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Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) [Paperback]

Umberto Eco
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Sep 1995 The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (Book 2016)
In this book, we accompany Umberto Eco as he explores the intricacies of fictional form and method. Using examples ranging from fairy tales and Flaubert, Poe and Mickey Spillane, Eco draws us in by means of a novelist's techniques, making us his collaborators in the creation of his text and in the investigation of some of fiction's most basic mechanisms.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (5 Sep 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674810511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674810518
  • Product Dimensions: 25 x 8.3 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 561,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Erudite, wide-ranging, and slyly humorous...The literary examples Eco employs range from Dante to Dumas, from Sterne to Spillane. His text is thought-provoking, often outright funny, and full of surprising juxtapositions. The Atlantic Reading [these chapters] is indeed like wandering in the woods...They might in fact be called, more prosaically, "How to Be a Good Reader," for Eco, in his incredibly manipulative way, has you eating out of his hand by the end of them. -- Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times Book Review The dim boundary between the imaginary and the real is Eco's home terrain...He is a foxy gamesman, using enchanted woods as a flexible image for narrative texts, and mustering a playful array of allusions from The Three Musketeers to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. -- Robert Taylor Boston Globe [This] dashing and stylish series of six lectures...displays Umberto Eco's enviable ability to transform arid semiotics and narrative theory into intellectual entertainment. -- John O'Reilly Independent

About the Author

Umberto Eco Professor Emeritus at the University of Bologna and is the author of many books, including Foucault's Pendulum and Six Walks in the Fictional Woods.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Eco's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 23 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures have been organised since 1926 and, with only a short break, have taken place each year, always with a lecturer at the height of a profession; although I have read only a few and seen and listened to even fewer, I have enjoyed them but realised the lecturers have been given considerable scope in their choice of subject, e.g. Bernstein lecturing on Chomskyan deep-structure and transformational grammar in music.

Umberto Eco is a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, mostly in his field of linguistics and semiotics, a discipline not known for its immediate and obvious appeal to all-comers; some might even say "indiscipline". At the end of this book, "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods", some readers might say they could not see the wood for the trees.

He begins with an obviously continuing conversation between himself, Pugliatti and Iser, each trying to pinpoint, define and explain the roles of the model reader and author in fiction, taking authors as wide apart as Dante and Mickey Spillane to exemplify the points.

In the final chapter, "Fictional Protocols", he begins by asking the question: "If fictional worlds are so comfortable, why not try to read the actual world as if it were a work of fiction? Or, if the fictional worlds are so small and deceptively comfortable, why not try to devise fictional worlds that are as complex, contradictory and provocative as the actual one?" (P 117) On the rest of the page, using examples from Shakespeare, Joyce, Dante, Rabelais and Nerval, and a short interruption to bring in Scarlett O'Hara, he begins to answer his question.

He is so passionate, encyclopaedic in his knowledge and reading, so wide-ranging in his interests, the walk in the woods can be intellectually exhausting and only a walk in the real woods will help to return the calm.

Typical Eco. Enjoyable, fascinating and exhausting.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmm? 19 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As an English teacher and one fascinated by narrative, I expected more from this author and his book although I'm only part way through so a review at this stage is less than fair. It seems to me that Eco takes a long time to make his points and those points are not only quite obscure but not always very interesting. Maybe for others this will not be the case - and I will eventually finish the reading but for now it sits untouched. Id, after that, my view has changed I will add to this short review - but so far the tone and approach has been quite consistent and less than interesting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars more accessible than expected 14 Dec 2001
By Douglas H. Haden - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Six Walks is more accessible than I had expected (my copy is now heavily highlighted, marked up, and loaded with the little plastic stickies I use to flag ideas and references). Eco is speaking to readers and, thereby, equally to writers. The six Charles Elliot Norton lectures begin with the role time plays in fiction and end with the importance (to our perception of reality) of accuracy in writing fiction. This is weighty stuff made accessible by Eco's illustration by example: Yes, Dante, Shakespeare, and Kafka, but the writers who give us Hercule Poirot, Agent 007 and Little Red Riding Hood as well. If you read fiction or write fiction, the material will be useful and the book will please.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Six Walks: A Sojourn in Eco's Fancy 7 July 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Eco's "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods" smells like Italo Calvino's "Six Memos for the Next Millenium". Each essay, or walk, is an extended musing, in an informally scholastic tone of voice, of the author's preferred elements of fiction reading and composition. Most of the comparative material is taken from Nerval's, Joyce's and his own works, and given splashes of splendour with the special touch of brilliance to which we all know Eco has easy access. The essays lack the intensified beauty of his fiction ("Foucault's Pendulum," or "The Name of the Rose"), but demand consideration standing out as interesting thought material from the legendary linguist.
--Alejandro Arevalo
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Guided Trip Through the Reading Woods 13 Aug 2011
By Martin Zook - Published on
This is one of two texts (the other is Aristotle's Poetics) that largely define how I read. Six Walks is a compilation of six lectures that Eco delivered about how to read, including a description of the contract between reader and author.

