Shelf Control with Umberto Eco


I just came across this book blog meme created by Lisa over at Bookshelf Fantasies. It’s about the books you want to read but never got to even though they’re already sitting right on your shelf. Considering the umpteen boxes that my wife and I carted from Oregon to Georgia, I thought it was a great idea.

Here’s what we’re looking at today:



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Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition by Umberto Eco. English translation by Alistair McEwen published in 1999 by Harcourt. 464 pages.

What’s it about? 

Well here’s what we have on the back of the book, and we can totally trust those.

How do we know a cat is a cat? And why do we call it a cat? How much of our perception of things is based on cognitive ability, and how much on linguistic resources? Here, in a series of remarkable essays, Umberto Eco explores questions of reality, perception, and experience. Basing his ideas on common sense, Eco shares a vast wealth of literary and historical knowledge, touching on issues that affect us every day. At once philosophical and amusing, this is a mesmerizing tour of the world of our senses.

Speaking of trusting what publishers put on the back of books, I just saw a book that said Hopkins died the same year Heidegger was born…1899. Normally I would be delighted to extend Hopkins’s life by ten years, but not if it means doing the same for Heidegger.

Where did I get this book?

Wife’s dowry. Seriously.

When did I get it?

That would be telling. (Oh no, I’m going to hear Number 2 from The Prisoner in my head for the rest of this blog post.)

Why do I want to read it?

Cats and language. This book has all my favorite things. Also, I tend to have a fairly positive view of language. When Nietzsche tells us through his luxurious mustache that language is only metaphors, I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! And then I start to get confused when he says that they are just “illusions whose illusory nature has been forgotten.” I like metaphors, Mr. Nietzsche. They convey what Hopkins called the underthought, which was

often only half realised by the poet himself, not necessarily having any connection with the subject in hand but usually having a connection and suggested by some circumstance of the scene or of the story. (1883 letter to Baillie)

I’m excited to see how Eco weighs in on this debate.

2 Responses

  1. I almost bought that book once without knowing a thing about it just because I liked the title. 😀 But now that I know what it’s about, I might have to read it.

    • It’s a good read so far. I just started it and I think Eco just made me more okay with Descartes. Which completely took me by surprise. I’ve always been uncomfortable with any mind/body separation, and I’ve always preferred Anselm’s ontological argument to Descartes’s, but the way Eco presents it in his first essay kinda made me okay with it.

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