Umberto Eco in conversation with Paul Holdengräber: On Ugliness, Hot Wars & Media Populism

On Ugliness is an extraordinary road map to the perception of the grotesque over the centuries. Following on the heels of the book, History of Beauty, writer and scholar Umberto Eco considers how we perceive and define the corollary—the depiction of ugliness—the complete absence of beauty—from Ancient Greece to the present day.

Eco begins his fascinating discussion with the observation that the aesthetics of beauty have been defined and documented through the ages by philosophers, artists, and writers, while the same cannot be said for ugliness. Though ostensibly opposites, one thing beauty and ugliness share is the fact that they are defined by the culture and by the times—what is ugly in Paris may be beautiful in Papua, and what was beautiful in the 19th century, may be considered ugly in the 21st. Quoting from Hegel and Nietzsche, Plutarch, Aristotle and Darwin, Eco identifies three different phenomena: ugliness in itself, formal ugliness, and the artistic portrayal of both. As Eco states, “…we can almost always infer what the first two types of ugliness were [in a given time in history, and a particular society] solely based on the evidence of the third type.”

In Turning Back The Clock, Hot Wars and Media Populism, the time is 2000 to 2005, the years of neoconservatism, terrorism, the twenty-four-hour news cycle, the ascension of Bush, Blair, and Berlusconi, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Umberto Eco’s response is a provocative, passionate, and witty series of essays—which originally appeared in the Italian newspapers La Repubblica and L’Espresso—that leaves no slogan unexamined, no innovation unexposed. What led us into this age of hot wars and media populism, and how was it sold to us as progress? Eco discusses such topics as racism, mythology, the European Union, rhetoric, the Middle East, technology, September 11, medieval Latin, television ads, globalization, Harry Potter, anti-Semitism, logic, the Tower of Babel, intelligent design, Italian street demonstrations, fundamentalism, The Da Vinci Code, and magic and magical thinking.


Also huffduffed as…

  1. Umberto Eco in conversation with Paul Holdengräber: On Ugliness, Hot Wars & Media Populism

    —Huffduffed by adactio on February 26th, 2009

  2. Umberto Eco in conversation with Paul Holdengräber: On Ugliness, Hot Wars & Media Populism

    —Huffduffed by Jax on May 21st, 2009

  3. Umberto Eco in conversation with Paul Holdengräber: On Ugliness, Hot Wars & Media Populism

    —Huffduffed by remedy on August 11th, 2010

Possibly related…

  1. Umberto Eco | The Prague Cemetery

    Umberto Eco’s new book, The Prague Cemetery is "a novel that takes the power of fakery in history to new heights," according to the Times Literary Supplement. "This work of teasing historical pseudo-reconstruction combines an intriguing philosophy of history with an elaborate set of reflections on narrative and the nature of fiction." The author of five bestselling philosophical novels, including The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Eco is a medievalist and semiotician at the University of Bologna in Italy.

    Interviewed by Carlin Romano, critic-at-large of The Chronicle of Higher Education 
      (recorded 11/10/2011)

    —Huffduffed by adactio 2 years ago


    —Huffduffed by suchosch 2 years ago

  3. Monstrous Embrace by Rachel Swirsky

    Originally Published in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy

    I am ugliness in body and bone, breath and heartbeat. I am muddy rocks and jagged scars snaking across salt-sown fields. I am insect larvae wriggling inside the great dead beasts into which they were born. Too, I am the hanks of dead flesh rotting. I am the ungrateful child’s sneer, the plague sore bursting, the swing of shadow beneath the gallows rope. Ugliness is my hands, my feet, my fingernails. Ugliness is my gaze, boring into you like a worm into rotting fruit.

    Listen to me, my prince. Tomorrow, when dawn breaks and you stand in the chapel accepting your late father’s crown, your fate will be set. Do nothing and you will be dead by sundown. Your kingdom will be laid waste, its remnants preserved only in the bellies of carrion birds.

    There is another option. Marry me.


    —Huffduffed by Jax 3 years ago