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On Ugliness Hardcover – October 30, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.
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“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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Rizzoli; First Edition edition (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847829863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847829866
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Umberto Eco (born 5 January 1932) is an Italian novelist, medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, and literary critic.

He is the author of several bestselling novels, The Name of The Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of The Day Before, and Baudolino. His collections of essays include Five Moral Pieces, Kant and the Platypus, Serendipities, Travels In Hyperreality, and How To Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays.

He has also written academic texts and children's books.

Photography (c) Università Reggio Calabria

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
'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.
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Format: Hardcover
I've enjoyed Eco's fiction (The Name of the Rose, Baudolino), but was never familiar with his work as a semiotician. This book gives a wonderful taste of his intellect outside of fiction. "On Ugliness" is Eco's companion volume to his excellent History of Beauty, and takes the same style: here you will find descriptions of the Western world's ideas about ugliness, from the classical era through the modern, discussing things such as the devil, monsters, death, age and decay, damnation, camp and kitsch, etc. Eco examines this subject broadly, and provides great insight. This book is essentially a collection of visual art related to the different subjects, juxtaposed with passages from literary works from a number of Western cultures.

What keeps this book from receiving my full 5 stars is the fact that none of the pieces (whether literature or visual art) include any kind of analysis or description. Eco simply writes bookending snippets for each chapter and then basically lets the works speak for themselves, which is largely unsatisfying. However, for anyone interested in conceptions of beauty or ugliness, or who would like a fascinating addition to their library, this book is for you.
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Format: Hardcover
Since I am only a hundred-some pages into this book I hope you'll forgive the premature nature of this review, but thus far Eco's latest work has been so movingly fascinating that I wanted to step up and urge anyone who might be considering buying and reading it to go ahead and do so. Initially I had reservations about beginning it but have no regrets that I did. Although it should become apparent early on that this is honestly less a companion volume to History of Beauty than it has been touted to be, this study of perception, beauty, and above all beauty's often more charismatic twin, ugliness, takes on the entire sweep of history and makes an investigation of the output of some of the biggest names in western art and literature. Why are, say, Goya's more gruesome works his most enjoyable? What makes villains the best characters in fiction (and life)? Why does the repugnant occur so frequently as a theme in art, music, literature and even in everyday fashion? Most of all, why is one object or individual deemed "ugly" and another not? Less (at least thus far) an indictment of the cult of beauty which seems inextricably bound up in human affairs and more an exhaustive investigation that intelligently asks numerous questions from many angles, Eco's challenge here is to compel each of us to contemplate the nature of perception itself. I have loved what I've read so far and can't wait to read the rest.
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Format: Paperback
This is an amazing collection of weird, bizarre, demented pictures, most of them in vivid color.

There is a little text....some writings by Eco. But he is the editor, and he has picked small paragraphs from throughout the ages and then supplied appropriate pictures to accompany each one. The scholarship that went into this project must have been Herculean.

We get pictures of the grotesque, the ugly, the revolting, from medieval times up to the present. At one point, I stopped reading the text and thumbed through, awaiting the next horrific work of art and congratulating myself on being able to recognize many of the artists. Most of the great masters are represented. Even the most noble and inspirational painting might have a horrific detail in the corner depicting a demon or a plague victim or a madwoman. These are the details Eco is interested in. This is not a comfortable pretty world of kittens and flowers. These pictures celebrate torture and disease and insanity as portrayed by artists through the centuries.

Until I saw these pictures, I had no idea that some cathedrals had shocking and violent statues. The outside gargoyles I knew about, but the humans suffering inhuman(e) torments left me wondering why I had never seen these details in my European cathedral tours. If you are interested in the macabre, the Gothic, and the nightmarish, the many fabulous pictures in this book will leave you reeling in disbelief, shock, and wonder.
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