Archives For From the Tree to the Labyrinth

 

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A Feature Review of

From the Tree to the Labyrinth: Historical Studies on the Sign and Interpretation

Umberto Eco

Translated by Anthony Oldcorn
Hardback: Harvard UP, 2014
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Review by Michial Farmer

 

The problem with reading a book written by a man of such superhuman erudition as Umberto Eco is that the reader needs a similarly Herculean level of learning in order to challenge and critique it. The rest of us can read Eco, learn from him, even enjoy the overwhelming nature of the experience—but we can’t argue with him the way good books call us to argue with them. We can only sit at his feet—our guru, our professor, we the devotees, we the students.

 

From the Tree to the Labyrinth, for example—a book that was published in Italian in 2007 but that has just been heroically translated into English by Harvard Professor of Italian Studies Anthony Oldcorn—discourses for nearly a hundred pages on Aristotle’s difficult logical and scientific treatises, not so much on what they themselves say as on what an even more difficult series of medieval commentators, philosophers, and scribes took them to say. (And that’s only about a sixth of the overall book.) It’s to Eco’s credit (and to Olcorn’s, whose accomplishment is only slightly less impressive than Eco’s) that this journey rarely feels tedious or perilous. He knows this material well, explains it skillfully, and mostly leaves his non-specialist reader feeling illiterate for not being familiar with, say, Scotus Eriugena.

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