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Travels in Hyperreality

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This is a collection of essays written in various times and contexts, in which Umberto Eco considers many topics: holography, wax museums, "The Return of the Middle Ages", Superman and Casablanca, Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, the survival of ancient African religious sects and cults in contemporary Brazil, Jim Jones and his murderous temple, the Red Brigades and terrorism in general, Marchall McLuhan and Charles Manson, Woody Allen and St Thomas Aquinas, the social and personal implications of snug-fitting blue jeans and the secret meaning of spectator sports...

324 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1967

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About the author

Umberto Eco

768 books10.3k followers
Umberto Eco was an Italian writer of fiction, essays, academic texts, and children's books. A professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, Eco’s brilliant fiction is known for its playful use of language and symbols, its astonishing array of allusions and references, and clever use of puzzles and narrative inventions. His perceptive essays on modern culture are filled with a delightful sense of humor and irony, and his ideas on semiotics, interpretation, and aesthetics have established his reputation as one of academia’s foremost thinkers.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 147 reviews
Profile Image for Daniel Clausen.
Author 10 books455 followers
December 15, 2018
I like to pick books at random and wander for a bit. Sometimes these wanderings take me places I want to go and find rewarding, other times they just take me wandering. But wandering is important. It's important to get lost, to try new things, to add spontaneity to your life.

I wander into an essay about garments in this book that changes the way I write this book review.

In one of the essays, Eco describes how the garments of our time shape our personality, even our writing.

Eco writes that a garment that squeezes the testicles makes a man think differently.

I put that theory to the test by wearing underwear two sizes too small for parts of this review. The parts that seem harsh must be times when I am wearing underwear that is too tight. The parts where I am witty and charismatic must be the times when I am wearing a loose-fitting robe and sandals (the true clothes of thinking men).

So what is Faith in Fakes?

Faith in Fakes is a book about spontaneous discovery, thinking as play, and true understanding as rejecting intellectual closure.

It was refreshing to find a book that mirrored my way of thinking. The ideas in this book are often half-formed. They remain that way many times because they push against realities, which, if they were encapsulated in total understanding, would not be understood at all. Let us understand something a little differently, and if we are not entirely satisfied, let's leave it at that. (This must be the loose-fitting robe version of me talking).

It's true that at times the book tends to wander and wander from idea to idea, around and around a message without making that message clear. The experience can be frustrating (Underwear two-sizes too small persona talking). When you feel this way, my advice is easy -- wear loose-fitting clothes, loose-fitting undergarments, or simply read the book again nude and see how you feel about it.

One reviewer on Goodreads suggested that Umberto Eco was William Gibson ten years in advance. I see Umberto Eco as inhabiting a category of thinker similar to Michel Foucault -- just when you want to put a label on him, he changes. "Don't label me," should be his moniker. If you label me, you've killed me. (I tear the label off my two-sizes-too-small underwear!)

Because power adapts, because people adapt, because culture and society are moving objects with thinking things at their core, and because our own thinking is never outside this process, we too must adapt or die as thinkers - that's how I see this book. It's that quality of creative play that makes a book of essays written in the 70s and 80s feel timeless.

As Umberto Eco himself says, No everyday experience is too base for the thinking man.

At times when I was reading this book, I heard the distinct voice of Aschenbach, the cloistered traditional German author who is the protagonist in Death in Venice (The tight underwear is back). True, Eco is not the cloistered man -- he is a man of the world. But he does represent the dignified elitist academic writer (in the best sense I can mean this?). In other words, he is not afraid to write ideas that go over our heads.

If he is the dignified academic in some essays, he is the witty and resourceful humorist in others. He pulls off this intellectual flexibility with such grace and without pulling any muscles (Any good essayists needs either flexible tights or a monk's robe).

So, I wander. From idea to idea. I throw away my too-tight underwear and my robe and sandals and sit nude in my apartment with a martini contemplating the deeper meanings of Thomas Aquinas, Disney World, and football (what Americans call "soccer").

I don't think Umberto Eco would have it any other way.
Profile Image for P.E..
753 reviews508 followers
February 22, 2020

Dans les articles de ce recueil, Umberto Eco encourage l'exercice d'un esprit critique aiguisé, sinon la guérilla sémiologique face à l'absolu des discours, qu'ils soient religieux, sportifs, politiques, publicitaires, médiatiques.

Ce que j'apprécie spécialement chez l'auteur, c'est son aptitude à trouver du sens partout là où on voudrait faire passer les choses pour évidentes. Alors que les articles ont été publiés de 1967 à 1983, les observations de ce grand sémioticien restent toujours pertinentes.

