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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ugliness Explored Through the Imaginative Eyes of Umberto Eco
'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...
Published on November 28, 2007 by Grady Harp

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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the wonderfull book I expected
I'm really disappointed with this book since it is just a compilation of pictures about ugliness and a bare description of them.
Published 22 months ago by Edison Jimenez


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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ugliness Explored Through the Imaginative Eyes of Umberto Eco, November 28, 2007
By 
This review is from: On Ugliness (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. 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, November 07
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Meditation on A Complex Subject..., November 18, 2007
This review is from: On Ugliness (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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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Unique Work, November 11, 2007
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This review is from: On Ugliness (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the most decadent picture book ever, January 1, 2014
This review is from: On Ugliness (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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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars easy read, May 8, 2008
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This review is from: On Ugliness (Hardcover)
I was a little worried this book might be really dry and difficult to read but it has been enjoyable and interesting so far. I decided to buy Umberto Eco's Beauty book too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reading this book by Umberto Eco is a powerful experience, February 10, 2014
By 
Glenn Russell (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On Ugliness (Paperback)
Umberto Eco begins ‘On Ugliness’ with the observation that there is an entire history of beauty but such a history did not happen with ugliness. Why is this? Perhaps, the author reasons, since ugliness was frequently defined throughout the ages as the opposite of beauty. Well, if there ever was a book taking a giant step to rectify a neglect of ugliness, this is the book – 450 pages and nearly 1000 full-color illustrations as well as dozens of primary source excerpts chock full of the ugly. And here’s a sampling of the synonyms Eco lists for the word: repellent, horrible, disgusting, grotesque, abominable, repulsive, odious, indecent, foul, obscene, repugnant, monstrous, horrifying, nightmarish, revolting, sickening, deformed, disfigured.

If anybody wonders why we are so fascinated and drawn to the ugly and monstrous, such wondering has a long history. For example, Umberto Eco quotes Bernard of Clarevaux bemoaning how Christians are fascinated with monsters and monstrosities, “What place is there in the cloisters for that ridiculous monstrosity, that strange kind of deformed shape or shaped deformity? What are foul apes doing there? Or ferocious lions? Or monstrous centaurs? Or half-men? Or dappled tigers? You can see many bodies beneath a single head and vice versa many heads atop a single body. On the one side you can see a quadruped with a serpent’s tail, and on the other a fish with a quadruped’s head. Here, a beast that looks like a horse with the hindquarters of a goat, there a horned animal with the hindquarters of horse. In short there is everywhere such a great and strange variety of heterogeneous forms that there is more pleasure to be had in reading the marbles than the codices and in spending the whole day admiring one by one these images rather than meditating on the law of God.”

Again, why is this? The answer is as complex as human nature is complex. Taking one approach, we can look at a quote Eco includes from a novel by J.-K. Huysmans, “These nightmares attached him repeatedly. He was afraid to fall asleep. For hours he remained stretched on his bed, now a prey to feverish and agitated wakefulness, now in the grip of oppressive dreams in which he tumbled down flights of stairs and felt himself sinking, powerless, into abysmal depths.” In a word, the monsters portrayed in paint, sculpture, photography, film and literature mirror the content of our dreamscape visions. On some level we want to come to grips with our nocturnal experience and the monstrous in art is a prime way to do so.

The author includes Andy Warhol’s ‘Orange Car Crash’ a print using the photograph of an overturned car with three people pinned underneath. This is a nightmare we in the modern world face as a living possibility nearly every day. Again, the ugly is very much part of our day to day experience and a living nightmare is forever looming. For me, reading Eco’s book was a powerful experience, so powerful, I’d like to share a poem of mine on the topic:

Hieronymus Bosch Hell Landscape

I’m driving down the highway in a driving rain.
Off on the shoulder there’s a scene from hell.

I see a car, a new sports car.
The roof smashed. There is manure covering the
Smashed roof and a huge round chunk of metal,
Probably a part for industrial usage
Right in the middle of the manure,
On the smashed roof.
Evidently, something fell from a truck.

In front of the car
An overweight woman is sitting in a ball
On the ground,
Knees pulled up, head buried in her arms.
A two-year old girl stands in front of the woman,
Trying to get her attention.
No umbrellas, no raincoats, no nothing.
Just a stunned woman and a child
On the side of the highway
Unprotected from the cold, driving rain.

A police car pulls up to the accident scene
lights flashing.

I wonder what the woman was thinking
Before this happened.
Shopping with her daughter and sister?
Visiting her mother?
Helping to prepare dinner for a friend?
And just like that.
She’s in the middle of a
Hieronymus Bosch hell landscape.
No car. No heat. No comfort. No pleasure.
Nothing but pain, intense pain.
Sitting there in a driving rain, stunned,
Sitting in a ball,
No even able to comfort a child.

How quickly it can happen.
From our normal routine
To hell
In one quick stroke.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine work of scholarship, January 19, 2013
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This review is from: On Ugliness (Paperback)
Eco offers an important look into the definitions and constraints our culture places through history on the concept of ugliness. I return to this book often when envisioning characters for my books.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT, January 6, 2012
By 
John Seybold (Madera, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: On Ugliness (Hardcover)
If you have Umerto's works on Beauty,YOU NEED THIS! An amazing man of many talents! I found this fun, interesting and well designed!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a magnificent book, January 27, 2013
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This review is from: On Ugliness (Paperback)
I loved the book. It speaks not only about the ugliness of the world but also about the beautiful and the harmony -lets say-you can find in all ugly things situations etc.. and criticize and think that even in ugliness you can find something you like but with the good meaning of the word and not with the meaning of ugliness, anomalies or bud reactions of the human being (many of what you can find also in the book).
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book..., January 3, 2014
By 
Oyamaneko (San Diego, Ca.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Ugliness (Hardcover)
Umberto Eco travels trough time on this study on ugliness... great book for anyone interested on art history, graphic design or similar.
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On Ugliness
On Ugliness by Umberto Eco (Hardcover - October 30, 2007)
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