Umberto Eco

I. Complete Books

The Open Work

Translated by Anna Cancogni. Introduction by David Robey.

1. Harvard University Press, 1989, ISBN 0-674-63975-8; Hardcover $47.25. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

2. Harvard University Press, 1989, ISBN 0-674-63976-6; Paperback $22.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Originally published in 1962 as Opera aperta, this first edition also contained “Le poetiche di Joyce.” The last revision of the book was in 1972. Here is the introductory note found at the Harvard University Press Web site:

More than twenty years after its original appearance in Italian, The Open Work remains significant for its powerful concept of “openness” – the artist’s decision to leave arrangements of some constituents of a work to the public or to chance – and for its striking anticipation of two major themes of contemporary literary theory: the element of multiplicity and plurality in art, and the insistence on literary response as an interactive response between reader and text. The questions Umberto Eco raises, and the answers he suggests, are intertwined in the continuing debate on literature, art, and culture in general. This book is at once a major treatise in modern aesthetics and an excellent introduction to Eco’s thought.

You may read more about this work at the Harvard University Press Web site.

A Theory of Semiotics

1. Indiana University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-253-35955-4; Hardcover $39.95. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

2. Indiana University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-253-20217-5; Paperback $34.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Another work that has undergone many metamorphoses, this text has its origins in a 1967 piece called Appunti per una semiologia delle comunicazioni visive, which was expanded into a work titled La struttura assente (The Absent Structure) in 1968. After a few translations into other languages, Eco again revised and expanded the work, giving it the new name of Le forme del contenuto in 1971. Then, after several unsatisfactory translations into English, Eco, with the help of David Osmond-Smith, finally decided to completely revise and rewrite the entire work directly into English in 1973. Realizing that by now it was a completely different book than the original La struttura assente, in 1975 Eco translated this English work into Italian and called it Trattato di semiotica generale.
The aim of the book is to “explore the theoretical possibility and the social function of a unified approach to every phenomenon of signification and/or communication.” The book examines the semiotic content of a wide range of subjects from language and aesthetics to music and medicine. According to IU Press, “It focuses on the twin problems of the doctrine of signs – communication and signification – and offers a highly original theory of sign production, including a carefully wrought typology of signs and modes of production.”
Here’s a look at the chapters:

0. Introduction–Toward a Logic of Culture

0.1. Design for a semiotic theory
0.2. ’Semiotics’: field or discipline?
0.3. Communication and/or signification
0.4. Political boundaries: the field
0.5. Natural boundaries: two definitions of semiotics
0.6. Natural boundaries: inference and signification
0.7. Natural boundaries; the lower threshold
0.8. Natural boundaries: the upper threshold
0.9. Epistemological boundaries

1. Signification and Communication

1.1. An elementary communicational model
1.2. Systems and codes
1.3. The s-code as structure
1.4. Information, communication, signification

2. Theory of Codes

2.1. The sign-function
2.2. Expression and content
2.3. Denotation and connotation
2.4. Message and text
2.5 Content and referent
2.6. Meaning as cultural unit
2.7. The interpretant
2.8. The semantic system
2.9. The semantic markers and the sememe
2.10. The KF model
2.11. A revised semantic model
2.12. The model “Q”
2.13. The format of the semantic space
2.14. Overcoding and undercoding
2.15. The interplay of codes and the message as an open form

3. Theory of Sign Production

3.1. A general survey
3.2. Semiotic and factual statements
3.3. Mentioning
3.4 The prolem of a typology of signs
3.5. Critique of iconism
3.6. A typology of modes of production
3.7. The aesthetic text as invention
3.8. The rhetorical labor
3.9. Ideological code switching

4. The Subject of Semiotics

You may read more about this work at the Indiana University Press Web site.

The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts

1. Indiana University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-253-11139-0; Hardcover $29.95. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

2. Indiana University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-253-20318-X; Paperback $29.95. [Browse/Purchase]

This book is a collection of nine essays spanning a period between 1959 and 1977. All have been taken from previous works, some of them as yet untranslated into English: Opera aperta, Apocalittici e integrati, Forme del contenuto, Lector in Fabula, and Il Superuomo di massa. Many of these writings detail Eco’s ideas on “closed” vs. “open” texts and the cooperative role of the reader in interpretation.
Here is the introductory note from the back cover of the book:

In this collection of nine essays, Umberto Eco sets forth a dialectic between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ texts, between a work of art that actively involves the ‘addressee’ in its production and one that holds the ‘addressee’ at bay and seeks to evoke a limited and predetermined response. Part I deals with both verbal and nonverbal texts. Eco considers musical compositions that leave considerable autonomy for the individual performer, discusses the ‘unfinished work’ in contemporary art and aesthetic theory, and examines aesthetic manipulations of language that elicit the interpretive cooperation of the addressee.

Closed texts are represented by examples from popular culture in Part II: the socioploitical assumptions implicit in Superman comic books, the relationship between rhetoric and ideology in the fiction of Eugene Sue, and the narrative structures in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. In Part III Eco provides a theoretical framework for understanding the semiotic strategies of open and closed texts. He investigates the contributions of contemporary semantics to the study of narrative, connects the modalities of textual interpretation with the problem of possible worlds, and discusses a story by Alphonse Allais that can be read naively or critically.

The Role of the Reader is erudite and stimulating and represents provocative scholarship at its best.