Parmi les sujets d'étude :

- L'hyperréalisme dans les musées, les hôtels, les parcs d'attractions
- La confusion des éléments constitutifs de l'information : la source, le canal, la forme, le code...
- Le pouvoir de l'habit et de l'image
- La quête "postmoderne" d'un discours de vérité
- Le simulacre et le spectacle

Les grands thèmes :


Livres cousins :
The Simulacra
La Langue des medias : Destruction du langage et fabrication du consentement
L'art du roman
Profile Image for C. Varn.
Author 3 books265 followers
January 10, 2016
Travels in Hyperreality was a text from the late 1970s and early 1980s editorials by Umberto Eco which really hit home when a lot of the meta-commentary of entertainment hit in 1990s when I read it was a freshman in college. In many ways, Eco is a less "radical" Baudrillard, but one commentator with more knowledge of the medieval and the grounding of semiotics to really make it stick. Many of the assertions in this book about spectacle seem more true now than in the 1990s when social media has literalized many of the ideas of self as spectacle and gone are worries about authenticity. While "post-modern" does apply to this book in the sense that Eco is operating with post-structuralist assumptions, Eco does not write like most theoretical post-modernists and avoids lots of neologisms and more obtuse claims. Like most of his books of popular essays, Eco requires you to have a huge frame of reference though and you may be looking up both medieval figures and pop culture of the 1970s. Of the books I read in my freshman year, coming back to this book for the fourth time in 17-years or so, I was surprised how much of this still stuck with me.
Profile Image for April.
22 reviews
June 2, 2014
Eco suggests that for the average American’s taste, he feels the past must be preserved and celebrated in full-scale authentic copies; a philosophy of immortality as duplication. He also feels that Americans always want more of extra, and that we are not satisfied with the average serving of life and must strive to fabricate the absolute fake - for instance the oval office in Texas. Everyone, except perhaps, New Orleans, is on his shit list.
In his travels across American observing various museums, mansions, amusement parks and historical sites, Eco examines every detail of the location, from its real items and imitations—such as furniture duplicated to look like a specific real piece, fabricated ceilings to look like ceilings in chapels found in Europe, to the Pompeii-mosaic-tiled floor in the Hearst Castle, Eco is offended at America’s obsessiveness about copying the original.
Perhaps a good opposing force to Lethem's Ecstasy of Influence and Hickey's Air Guitar.
Should always be on the mind of visual artists who are informed by digital technologies

Though written in 1995, in my opinion, is even more relevant today.
Profile Image for Asclepiade.
122 reviews57 followers
January 9, 2020
Il costume di casa ospita una silloge d’articoli e interventi redatti da Umberto Eco tra la fine degli anni Sessanta e l’inizio dei Settanta; quelli destinati alla stampa periodica sono in genere piuttosto brevi, ma vi si trovano anche testi più corposi (come quelli sul Gruppo Sessantatré) e il famoso scritto sul caso Braibanti, Sotto il nome di plagio, che occupa da solo qualche decina di pagine, ed è fra le cose più interessanti qui pubblicate. Alcuni di questi articoli sono stati di nuovo ristampati nella recente raccolta di testi di Eco sulla televisione, perché lo studioso, lavorando allora per la Rai, conobbe da vicino e indagò ampiamente la comunicazione televisiva. Inutile dire che le pagine sulla televisione, oltre ad essere fra le più stimolanti del libro, posseggono una freschezza e un’attualità notevoli, soprattutto se si pensa quanto sia cambiato questo mezzo di comunicazione rispetto a quegli anni; ma è altrettanto vero che Umberto Eco fu, nella cultura italiana e non solo, uno dei più lucidi analisti dello Zeitgeist degli scorsi decennî, sì da poter sovente captare o intuire mutazioni, conseguenze o derive assolutamente non percepibili dall’osservatore comune o perfino dagli addetti ai lavori: tanto che spesso reca impressione oggi riconoscere quanti ammonimenti e quante indagini belli e pronti, a saper leggere non dico i saggi del professore alessandrino ma semplicemente i suoi articoli sull’Espresso, i nostri sapienti reggitori avrebbero potuto scoprire, così evitando tante schifezze combinate o dette nel frattempo. Ma Eco era un grande anche nell’intuire dettagli su questioni minori o minime: come quando spiega, in un garbato articoletto, perché sia impossibile una resurrezione letteraria di Guido da Verona. In questo florilegio non mancano neppure i pezzi lievi o umoristici, come la disamina dei foglietti mandati un tempo nelle case da svariate istituzioni religiose nostrane allo scopo di sollecitare l’elemosina dei destinatarî per orfanelli o missioni nel terzo mondo (chi qui scrive ricorda con quale frequenza giungesse, lustri addietro, per esempio Primavera Missionaria – menzionata pure da Eco – peraltro da noi mai remunerata o richiesta, al punto che, se per un po’ non la vedevamo nella cassetta della posta, ci chiedevamo se per caso non avesse chiuso baracca: come alla fine probabilmente avvenne, dato che ormai da tempo non la spediscono più), ove dietro la trattazione puntigliosa e svagata insieme, tutta giocata sull’orlo dell’irriverenza senza mai cascarvi, emerge in poche pagine tutto un mondo di credenze, di poteri e di rapporti che ormai appare lontanissimo dal nostro, eppure appartiene al passato prossimo. Un mondo diverso attestano anche le polemiche contro la destra culturale che, in epoca di cosiddetti opposti estremismi, cercava di risorgere a vita nuova come alternativa credibile a una presunta rivoluzione apocalittica in atto: diverso perché quella destra, nonostante tutto, per quanto velleitaria e piena di sofisti, e fiancheggiatrice magari di brutta gente, nella cultura credeva ancora, e intendeva dar voce a una borghesia magari senile, perbenista ma sostanzialmente anche spesso perbene. L’unica traccia d’uno spirito davvero scomparso è invece la presenza di riverberi linguistici tipici dell’epoca con l’enfasi, per esempio, su parole come “operai”, “padroni”, ed altre viepiù ideologicamente connotate, che adesso suonano davvero old fashioned; ma siccome Umberto Eco non era un polemista da giornaletto di provincia bensì una mente sopraffina, tali aromi del tempo aleggiano sporadici e sottili, privi d’invadenza, e donano sapore alla pagina. Inutile ovviamente scendere nei particolari: non sarei capace di analizzare l’opera come davvero meriterebbe, finirei per trascurare troppe cose, finirei per annoiare tutti. Piuttosto, una curiosità. Vedendo i commenti di lettori anglofoni alla traduzione inglese di questo libro, ne ho tratta l’impressione (forse sbagliata, e in tal caso chiedo venia) che non si tratti esattamente della medesima raccolta, ma d’un florilegio almeno parzialmente diverso, magari per il fatto che parecchi di questi testi, molto legati a peculiarità culturali e storiche nostrane, sarebbero stati difficilmente comprensibili per i lettori forestieri, soprattutto a distanza di mezzo secolo; a meno che non si tratti di qualche errore nell'accorpamento delle schede.
Profile Image for Alex Bigney.
36 reviews7 followers
June 4, 2008
hmmm. nice read until i got bored with an idea that was beat to death. eco seems to be in love with his own ability to draw obvious conclusions. and the conclusions start to lack while the pretention grows. i couldn't finish it--but the first half was good, so i gave it three stars. eco's main event seems to me to be "the name of the rose" afterwhich he becomes "umberto eco" and starts to rehearse that act a bit too much.
Profile Image for Marc.
748 reviews105 followers
July 4, 2020
[In mid- to late-March, when local D.C. bookstores were forced to close due to the pandemic, many survived by taking online orders and offering delivery. One of them was the used bookstore Capitol Hill Books--they offered a mystery "Grab Bag" where you could specify how much you want to spend and let them pick selections for you either completely on their own or based on authors/selections you provided. I gave them the names of maybe a half-dozen favorite authors and let them choose for me. This is one of the books they sent back in early April and it could not have been more of a welcome surprise.]

