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Death of Umberto Eco: the last to go of the great generation

Umberto Eco is dead. His absence will be felt, as his presence certainly was, not only in the semiotic community, but by people world-wide who have been following him as a writer of novels, as a scholar of mediaeval philosophy, and as a critique of his time. Still, we in the semiotic community have a special debt to Umberto Eco. He was the last to go in the great generation who reawakened the old science of semiotics at the middle of the last century and who were instrumental in the creation of the International Association for Semiotic Studies. But, even among these giants on whose shoulders we all are standing (to adapt as saying of the Middle Ages, the time he often visited both in his novels, and is his scholarly work), Eco was special: he was the one who asked all the right questions, those which really are and always will be at the centre of semiotic inquiry, and this must be admitted also be those of us who were not always entirely convinced by his answers. Moreover, Eco’s contribution was also of particular importance to us in the International Association for Visual Semiotics. In almost all of his important scholarly books, from La struttura assente to Kant e l’ornitorinco, he dedicated an appreciable part of the text to discussing iconic signs, which, to him, most of the time, meant pictures. Thus he contributed more than anybody else to the placing at the centre-stage of the problems which we have since then been discussing at the conferences of the International Association for Visual Semiotics. Personally, I did not really think he was mortal. Although he had reached the respectable age of 84 years, I was still waiting for him to publish his next theoretical book, where he would once again, as it was his habit, stand everything on its head. William of Baskerville is no more.

Göran Sonesson,

President of the International Association for Visual Semiotics

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