Umberto Eco Dies at 84; Leaves Behind Advice to Aspiring Writers

Umber­to Eco, the Ital­ian semi­oti­cian, philoso­pher, lit­er­ary crit­ic, and nov­el­ist — and, of course, author of Fou­cault’s Pen­du­lum — has died at his home in Milan. He was 84.

Eco’s pass­ing adds some poignan­cy to a video he record­ed just last year, on behalf of The Louisiana Chan­nel, a media out­let based, of all places, in Den­mark. In the clip above, Eco gives some coun­sel to aspir­ing writ­ers: Keep your ego in check, and your ambi­tions, real­is­tic. Put in the time and the hard work, and don’t shoot for the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture straight out of the gate. That, Eco says, kills every lit­er­ary career. And remem­ber that writ­ing is “10% inspi­ra­tion and 90% per­spi­ra­tion.” They’re truisms–you dis­cov­er after spend­ing decades as a writer–that turn out to be true. That con­fir­ma­tion is one of the gifts he leaves behind.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Umber­to Eco’s How To Write a The­sis: A Wit­ty, Irrev­er­ent & High­ly Prac­ti­cal Guide Now Out in Eng­lish

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Comments (6)
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  • Morten says:

    “of all places, in Den­mark”? Explain, please :-)

  • Windsor Viney says:

    Why Den­mark “of all places”? You’re not usu­al­ly so … provin­cial. A momen­t’s enquiry would have led you to the first sen­tence here:


  • Joan says:

    Some­thing is rot­ten in the state of Den­mark…

  • Ron Andrews says:

    Nice post, thanks, but sad to see Eco leave us. I just added a few books to my re-read list.

    Maybe instead of being rather US-cen­tric, though, and mak­ing assump­tions about the read­ers here, it’s per­haps bet­ter to just add a brief note or link in paren­the­ses after men­tion­ing the Louisiana Chan­nel, show­ing the chan­nel’s tie to the very well-known muse­um, thus fur­ther help­ing to expand read­ers’ under­stand­ing and knowl­edge.

    If you ever have a chance, I high­ly rec­om­mend vis­it­ing the Louisiana MOMA. Great muse­um and beau­ti­ful set­ting, with a clear view of Swe­den across the sound, not to men­tion great exhibits too. Please remem­ber that not all read­ers here are locat­ed in the States. We’re all over the world, and many of us have indeed heard of and been to the muse­um here, per­haps read­ers of Open Cul­ture even more so.

  • Domingo Soria says:

    Eco was one of the few remain­ing ency­clo­pe­dic writ­ers that could pro­duce a mas­ter­piece about sci­ence, reli­gion, his­to­ry or any sub­ject he set his mind on. In our world of today where style reigns supreme over sub­stance, Eco was able to write with beau­ty and pro­pri­ety. He will be great­ly missed.

  • d block says:

    Wow this is so weird I’ve been think­ing a lot about Eco for some rea­son. About his work and life. That’s very strange. Big fan and it’s sad to hear he died.

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