Umberto Eco is a delight. Funny, playful, quick, irreverent, and, seemingly, brilliant. I'm not sure I can really be objective about his writing or arguments as I find him so entertaining. It's like having an uncle who is the best raconteur on the planet to the point that the veracity of his stories is overwhelmingly irrelevant.

This book of essays captures shorter works he published in mainstream, popular publications. Grouped by THEME, he covers an amazing amount of intellectual and historical territory.

We begin with his TRAVELS, centered around America's fixation with creating such authentic fakes as to raise them to almost mystical iconography. From Disneyland, to wax museums and classical Greek and European replications incorporated into the houses of the uber wealthy.
“This is the reason for this journey into hyperreality, in search of instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake; where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred, the art museum is contaminated by the freak show, and falsehood is enjoyed in a situation of “fullness,” of horror vacui.”

Replicas take on lives of their own like the imitations of the original Manhattan purchase contract sold in one tourist gift shop---it looks and even smells real, and yet it is in English whereas the original was written in Dutch... a replica of a past that never was. "Museum" context further distorted by the use of fake reference photos or small scale miniature models in order to make the contrived exhibits more "authentic." Even the fictional wax diorama, like that created for Alice in Wonderland, is made to such precision as to seem real---a fiction of a fiction masquerading as real. This is the "hyperreal." And with comical perfection, Eco's metaphors match the absurdity of his subject matter:
“The poor words with which natural human speech is provided cannot suffice to describe the Madonna Inn. … Let’s say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli.”

America fills its cultural/historical void with next-level deception worthy of praise---entertainment as existential balm. Eco reverses the polarity as he takes us to Marinelands, a kind of Sea World where the real (aquatic creatures) are made to feel fake (routine performances, interactions with trainers, etc.). Meanwhile, the human tourists are treated like animals as they are herded from location to location, told when to sit and stay. But all this is not merely Eco applying theory to pop culture and tourist destinations---it creates a fascinating perspective on the America of the '80s. And just before we get lost in the funhouse, we move on to the middle ages.

No, not your midlife crisis years, THE MIDDLE AGES. Yes, a whole section on how we're reliving the past, a past in which “...all the problems of the Western world emerged: Modern languages, merchant cities, capitalistic economy (along with banks, checks, and prime rate) are inventions of medieval society.” The Pax Americana struggles with its own demise akin to the Roman Empire's. The barbarians are at the gates but they can't be identified as simply as we like (despite a political climate that attempts to do so). All we know is that something definitive is slipping through the cracks (a "greatness;" a shared history... ). Eco doesn't describe it this way because he was writing these essays some 40 to 50 years ago, but they are remarkably prescient.
“Each group manufactures its dissidents and its heresiarchs, the attacks that Franciscans and Dominicans made on each other are not very different from those of Trotskyites and Stalinists---nor is this the politically cynical index of an aimless disorder, but on the contrary, it is the index of a society where new forces are seeking new images of collective life and discover they cannot be imposed except through the struggle against established “systems,” exercising a conscious and severe intolerance in theory and practice.”
(If you're in the U.S. right now and live near any major city, you have heard fireworks almost every night for the last few weeks, a kind of rumbling that widens fissures in the metaphorical socio-political streets.)