The chapters of the book are as follows:


I. Open
1. The Poetics of the Open Work
2. The Semantics of Metaphor
3. On the Possibility of Generating Aesthetic Messages in an Edenic Language

II. Closed
4. The Myth of Superman
5. Rhetoric and Ideology in Sue’s Les Mysteres de Paris
6. Narrative Structures in Fleming

III. Open/Closed
7. Peirce and the Semiotic Foundations of Openness: Signs as Texts and Texts as Signs
8. Lector in Fabula: Pragmatic Strategy in a Metanarrative Text

Appendix 1: The Model Reader of Un dramebien parisien: An Empirical Test
Appendix 2: A Most Parisian Episode

You may read more about this work at the Indiana University Press Web site.

Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

1. Indiana University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-253-35168-5; Hardcover $33.00. Out of print.

2. Indiana University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-253-20398-8; Paperback $18.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Another collection of essays, these are more an expansion of Eco’s semiotic theories than pieces about open works. The essays examine the contributions of various philosophers to a range of subjects that include, among others, signs, symbols, metaphors, codes, and mirrors; and he contends that a general history of philosophy can be examined from a basis of semiotics.
The chapters of the book are as follows:


1. Signs
2. Dictionary vs. Encyclopedia
3. Metaphor
4. Symbol
5. Code
6. Isotopy
7. Mirrors

Index of Authors
Index of Subjects

You may read more about this work at the Indiana University Press Web site.

II. Chapters & Contributions

A Semiotic Landscape

Edited by Eco with Seymour Chatman and Jean-Marie Klinkenberg.

The Hague: Mouton, 1979, ISBN 9027979286; Harcover $32.45. [Browse/Purchase]

A collection of 221 essays by various people in the field of liguistics and semiotics, this work was the product of the first congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, held in Milan in 1974.

Carnival! (Approaches to Semiotics 64)

Umberto Eco, V.V. Ivanov & Monica Rector.

Mouton De Gruyter, 1984, ISBN 3110095890; Hardcover $32.45. [Browse/Purchase]

Reviews or comments are welcome.

Semiotics: An Introductory Anthology (Series: Advances in Semiotics)

Edited with Introductions and Notes by Robert E. Innis. Contains an essay by Umberto Eco.

Indiana University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-253-20344-9; Paperback $14.95. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

According to IU Press, “This volume presents the classic statements in semiotics and touches on a vast set of problems and themes – philosophical, aesthetic, literary, cultural, biological, and anthropological.” Among others, it contains essays by De Saussaure, Levi-Strauss, and Barthes. Eco’s contribution is entitled “The Semantics of Metaphor.”
You may read more about this work at the Indiana University Press Web site.

Frontiers in Semiotics (Series: Advances in Semiotics)

Edited by John Deely, Brooke Williams & Felicia E. Kruse. Contains two essays by Umberto Eco.

1. Indiana University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-253-34605-3; Hardcover $37.50. [Browse/Purchase]

2. Indiana University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-253-20371-6; Paperback $14.95. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

According to IU Press, “This significant collection contains some of the most important contemporary work by modern pioneers in the semiotics field together with formative statements from earlier thinkers such as John Locke and Jacques Maritain.” Eco’s contributions include “Latratus Canis or: The Dog’s Barking,” and “On Symbols.”
You may read more about this work at the Indiana University Press Web site.

Meaning and Mental Representations (Advances in Semiotics)

Edited by U. Eco, M. Santambrogio and P. Violi. Contains an essay by Umberto Eco.

1. Indiana University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-253-33724-0; Hardcover $34.95. [Browse/Purchase]

2. Indiana University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-253-20496-8; Paperback $13.95. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

Part of the “Advances in Semiotics” series, this is “an important collection of original essays by well-known scholars debating the questions of logical versus psychologically based interpretations of language.” It is edited by Umberto Eco and contains his contribution, “On Truth. A Fiction.”
You may read more about this work at the Indiana University Press Web site.

Universe and the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture (The Second World)

By Yuri Mikhailovich Lotman. Translated by Anna Shukman. Introduction by Umberto Eco.

Indiana University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-253-21405-X; Paperback $22.95. [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

This seminal text in cultural semiotics represents a summation of Soviet semiotician Yuri Lotman’s distinguished intellectual career. Addressing three main areas-meaning and the text; the concept of the semiosphere; and semiotics from the point of view of history-Lotman presents here the most complete and broadly ambitious theory of culture and language yet to emerge from the field of semiotics.

On the Medieval Theory of Signs

Edited by Umberto Eco and Costantino Marmo.

John Benjamins North America, Incorporated, 1989, ISBN 0-272-3293-8; Hardback $59.00. Out of print. [Search for a Copy]

Volume 21 of the “Foundations of Semiotics” series. Reviews or comments are welcome.

Red Bar

Go To:

Works Main Page – Back to Works Main Page, where you will find the standard Porta Ludovica menu.

Fiction – Details and reviews of Eco’s three novels.

General Nonfiction – Collections of columns & general essays.

Language & Literary Criticism – Non-semiotic works about language, aesthetics, and literary criticism, including chapters and contributions.

Children’s Books – Books for children.

Collaborations & Contributions – Non-semiotic works written in collaboration with others.

Italian Works – Works that have yet to be translated into English.

Bibliography – An expanding bibliography of Italian and English works.

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8 November 2004