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Serendipities Language and Lunacy Hardcover – 1988


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (1988)
  • ASIN: B000UV3HTA
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
Please note: This book is approximately 75% paraphrased from Eco's "The Search for the Perfect Language," which contains a more thorough treatment of the material that the two books share. The material that is new in this book is interesting, making the read worthwhile for the dedicated reader who has already enjoyed "The Search..". For the casual reader, "Serendipities" is much shorter and more accessible than "The Search for the Perfect Language", making it a suitable alternative or possibly an introduction to the longer text. However, if you take offense at paying to read the same information twice, simply do not purchase both books. Enjoy!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By ilmk on June 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Serendipites is a collection of five essays where Eco is debating questions that arose from his preceding text - The search for the Perfect Language. His style here is to debate several intrinsic problems in history that are tied to language and how human reaction to them has shaped our thinking. The essays neither seek to advise or educate, only to debate without answer, other than to nudge the reader towards areas that are yet open to answers and you leave the five with a multitude of thoughts, conjectures.
The first essay - The Force of Falsity - gives rise to that scholarly need to provide polarity. Eco states that if there be a force of Truth, then surely, there must be an opposite force. He acknowledges the danger for understanding of falsity requires a kernel of truth to exist and that the real discourse is, rather, to prove that which claims authenticity, is in reality, that. The essay provides many canonical examples of where a belief which is incorrect - such as Ptolemy, Columbus, the Donation of Constantine and others - has led to a truth. Simply put, experience and thus knowledge, is often only obtained by theorizing and then practical trial and error. The driving force is merely proof of curiosity. Eco proves that serendipity is perhaps a separate force in itself but it is no great surprise because, without absolute knowledge, enlightenment must follow a path of conjecture and proof.
The second essay - Languages in Paradise - of the five has the greatest capacity for disagreement. Eco opens by stating that Adam was the Nomothete yet claims that his use of the name Eve "is evident that we are dealing with names that are not arbitrary". This effectively contradicts the concept that Adam was nomothete, as a name-giver ascribes name first and meaning is a resultant.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Christopher I. Lehrich on December 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Umberto Eco's large oeuvre can be divided into four groups: his scholarly work on semiotics, his amusing essays and plays on genre, his fiction, and his works for the mythical "general reader." This last group, to which Serendipities belongs, is the least effective and worthwhile, and this book is not a major contribution to that group.
Let's begin by assuming that you are interested in the history of language, intellectual history more generally, and/or the history of folly (or "lunacy," as Eco calls it). If none of these fit you, you won't probably like the book much; but let's assume you are so interested.
Serendipities is a group of five short essays about various oddities of European intellectual history as it relates to ideas about language. If you have read Eco's The Search for the Perfect Language, this collection is a sort of addendum, unfortunately rather repetitive. If you haven't, you will probably have little context into which to fit these discussions of Athanasius Kircher's theory of Chinese characters and Egyptian hieroglyphs, Leibniz's binary-mathematical interpretation of the Yi Ching, etc.
Assuming, however, that you have that context --- and note that we are now talking about a very narrow audience indeed! --- you will find a number of amusing bits of trivia, but little analytical depth. One has the sense that Eco is describing some little bits of things he stumbled on, which might be interesting to follow up but which are, for him, tangential or marginal.
The most valuable discussion in the book is the first chapter, which considers the problem of a history of folly. What are we to do when we encounter an extremely influential set of ideas based upon an entirely incorrect premise?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Marvin Greenberg on December 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is a collection of essay/lectures Eco has presented. They range over a variety of interesting philosophical issues -- which are well presented and thought out. The theme throughout is that incorrect ideas can result in useful results. Like all of Eco's writing (with which I am familiar) his ideas require some attention and thought on the part of the reader. But this was for me a very accessible book, perhaps reflecting its origin as lectures, and well worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Snavely VINE VOICE on July 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
First, I must assume that if you're considering reading this book you are a student of history, language, or perhaps the history of language. I am none of these and was given the book as "something I thought you'd enjoy". Even so, I found the book thought provoking and well written. I feel that the failing in this endeavor was my own, for I do not posess enough historical knowledge to relate to the constant references and source material quoted by Eco. I'll just say that I still found the book more worthwhile than the latest "bestseller".
As stated above, I must assume that most anyone reading this, or considering the book will have more of an interest in the subject matter.
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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

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