How do we deal with the apocalypse and erased histories? Send in the GODS OF THE UNDERWORLD. From the recycling of millenarian cults (Manson, Jim Jones), fears of the End Days, spiritual revivals, and Afro-Brazilian rites mixing spiritualities in a heady concoction that attempts to replace erased slave histories, Eco waltzes through it all. While he admits formal religious practice such as mass attendance may be on the decline, the reverence for the sacred has never faltered. It is both reassuring and frightening how easily he connects the present to the past, delineating repeating patterns and historical precedents as if they had just happened.

But for all these cyclical commonalities, he outlines fascinating breaks with the past and changes still in development. He looks at THE GLOBAL VILLAGE and the role of communication, remarking upon the near impossibility of revolution with a globe that's under constant surveillance and capitalist production/trade exploits sometimes controlling entire countries. The multinational system itself actually relying on terrorism and small local wars to act like pressure release valves on the larger system and preclude large world wars. Mini-insurrections built into the system (keeping in mind that all this was written prior to 9/11 and the so called "War on Terror," which, while larger scale in terms of disruption and challenge to the status quo ultimately seem to have reinforced power dynamics thanks to remote warfare either by proxy or by technology... #dronestrikes).
“Today a country belongs to the person who controls communication.”

“We can legitimately suspect that the communications media would be alienating even if they belonged to the community.”

Did I mention how prescient some of his essays feel? With just these two quotes we could easily move from Russia to North Korea to Berlusconi and Trump, and then on to social media, most especially Twitter. Controlling communications allows one to shape the story, to distract, to frame the discussion... In a sense, social media does belong to the community in that participants shape the content but its form seems to dictate the kind of tribalist return that television engendered. And if Eco thought sports media had become a kind of meta-industry no longer dependent on the actual performance of real sport, I can only imagine what he would think today (sports media/talk doesn't just replace political discussion and participation as a kind of tribalist substitute as he suggests, it now delves into "fantasy" participation; reminded me a bit of a piece I remember reading by Chomsky who asked why if the average sports fan can speak so knowledgeably and in such depth about sporting technicalities and history, why media doesn't treat them as if they can do the same about political and economic topics that actually effect them more directly). Later, he shows us just how tragically sports can obscure political violence.

Should you think Eco infallible (or that I've completely fallen for this academic smoke-and-mirrors linguistic magic), his one essay on photos seems laughably shortsighted. He references a 1977 photo depicting terrorist violence in Italy and predicts it will become one of those timeless iconic images. It is unlikely he could have predicted the sea of daily visual imagery that now supplants the past almost instantly. The above image is certainly not a photo I've seen nor heard referenced before. Perhaps it has held up visually in Italy, but I seriously doubt it.

It is late and I fear I've lost whatever imaginary structure I thought would work for this review. But lest you think this book is all doom and gloom, I reiterate that it is filled with a lot of joy, hope, and humor. Many essays are peppered with personal anecdotes and one revolves around Eco's weight gain causing his jeans to fit so tight that they smush his balls---this causes an epiphany (perhaps via pain, although he does not attribute it to this) that leads him to understand that not only does restrictive clothing control physical movement but it also impacts the mind (monks realized this early and thrived intellectually thanks to flowing robes; women's progress, for him, now stands as even more impressive given the history in which clothes have almost always been used to control and restrict them).

His thoughts on language and literature were among some of my favorite, so let us close with these two quotes:
"...the given language is power because it compels me to use already formulated stereotypes, including words themselves, and that it is structured so fatally that, slaves inside it, we cannot free ourselves outside it, because outside the given language there is nothing.

How can we escape what Barthes calls, Sartre-like, this huis clos? By cheating. You can cheat the given language. This dishonest and healthy and liberating trick is called literature.”

“Literature says something and, at the same time, it denies what it has said; it doesn’t destroy signs, it make them play and it plays them. If and whether literature is liberation from the power of the given language depends on the nature of this power.”

cenotaph | Jean Poinsot | chiliastic | presidium | notionism | glossolalic | Macumba | Orixá | Exù | Umbanda | thurible | Nago-Yoruba | Bantu Angolan | Ologun | Oxalà | Our Lord of Bonfim | Allan Kardec | Rui Barbosa Law of 1888 | maenad | phatic | kermesse | telluric | topoi | Epos | Eclogue | Parusiacs | boutade | anacoluthon | endoxon
Profile Image for Netta.
185 reviews131 followers
October 3, 2019
Немного грустно от того, как часто в эссе об Италии конца шестидесятых-начала семидесятых узнаешь современную Россию, но очень хорошо от того, что Эко когда-то обо всем этом так хорошо написал.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
662 reviews40 followers
August 4, 2011
This is a book of essays covering the years from 1973 through 1986 by Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist (The Name of the Rose), semiotician, and cultural critic. I had to look up the word “semiotician” (one who studies signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication). I cannot say that I enjoyed this book; Eco always writes as if his audience just graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Western Civilization, and at times he is just too much trouble to read, much less understand.

The opening essay has Eco traveling the United States, home of the Hyper Real attractions (he notes that he was in the New Orleans French Quarter the day after seeing the New Orleans Square at Disneyland). In further essays, he discusses the effect that wearing blue jeans has on one’s perception of the world (especially, apparently, the very tight kind of blue jeans), the return of the Middle Ages to modern society, his views on World Cup Soccer as a social phenomenon, and how movies become cult movies, using Casablanca as an example.

When one can understand Eco’s essays, they are very good; it is when he wanders off into either Italian politics and /or semiotic issues that he becomes well-nigh impenetrable. (I am reminded of a large cross I saw in San Antonio, nestled in the center of a fifteen-foot patch of prickly pear cactus; there was no way that anyone in his or her right mind would try to get to that cross.)