While this obviously is a profound series of essays, it is extraordinarily accessible, even when Eco is diving into concepts such as the various types of time, the authorial voice within a story, and the relationship between the reader and the text. Granted this might sound dry, it's not, because Ecco goes to great lengths to illustrate his various points by applying them to specific texts and examples.

Other reviewers here cite examples of top drawer literature, but what struck me is how effectively Eco uses works such as Ian Flemming's James Bond series to illustrate his points. Make no mistake about it, while Eco has a fine literate mind as illustrated by his better books, this is a guy who read comic books growing up and still understands their value to literature, to readers, and to a meaningful reading life.

Very quickly, Eco stresses the importance of rereading a text. The reader hasn't done it justice without revisiting it, and that includes the daring-do sagas of James Bond and other popular literature.

In the eye of this reader, the most profound sections address the authorial voice in each text. One of the greatest dangers of reading that Eco acknowledges is the reader projecting onto the text his own thoughts, values, experiences, instead of seeking out the authorial voice of the text and listening to it carefully. After all, the primary objective of reading is to expand one's experience of the world, and if a reader is only confirming what he already knows and believes to be true, then he's just circling a well trodden path in his own back yard.

Equally important, I think, are the passages that deal with the importance of the various times in reading (story, discourse, and reading times). "We must prepare ourselves to enter a world in which the normal measurement of time counts for next to nothing, a world in which clocks have broken down or been liquified, as in a Dali painting." In addition to letting authors slow time, speed time, and provide a context that lends meaning to various actions, the reader should allow time in various texts to get lost, forgetting whatever they knew beforehand and "lose (one's self) in the labyrinth of time."

Time of course also involves memory, since that is where we store time past that allows us to put the present and future in a meaningful context. "We think things and events thanks to the adhesive function of memory, both personal and collective (history and myth)...This tangle of individual and collective memory prolongs our life, by extending it back through time, and appears to us as a promise of immortality. When we partake of this collective memory (through the tales of our elders or through books), we are like Borges gazing at the magical Aleph - the pointthat contains the entire universe."

Eco defines two types of readers. The primary motivation of the first is to find out how the story ends: Does Ahab land the whale? The second type of reader is willing to suspend his sense of disbelief to the point where he regards the authorial voice in the text as a guide and is willing to strive to be the type of reader that guide wishes.

Initially, I rejected the degree of surrender that Eco cites for the more serious reader, but the more I think about it, the less implausible it seems.

Read on brave reader. See you on the other side of the woods.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating There is a "there" there but it takes too much shovel work 27 May 2013
By Phred - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
3.5 stars.
I bought this book in part because I am a fan of Umberto Eco, In part because of the reviews and because I like learning from writers what they think readers should know. I wanted to like this book. Mostly I am frustrated by it. I understand why others are impressed with it. Perhaps you will appreciate a contrasting opinion.

I cannot compare this work to Aristotle's Poetics as another review can, I will compare it to Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Literature. Both works are publications made from lecture material by two established writers and thinkers. Both sets of lectures are intended to inform readers on how to better go about the work of being a reader. Nabokov and Eco are very nearly contemporaries. However Nabokov is best known as a writer and latterly as an instructor of literature. Eco is primarily a semiotcian given to highly esoteric analysis and `only' latterly as an author of popular novels.

Both Eco's Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, and Nabokov's Lectures on literature require a reader ready to work. Ultimately Nabokov is interesting in teaching and assisting. Eco is interested in name dropping, intellectual clutter, being clever and occasionally insightful. There are very good points in both books. I can recommend them both. I have more reservations with and frustrations with Eco.

Eco begins with several points about types of readers and writers. Once he settles in he has presented two basic approaches to reading. There are empirical readers, who want a literal, factual recitation and who are given to anticipating where an author it going to take the story. Alternately there are model readers who are open to whatever the author has to say and will follow behind the narrative limiting themselves to imagining only what the writer presents. This concept is divided into a few more types of model readers and there is some discussion of model writers but mostly these sets of complexities disappear. The initial concept is lost in a discussion how many or few detail the writer should include. Fundamentally this is about 5 pages of material to make a one page point. Here I suggest that the more pro-active mind of the empirical reader is a tool that a good writer can use either to trick the reader or to speed the reading processes. Absent a model reader, a writer will need `sell' his every point and invention. That is distinguishing these two types of reader makes for a fine intellectual point, but makes little advance on becoming a more aware reader.

