Umberto Eco, the Italian cultural theorist and novelist who became the author of best-selling novels, notably the blockbuster medieval mystery “The Name of the Rose,” died last week in Milan.
Eco was a contributor to our thinking on scent culture. According to various internet entries Umberto Eco once noted the olfactory qualities of books: “I love the smell of book ink in the morning.” This love for the smell of books is, in fact, shared by many writers, including as Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, and was the subject of a recent post of ours.
And in his groundbreaking Theory of Semiotics, Eco thinks of scents as part of the semiotic field. He refers to Baudelaire’s “code of scents” and coins the phrase “olfactory signs”: “If there are scents with a connotative value in an emotive sense then there are also odors with precise referential values.”
In a short essay on television Eco calls for a critical reflection on the social and cultural consequences. In fact, we later paraphrased a key sentence from Eco’s essay when starting the Scent Culture Institute and drafting our foundation statement: “Western Culture & Society will only develop further, if it turns scent into a stimulus for critical reflection – not an invitation for hypnosis.”
Eco, U. (1976). A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Eco, U. (1993). “Can television teach?” In M. Alvarado, R. Collins, & E. Buscombe (Eds.), The Screen education reader: cinema, television, culture: 95–107. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 97.