On the whole, I liked the essays I could understand, in whole or in part; I just cannot give an unqualified positive review to a book of essays in which there exist essays that I could not understand, in whole or in part. (I will leave it to those who read my Book Reviews to determine whether the fault in comprehending a good deal of Eco lies in him, in me, or in translation from the Italian.)

Profile Image for Matthew.
150 reviews34 followers
October 11, 2014
A writer interested in a pseudoscholastic take on a nation so consumed by modernity that it became a hysteric caricature, and in the ways history is bastardized and the present ridiculously beatified to create a sleazy metropolis absent of culture, Eco was William Gibson ten years in advance.

Eco knows how to tell a tale, and getting drawn into his essays (which are more like bottomless trickbags) is hardly a difficult task. The breadth of his observation is exhausting; the title essay alone touches upon Superman, the wax museums of the Southern California area, Disney World and Thomas Aquinas. My complaint is that, all the while, I never knew what hyperreality was. Am I subject to an essay which aims to prove that Western culture is a grab bag of artifacts and symbols that have lost their meaning? Well, great. I already knew that. That's not hyperreality. That's plain old reality.

Eco, while his essays smack of j'accuse, seems to only expand upon the neverending network of symbols which he is so eager to take shots at.
Profile Image for Rand.
475 reviews98 followers
June 4, 2013
Useful for understanding the role of mimesis and simulacra in the latter half of the last century.

Sample snark: "True, if you reverse the signs, both say the same thing (namely, the media do not transmit ideologies; they are themselves ideologies), but McLuhan's visionary rhetoric is not lachrymose, it is stimulating, high-spirited, and crazy. There is some good in McLuhan, as there is in banana smokers and hippies. We must wait and see what the'll be up to next."

Read these essays if you're at all curious why Italians Do It Better.
Profile Image for Lea.
30 reviews6 followers
March 15, 2021
The Lana del Rey - Born to Die (Paradise Edition) of popular semiotics. Like a melancholic summer breeze on the way to the gay club.
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 1 book9 followers
April 9, 2018
Reading this collection of Eco essays from the late '60's to '70's was exactly like reading his body of fiction: some were just so good, and some were just confusing and not all that interesting.
In Eco's fiction you can predict how good a novel will be based on its chronological setting alone. The "older" the better. Medieval? Fantastic. Contemporary? Uh oh. Which is funny, because in this book his essays pertaining to "older" subjects are almost all better than those about "contemporary" (contemporary at the time, anyway) issues.
Anyway, it was just nice to read his "voice" again; I'm so bummed that he died. The man was so erudite, such a massive intellect- these essays all predate the international success of "The Name of the Rose" but the voice is exactly the same. Umberto was just busy being a genius and then everyone discovered him. RIP.
Profile Image for Sara.
175 reviews37 followers
October 13, 2010
There are (at least) two Umberto Ecos: the historical novelist of intricate, intellectually-driven plotlines and the pithy, witty essayist who comments on current events. Stylistically, these Ecos bear little resemblance to each other. They seem, instead, to share a teleological source, a general impulse, that is characterized by viewing everything always through the matrix of semiotics (well, that, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cultural references, arcane and popular, that allows me to mentally categorize Eco with the great compilers of history like Pliny the Elder and Isidore of Seville, rather than with any modern author).

And, of course, he is a professor of semiotics, so there's a third Eco, maybe the original Eco - those novelist and essayist fellows are only moonlighters anyway. For Eco, the world is a field of signs and he delights in deciphering not only what they may mean, but how they may mean and to whom. As I have said, all of Eco's work (and I suspect, his life) relies upon semiotic thinking, but Travels in Hyperreality may be the finest example I have yet read of his ability to translate into easily readable prose the dense patterns of meaning and signification that persist all around us in everyday life. In Travels, Eco tackles terrorism, television, cult film, charismatic cult leaders, sporting events and more.

These essays were originally published in a variety of periodicals from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, however they do not seem dated so much as they challenge a contemporary reader to familiarize herself with past "signs"; like the Red Brigades kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, the Jonestown horror or Casablanca. His topics may no longer feel contemporary, but his thoughts on them certainly do. For example, in the essay "Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare," he explores the disparity between controlling a medium and controlling a message. Even though the essay was written in 1967, when television was the most ubiquitous, instantaneous example of a communications medium, Eco's thinking is so sound that I wish the internet had been around then so he could have included an analysis of it. In fact, in true Jules-Vernian fashion, Eco's nod toward the future of communications almost presages a medium that would achieve what the internet has achieved: "[T]he constant correction of perspectives, the checking of codes, the ever renewed interpretations of mass messages." (144) (Eco actually imagined the proliferation of face-to-face contact between people, but I think the internet is metaphorically related to his vision of "semiological guerrilla warfare".)

The icing on all of this delicious cake comes, for me, in the following essays: "Travels in Hyperreality," "Dreaming of the Middle Ages," and "Living in the New Middle Ages."

