Famed Italian author, philosopher and professor Umberto Eco says beauty is boring and he’ll take ugly every time.
At least, that’s what he told a packed house last night at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
“Ugliness is unpredictable and it offers us an infinite amount of possibilities,” the author said during his free lecture on the history of beauty and ugliness.
The much-anticipated talk, presented by UTM’s Department of Language Studies and the Snider Lecture Series, was webcast live around the world. About 1,000 people attended.
Eco is a world-renowned literary critic, novelist and philosopher. He’s a professor of semiotics (the study of signs) who has written numerous books on that topic and on linguistics, esthetics and morality. His first novel, The Name Of The Rose, is a best-seller.
Last night the professor from the University of Bologna delivered a humorous speech on the subjects he chronicled in his two most recent books, On Beauty and On Ugliness. But he focused mainly on ugliness because, “beauty is boring.”
In contemporary culture, he said, characters such as E.T., the funny-looking little extra terrestrial in the 1982 Steven Spielberg film, are considered lovable despite being unappealing to the eye. The same can be said for dinosaurs and Pokemon.
Conversely, some of today’s fashions would be considered repulsive by people in the Renaissance period, Eco said.
“Youngsters tattoo and pierce their bodies so that they look more like Marilyn Manson than Marilyn Monroe.”
But, he said, a girl with a belly button ring could still take part in a march to raise awareness to help starving children in Africa, which is a beautiful thing.
He talked about modern images of starving children with skeletal bodies and bloated bellies, and pictures of concentration camps.
“We know these things are ugly,” he said, “but they can evoke compassion.”
In historical times, Eco said, ugly monarchs wee considered attractive because of their power.
In art, he said, ugly things can be portrayed beautifully. But, artists can produce ugly representations of beauty, such as paintings done by Adolf Hitler.
For a longest time, Eco said, ugliness was defined as the opposite of beauty. In the last century and a half, though, it has become defined and chronicled for itself.