Eco next introduces a concept parallel to and equally interesting as one made by Nabokov. Lectures on Literature argues the need for a reader to fully comprehend the space- the literary geography created by the author. Nabokov makes maps exactly from the text in his example books; be it the room where Kafka's Gregor Samsa finds himself turned into a beetle or the grounds around Jane Austin's Mansfield Park. Eco would have you spend as much effort on exactly defining the flow of time in a work. There is a two page example of how this chronology would appear and again there is a typology for the several kinds of time that are involved in a narrative. For example the time it takes the reader to read a section and the flow of time detailed in the narrative.

The case for both approaches are equally valid, but re-reading books until you have both time and space mapped out sounds like a guaranteed method to take the pleasure out of reading. Teacher, is it ok if I am mindful of these details and finish with a book before reducing it to its mechanical parts? Do we now need to create a literary altimeter to help us determine the distance between Dante's Hell below the reader and a Tom Clancy satellite in space?

Eco will expend most of a lecture on a problem in the Three Musketeers based on the impossibility of d'Artagnen taking a walk in detailed in the book and during the 17th Century Paris of the book, and arriving on the Rue Sarvadoni. Eco's point is that readers need to have rational mental points of reference if they are to follow the imaginary details of the writer's fiction. It is of passing interest that Eco adopts Nabokov's technique of making a map, but Eco makes his from a real Paris, whereas Nabokov restricts himself to the reality of the writer. Nabokov simplifies his argument by saying that in fiction: reality is what the writer needs it to be. The closest Eco come to being this direct is when he reminds the reader of the implied contract between writer and reader, termed: `Willing suspension of disbelief'. What happens to Eco's case if Dumas simply made a cartographic error and no one thought to check a street map much less to edit the text?

Eco ends with a great question. Simplified, and this book needs to be simplified: If presented with a set of pages, that relate a story; how can a reader determine if the story is fictional or factual. Eco admits that hypothetically, the narrative can be so constructed that no such determination can be made.

An included discussion of how a person's mind uses a techniques to add new information, called stories, to old stories to build an understanding of reality and that this same techniques shapes a reader's ability to accept or reject a writer's reality, Eco makes the following statement:
"We accept a story that our ancestors have handed down to us as being true, even though today we call these ancestors scientists"
I hope that this statement means something else in Umberto Eco's native Italian. It carries no meaning to me. There are other examples of these kinds of strange statements.

Both Eco's and Nabakovs lectures are worth reading. They complement each other. Eco is frustrating. He is given to more abstruse and academic thinking. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods should have been better
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars World as a forrest 21 Mar 2009
By Matko Vladanovic - Published on
It is entirely possible, that you, who are reading these lines, are far more advanced in the field of narratology and semiotics. If that is the case, you won't find much material here, because I'm guessing that you already know what you're looking for. For others, few words should be said.

Almost thirty years ago, when "Name of the rose" appeared for the first time in world markets, nobody could predict it's success. Complex story that read as a crime fiction, as a mere whodunit', but which held, in it's numerous layers, numerous worlds for competent reader to discover pushed it's author on the top of world's intellectuals. To distant observer, like myself, planetary success didn't seem to trouble Eco at all. He didn't comment on global politics, didn't meddle into affairs of state. All that he did was research and publishing of world of literature, aesthetics, beauty and lot's of other themes that may seem like a waist of time. And indeed, if Eco's impact, influence and success in scientific world should be measured with people who unlocked the human genome, one is tempted to say that his entire life was committed to futile things that interest few people borne and raised in Western tradition. Yet, that kind of reasoning would entirely wrong.

Eco's thoughts on literature, interpretation and signs influenced many reader out there who suddenly found themselves into the forest-world. Where everything was clear before, now lay a jumble of codes that needed to be deciphered and adapted into some kind of functional system. Where plain story existed, now appeared infinite vectors of interpretation, and reader gradually learned that there isn't one, correct way to move trough the forest-world. Eventually, one learned to look upon the world with different set of eyes.

This book here was written in late stages of Eco's thought, and it tends to show this what I'm talking about. It explains the "Name of the rose". Not the way that it should be read. Rather, it explains the idea behind it, it shows how, and why it was put together. And, if you until now understood literature as a mere fiction, something to pass time with, it'll open your eyes. Now, there are hundreds of books, in every language, on literary theory and much of them are dry pieces of work written for advanced reader who dedicated much of his life to this kind of research. This book isn't like that. On every page, you can almost feel Eco's enthusiasm with literature, his joy of reading. Maybe most important thing is that he doesn't put himself on an elevated position, preaching to the masses from it. He, like Socrates, takes his reader into a dialogue, with a single goal in mind - to discover undiscovered possibilities of fiction, to better understand the way every text (not just a literary one) is constructed, hoping in the end, to broad both minds that are set upon this trip. It seems to me that that is the way to write about literature, and I can but say that reading of this book was a great experience even though I was familiar with much of it from other sources. In any way, this is one of the better books on the subject, and it would be mistake to simply pass by it. As someone else said: "Stay awhile, and listen..."
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