In "Travels in Hyperreality," Eco examines what he perceives as the American obsession with minutely imagined, more-real-than-real (yes, "hyper" real) fakes. He traveled from coast to coast visiting wax museums, Disneyland and Disney World, San Simeon, etc., etc. He concludes that all of this fascination with "genuine" fakes has to do with America's relationship to its own history. With the exception of New Orleans (three cheers!), Eco found that most American destinations seem to put forth these hyperrealized fakes in order to fill a gap left by what Americans themselves must perceive as a lack of history. Having grown up in the "younger" west, I cannot but agree - things are razed and built over, you are taught that history, in its "proper" WASP-ish sense, began with the first white people (non-Spanish-speaking white people, that is), all other American history is hyphenated, niche history and belongs to someone else -- even if you are one of those "hyphenated, niche" Americans you receive this lesson through the funnel of dominant popular culture. And so we recreate, for example, an Italian cultural artefact like DaVinci's "Last Supper" in glorious three-dimensional wax and we look at it to the sound of classical music and we somehow know that seeing this is even better than seeing some flat, crumbling old painting on a wall somewhere.*

Or another example: one of our illustrious citizens, William Randolph Hearst, creates a European palace in bricolage of genuine antique items and accurately rendered fake antique items, jumbled together to reveal nothing more than the ludicrous and offensive wealth of their owner. I found all of this analysis accurate if uncharitable, and yet not mean spirited in any way. I would venture a guess that Eco is actually a great fan of many American cultural products, including Disneyland (though I get the sense he loathes Hearst on principle, but I'm American and and so do I). He simply can't help dissecting these products to see how they work. And if any of Eco's conclusions here annoy you, a remedy may be the delightful episode of This American Life called "Simulated Worlds" from October 11, 1996 and actually inspired by Eco's essay. It includes a piece where Ira Glass visits Medieval Times accompanied by medieval historian Michael Camille (Eco, Camille, Glass -- could they have found another of my heroes to somehow involve??). Pure gold.

Which brings me to the two essays dealing with the contemporary medieval, both how we consider the Middle Ages today and how we are, today, medieval. I think these essays also still ring true, even at the distance of 20-odd years. We do still dream of the Middle Ages, as the success of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter books will tell us. What we do not do in our popular culture is define what we actually mean by "medieval". Eco elucidates the "Ten Little Middle Ages" he believes we are all talking about when we call this movie, that book or this aesthetic "medieval". I will not recount all ten here, but the important point about the whole exercise is that the Middle Ages, as historical time period, is not the point. Well, it is periodically the point (for historians and fastidious researchers like Eco), but by and large pop culture references to the medieval, explicit or implicit, really only speak to a set of stereotypes gleaned from what we require the Middle Ages to have been for our present day purposes.

That is, they were barbaric if the film/book/what-have-you-thing uses the Middle Ages to dwell on or idealize violence. They were superstitious if the thing requires a sense of magic. They were overly religious if it requires oppression. The important aspect of each "Little" Middle Age is that it reflects our idea of the Middle Ages rather than the Middle Ages' own idea of itself. Only the historian (or the historically-minded individual, an endangered species in America) asks what a medieval person understood about their own world. As perhaps, in the future, only historians will ask what we understand about our world. Meanwhile, the pop culture of tomorrow will be using us as fodder for their own aspirations, prejudices and dreams. And perhaps we, too, will be considered a Middle Age. Eco already sees our era so: a time period of upheaval, shifting power structures and cultural revolution. "Naturally," he observes, "the whole process is characterized by plagues and massacres, intolerance and death. Nobody says that the Middle Ages offer a completely jolly prospect. As the Chinese said, to curse someone: 'May you live in an interesting period.'" (85) We do.

*NB: Eco's conclusions have more to do with the intent of these fakes than with the experiences of audiences actually viewing them. He's unpacking the semiotics of the message from the sender's perspective, I take it, more than from the receiver's.
Profile Image for Afonso.
17 reviews
February 5, 2021
um bom livro para nos sentirmos ignorantes novamente.
viagem na irrealidade quotidiana relata sobre a forma de (compilaçao de diversas) cronicas, as sagazes observaçoes de Eco nos anos 70/80, nao so no contexto da sociadade italiana desse tempo, mas tambem da propria sociedade mais abrangente onde todos os incluimos.
De destacar as cronicas relativas a megalomania america e do seu desejo pela "real thing", a cultura do tamanho "large","more is better" ("make america great again"); passando pela manipulaçao dos Media, a cultura do "comentario desportivo" (segundo Eco: se o desporto e nada mais do que o desperdicio saudavel de energia, daí que o relato desportivo consista na glorificaçao desse desperdicio, e portante o expoente maximo do consumismo); a relaçao espetador-televisao e a forma como a realidade é distorcida quando é "projetada" num ecra; o pensar da propria religiao, com emergentes seitas (isto sobretudo no contexto dos finais do seculo xx) cada vez mais alienantes e distantes da realidade; no fundo é feito o relato dos "modos das modas culturais" da nossa sociedade contemporanea, os seus vicios e fraquezas, promovendo uma critica ponderada e de boa-vontade.
Pena a traduçao ser tao mediocre, resultando num portugues deficiente entre o "europeu" e o "sul americano". Aparte disto, um grande livro de reflexao sobre o homem e a sua relaçao com o mundo.
Profile Image for Dan.
995 reviews101 followers
June 30, 2022
This selection of essays of semiotic theory and cultural commentary includes the 1973 article "Casablanca, or the Cliches are Having a Ball," in which Eco discusses the 1942 film in a way that might remind readers of the sort of content one finds at the website TV Tropes. In fact, the page on Umberto Eco at that website pretty much acknowledges that in this essay Eco kind of foresaw that same website--about thirty years before the latter appeared in 2004. So, sure, Al Gore invented the Internet, but it is thinkers like Eco who prognosticate the structure of much of the information circulating through it.

