoughts on ugliness in contemporary culture are the most interesting: in an age of goth and cyborg aesthetics, the boundaries between beauty and ugliness are perhaps permanently blurred. This unusual and eclectic study will appeal to cultural and art historians as well as to the general reader with an interest in a rarely examined topic. 300 color illus. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
“Most art books warrant a look and, perhaps, a place on your coffee table; this perversely compelling work is meant to be read.” ~Details

“…visually dazzling and intellectually provocative…Eco’s choices are superb…” ~Publisher’s Weekly

On Ugliness provides a wealth of information for more casual readers as well as for those hoping to delve further into this subject.” ~Choice Magazine

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847829866
  • Publisher: Rizzoli
  • Publication date: 10/30/2007
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco is a world-renowned writer of fiction, essays, and academic treatises and is undoubtedly one of the finest authors of our time. Among his best-selling novels are The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, and Baudolino.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Back in the 1970s, long before the cyberpunk era or the Internet boom, an Italian academic was dissecting the elements of codes, information exchange and mass communication. Umberto Eco, chair of semiotics at the University of Bologna, developed a widely influential theory that continues to inform studies in linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, cultural studies and critical theory.

Most readers, however, had never heard of him before the 1980 publication of The Name of the Rose, a mystery novel set in medieval Italy. Dense with historical and literary allusions, the book was a surprise international hit, selling millions of copies in dozens of languages. Its popularity got an additional boost when it was made into a Hollywood movie starring Sean Connery. Eco followed his first bestseller with another, Foucault's Pendulum, an intellectual thriller that interweaves semiotic theory with a twisty tale of occult texts and world conspiracy.

Since then, Eco has shifted topics and genres with protean agility, producing fiction, academic texts, criticism, humor columns and children's books. As a culture critic, his interests encompass everything from comic books to computer operating systems, and he punctures avant-garde elitism and mass-media vacuity with equal glee.

More recently, Eco has ventured into a new field: ethics. Belief or Nonbelief? is a thoughtful exchange of letters on religion and ethics between Eco and Carlo Maria Martini, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Milan; Five Moral Pieces is a timely exploration of the concept of justice in an increasingly borderless world.

Eco also continues to write books on language, literature and semiotics for both popular and academic audiences. His efforts have netted him a pile of honorary degrees, the French Legion of Honor, and a place among the most widely read and discussed thinkers of our time.

Good To Know

Eco is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, though in 2002 he was at Oxford University as a visiting lecturer. He has also taught at several top universities in the U.S., including Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern.

Pressured by his father to become a lawyer, Eco studied law at the University of Turn before abandoning that course (against his father's wishes) and pursuing medieval philosophy and literature.

His studies led naturally to the setting of The Name of the Rose in the medieval period. The original tentative title was Murder in the Abbey.

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    1. Hometown:
      Bologna, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 5, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Alessandria, Italy
    1. Education:
      Ph.D., University of Turin, 1954

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2007

    A reviewer

    'One man's trash is another man's treasure' might be a apt conclusion after spending the significant amount of time required to digest Umberto Eco's semiotic approach to 'ugly'. Eco's brilliance as an author is well accepted, yet his informed academic investigation (upon which many of his own novels are based) is only now being appreciated. It is difficult to read ON UGLINESS as a treatise, so lush and provocative is his prose style. Rizzoli International spared no expense on supplying Eco with images and design of this art treasure, and the result is a volume about art history and our manifold perceptions of the signs and symbols that through time have defined 'ugly' versus 'beauty.' Eco wisely uses the chronological approach to his discourse on the semiotics of ugliness. After a superb Introduction in which he suggests the response of an alien visiting our planet, trying to determine what our civilization labeled beautiful (!), Eco launches into his presentation with gusto. He presents chapters on ugliness in the Classical World, religious use of ugliness (passion, death, martyrdom, apocalypse, hell), monsters, witchcraft, sadism, 'obscene pornography', the appearance of ugliness in architecture and industrial buildings, and finally the transition of the 'ugly' in the popular kitsch and camp. Coupled with the fascinating written words by the author are copious reproductions of paintings, details of images (some of the details of Bosch's complex canvases are amazingly clear), by both well known painters and unknown painters, displayed with short excerpts from writers who wrote on the subject of the ugly versus the beautiful. Eco brings us to the absolute present (punk art, Cindy Sherman, current film, etc) and as his images emerge from the book's pages, so does his commentary quicken. And so we are left with a book on the subject of Ugliness, which as an art volume is quite the opposite: this is a very beautiful and informed new art book. Highly recommended reading and viewing. Grady Harp

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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