Saturday, February 20, 2016

With News Of Umberto Eco's Death Yesterday Here's His "...How To Write a Thesis"

From Open Culture:

Umberto Eco’s How To Write a Thesis: A Witty, Irreverent & Highly Practical Guide Now Out in English
In general, the how-to book—whether on beekeeping, piano-playing, or wilderness survival—is a dubious object, always running the risk of boring readers into despairing apathy or hopelessly perplexing them with complexity. Instructional books abound, but few succeed in their mission of imparting theoretical wisdom or keen, practical skill. The best few I’ve encountered in my various roles have mostly done the former. In my days as an educator, I found abstract, discursive books like Robert Scholes’ Textual Power or poet and teacher Marie Ponsot’s lyrical Beat Not the Poor Desk infinitely more salutary than more down-to-earth books on the art of teaching. As a sometime writer of fiction, I’ve found Milan Kundera’s idiosyncratic The Art of the Novel—a book that might have been titled The Art of Kundera—a great deal more inspiring than any number of other well-meaning MFA-lite publications. And as a self-taught audio engineer, I’ve found a book called Zen and the Art of Mixing—a classic of the genre, even shorter on technical specifications than its namesake is on motorcycle maintenance—better than any other dense, diagram-filled manual.

How I wish, then, that as a onetime (longtime) grad student, I had had access to the English translation, just published this month, of Umberto Eco’s How to Write a Thesis, a guide to the production of scholarly work worth the name by the highly celebrated Italian novelist and intellectual. Written originally in Italian in 1977, before Eco’s name was well-known for such works of fiction as The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, How to Write Thesis is appropriately described by MIT Press as reading: “like a novel”: “opinionated… frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious.” For example, in the second part of his introduction, after a rather dry definition of the academic “thesis,” Eco dissuades a certain type of possible reader from his book, those students “who are forced to write a thesis so that they may graduate quickly and obtain the career advancement that originally motivated their university enrollment.” These students, he writes, some of whom “may be as old as 40” (gasp), “will ask for instructions on how to write a thesis in a month.” To them, he recommends two pieces of advice, in full knowledge that both are clearly “illegal”:
(a) Invest a reasonable amount of money in having a thesis written by a second party. (b) Copy a thesis that was written a few years prior for another institution. (It is better not to copy a book currently in print, even if it was written in a foreign language. If the professor is even minimally informed on the topic, he will be aware of the book’s existence.

A couple of the English language obits:
Financial Times

Italian writer Umberto Eco dies aged 84
Italian author Umberto Eco, who became famous for the 1980 international blockbuster The Name of the Rose, has died aged 84.
La Repubblica newspaper said it had been informed by the family that Eco died late on Friday night at his home in northern Italy.

Eco was virtually unknown outside university circles until well into middle age, when he found himself an international celebrity overnight after he published his first novel, an unorthodox detective story set in a medieval monastery.

“He was an extraordinary example of European intellectualism, uniting a unique intelligence of the past with an inexhaustible capacity to anticipate the future,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency Ansa.

For the professor from Bologna University, then aged 48, it was a late introduction into the world of international literary fame and one that took many critics by surprise.
The Name of the Rose, with its highly detailed description of life in a 14th-century monastery and learned accounts of the philosophical and religious disputes of the time, at face value was hardly a novel to appeal to the average modern reader.

But the book’s popularity lay in a clever plot line, the masterfully evoked atmosphere of fear and gloom brooding over the monastery, and the attractive central figure, unashamedly modelled on the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

As the novel opens an ageing priest, anxious to record the story before he dies, looks back on events that took place in 1327 when as an 18-year-old novice he visited a sinister Italian monastery with his master, Brother William of Baskerville.

During their stay several of the monks are gruesomely murdered and William and his young assistant are soon involved in a detective hunt to track down the villain.

The unusual juxtaposition of a gripping storyline and erudite scholasticism helped to explain why The Name of the Rose was translated into dozens of languages, sold more than 14m copies and won several international literary prizes....MORE
And from the New York Times:

Umberto Eco, 84, Best-Selling Academic Who Navigated Two Worlds, Dies
Umberto Eco, an Italian scholar in the arcane field of semiotics who became the author of best-selling novels, notably the blockbuster medieval mystery “The Name of the Rose,” died on Friday in Italy. He was 84.

His Italian publisher, Bompiani, confirmed his death, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. He died at his home in Milan, according to the Italian news website Il Post. No cause was given.
As a semiotician, Mr. Eco sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols — words, religious icons, banners, clothing, musical scores, even cartoons — and published more than 20 nonfiction books on these subjects while teaching at the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university.

But rather than segregate his academic life from his popular fiction, Mr. Eco infused his seven novels with many of his scholarly preoccupations.

In bridging these two worlds, he was never more successful than he was with “The Name of the Rose,” his first novel, which was originally published in Europe in 1980. It sold more than 10 million copies in about 30 languages. (A 1986 Hollywood adaptation directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery received only a lukewarm reception.)...MORE