Acquired 1995
The Word, Montreal, Quebec
Profile Image for Gytis Dovydaitis.
28 reviews4 followers
March 31, 2018
Let's hop in a holographic car for an eclectic adventure. We will begin with wax museums, proceeding with a couple of theme parks and fake cities, then trying to find God in places of warship and flying over soccer spectacles afterwards. On our way we will question McLuhan, symbolic value of commodities in world fairs, the semiotic functioning of comic, and what kind of changes in behavior do tightening of ones testicles induce. My favorite place to stop - medieval times. Our mission of the journey - to promote a critical state of mind, thus rethinking the most mundane of our encounters, with a quest to uncover underlying paradoxes and creeping ideology.

A very well written piece of reading. Both enlightening and highly entertaining.
Profile Image for Tyler.
30 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2009
These essays are not for the layman. They are complex and sometimes difficult to follow if you're not well-versed in whatever it is he's talking about. I got something out of a few of the pieces, but much of it was lost on me, perhaps for lack of really caring enough to put forth the requisite intellectual effort. As such, i won't give this one a rating. Just know that (minus one or two essays - in particular the one about blue jeans) this is not light reading.
Profile Image for Cecilia .
86 reviews19 followers
January 25, 2015
His analysis of Hyperreality defined how I saw things in the 90s and influenced a lot of decisions I made about my own personal artistic journey. He is a brilliant intellectual & a passionate writer...a rare combination. I also loved Foucault's Pendulem. It is the thinking woman's version of stupid Da Vinci's codes lack of context. ceciliayu.com
123 reviews
October 12, 2018
Some of the essays are great, his writing style - sounding very academic, full of references to particular works, people, etc connected to the subject and then out of nowhere making a very informal, funny comment - is quite entertaining and will make the reader persevere through the harder-to-understand topics.
Profile Image for Pratik Aghor.
14 reviews10 followers
July 31, 2020
Eco has a way of getting to you. It is not a light read, at least was not for me, but definitely worth the effort. It is a book that made me realize anew that philosophy, like science is not just an abstract exercise. It is all around us. As Eco says, 'No everyday experience is too base for the thinking man.' My blogs on some articles from the book: https://sublimeplace.wordpress.com/ta...
Profile Image for Steve Shilstone.
Author 14 books24 followers
November 3, 2019
Essays by witty, intelligent, Italian college professor/novelist way smarter than I am.
Profile Image for Batul.
65 reviews8 followers
March 29, 2020
As always, Eco's writing is witty, shrewd, erudite, and accessible all at once. Despite having missed many of the cultural references, whether to films, events or comics relevant to the 1960s-80s, I was still able to follow through his anaylsis (with some light Googling on the side).
Profile Image for Tim Pendry.
980 reviews355 followers
March 8, 2016

Umberto Eco (who died only in February 2016) scored a major popular hit in the English-speaking world with his historical mystery novel The Name of the Rose filmed with Sean Connery in the lead role and released in 1986 (the same year as this collection was published in English).

Eco was a leading Italian intellectual, undoubtedly highly intelligent, whose interests covered medieval philosophy and aesthetics, literary criticism, media studies, semiotics and anthropology. As a novelist, he was almost the type of the hyper-rational post-modernist of the era.

This selection of translated essays has all the hall marks of the commercial exploitation of a cultural phenomenon at a particular time and place alongside a major movie and just before a second popular (if less interesting) novel, Foucault's Pendulum (1988).

The collection is, in fact, scrappy without context or introduction, glossed from journalistic and other writings between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s - sometimes insightful, often obscure and, equally often, I am afraid, deadly dull unless you are already a specialist.

The intellect is on display but sometimes it is just far too clever-clever and, of course, the passing of three decades has made semiotics seem a little, well, obvious. If anything, semiotic hyper-intellectualism increasingly looks like a tired game that elicits a 'so what?'

Many of the concerns of the period - to be expected from pieces written for the educated Italian middle class of the day - no longer concern us, notably the idiocies of Italian 1970s Leftism, the dying days of serious university Marxist theory and fashionable figures like McLuhan.

This is not to say that the essays are worthless, far from it, but they are almost (taken as a whole) antiquarian, mostly interesting to specialists in intellectual history or to other hyper-intellectuals.

Beneath all the superficial cleverness are some solid and sensible ideas, especially about the foolishness of late Marxist revolutionary terrorism, semiotics (which we rather take for granted nowadays), power as Foucault saw it and the shoddy thinking of other polemical intellectuals.

What I think I would rather have seen was an introduction to his ideas on specific areas - medieval thought, mass communication, the hyperreal and politics - that was more coherently presented or at least had some thoughtful introduction by another intellectual who could interpret Eco for us.

In the end, one comes to the conclusion that there is a) Eco the novelist and b) Eco the public and academic intellectual. Although there are connections between the two for a biographer to unpick, it is best just to enjoy the novels without the intellectual paraphrenalia.

Eco was an important and stimulating force in Italian society and culture and a serious contributor to every field he studied. If anything, simply dumping a selection of writings without context on the English-speaking public did him a grave disservice. He may have deserved better.

Profile Image for Alex V..
Author 4 books16 followers
January 9, 2012
I read only two essays in this collection. The title one speaks to the beautiful and horrific American sense of inflated reality as it manifests in its tourist spectacles, citing as examples a number of places I've been: San Simeon, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Disneyland and Disney World, and particularly the Madonna Inn, an over-the-top, theme-roomed Swiss chalet hotel in San Luis Obispo, CA where I spent my honeymoon. Eco doesn't sign off on the life-as-circus as he sees it here, but he gets why we do it, how the inflated story culled from a million facts and misunderstandings is the story we tell ourselves, the myth that we believe. Eco's prose is so evocative, you will want to drop everything and visit the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library, or at least the one that appears in the text.

Here is San Simeon aka Hearst Castle aka Xanadu from Citizen Cane

The striking aspect of the whole is not the quantity of antique pieces plundered from half of Europe, or the nonchalance with which the artificial tissue seamlessly connects fake and genuine, but rather the sense of fullness, the obsessive determination not to leave a single space that doesn't suggest something, and hence the masterpiece of bricolage, haunted by horror vacui, that is here achieved.

and here he goes into metaphoric overdrive attempting to depict the Madonna Inn:

Let's say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli. But that doesn't give you an idea. Let's say Arcimboldi builds the Sagrada Familia for Dolly Parton. Or: Carmen
Miranda designs a Tiffany locale for the Jolly Hotel chain. Or D'Annunzio's Vittoriale imagined by Bob Cratchit, Calvino's Invisible Cities described by Judith Krantz and executed by Leonor Fini for the plush-doll industry, Chopin's Sonata in B flat minor sung by Perry
Como in an arrangement by Liberace and accompanied by the Marine Band. No, that still isn't right. Let's try telling about the rest rooms.

The other essay I read, "Cogito Interruptus", is largely a critique and appreciation of Marshall McLuhan, which, if you are a McLuhan nerd like me, you'll be all into, but otherwise might not grab you.

Generally, the contemporariness of the prose is astounding. I felt a bit of a stomach punch when I saw a date of 1980 while thinking how "now" his messages are, how he's the kind of writer you feel yourself always trailing behind. Plus, both essays were funny. Nothing is better than a funny egghead.

Profile Image for Jerry Pogan.
994 reviews26 followers
October 29, 2019
An enjoyable book of essay. It covered a wide range of subjects that went from thought-provoking to trivial but all were interesting reads to some extent. I thought I would mention a couple of the essays that I thought were the best. The best, by far, was the title essay "Travels in Hyperreality" which discussed imitation and fakes. His discussion included things like wax figures, fake art objects, Disney animated characters to Vegas facades and such and comparing them to the genuine objects. As his discussion progressed I began to wonder exactly how these fake objects differed from genuine art objects that are in reality imitations of real objects themselves and this can be even extrapolated to literature. Anyway, it was thought provoking. The other essay that stood out to me discussed Jim Jones and his cult. His followers worshipped him as a deity even when he became abusive and a rapist. The discussion actually made me realize that this was relevant in explaining much of the following that Trump has. His is a very cult-like following of people who worship him like a deity inspite of his self-serving policies that benefit the wealthy and work against his followers own best interest. Many of the other essays were based on headlines of the period in which they were written which made them a little dated but still interesting.
Profile Image for Tyler.
519 reviews4 followers
October 7, 2014
I have to admit, I only bought this because the title made me laugh. The titular essay is the best thing here and is really the only piece from this book I would recommend strongly. It's a little reminiscent of Joan Didion, in its focus on the peculiarities of California culture in the 20th century and the underlying psychologies that bring about monuments to artificiality like Ripley's Wax Museum, William Randolph Hearst's sprawling mansion, and good ol' Disneyworld. Although there are some interesting little nuggets sprinkled here and there (I liked the one about how blue jeans shape behavior, and the first "Middle Ages" piece), only the first essay has a really effective blending of author and subject. Too many of the essays here deal with overtheorized and stuffy lines of thought, which would take a different hand to make engaging; or else, Eco takes a good enough subject (like Casablanca) and bogs it down in too much academic babble. Who takes all the fun out of Casablanca? Who does that?
Profile Image for Mitesh.
132 reviews11 followers
April 25, 2019
I decided to buy this book on a whim as the title seemed interesting. It turned out to be a potpourri of essays written during 1960s to 1980s. There are many ideas dealt with in the 8 different parts in the composition and the author points out some obvious conclusions which may not be apparent. At the same time, there are ideas that are not dealt with completely or appear obsolete now which leads to some frustration while reading. Overall, this is a difficult read, but the author succeeds in inflicting vivid imagery upon your mind as you progress through the book. Read the book if you can absorb the abstract or if you have the patience to absorb and appreciate both the dull and the super - clever parts.
Profile Image for Trice.
527 reviews88 followers
November 27, 2010
11/12/2010 The beginning of this book was killing me - he goes on and on and on about some ideas and it was just plain boring - yes it's important to consider how we think of 'real' and qualify the representations of such, but there comes a point when you've communicated your idea and you just need to move on. I was beginning to think I should give up on him as an essayist, but now I'm in the midst of a section titled 'Reports from the Global Village' and despite the years since this book was compiled, the ideas still seem fresh, applicable and thoughtful - presently on spectator sports defeating the purpose of 'sport'
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