Susan Sontag

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Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.

Her books, all published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, include four novels, The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In America; a collection of short stories, I, etcetera; several plays, including Alice in Bed and Lady from the Sea; and nine works of nonfiction, starting withAgainst Interpretation and including On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, Where the Stress Falls, Regarding the Pain of Others, and At the Same Time. In 1982, FSG published A Susan Sontag Reader
Ms. Sontag wrote and directed four feature-length films: Duet for Cannibals (1969) andBrother Carl (1971), both in Sweden; Promised Lands (1974), made in Israel during the war of October 1973; and Unguided Tour (1983), from her short story of the same name, made in Italy. Her play Alice in Bed has had productions in the United States, Mexico, Germany, and Holland. Another play, Lady from the Sea, has been produced in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Korea.

Ms. Sontag also directed plays in the United States and Europe, including a staging of Beckett's Waiting for Godot in the summer of 1993 in besieged Sarajevo, where she spent much of the time between early 1993 and 1996 and was made an honorary citizen of the city.

A human rights activist for more than two decades, Ms. Sontag served from 1987 to 1989 as president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from which platform she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers.

Her stories and essays appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary publications all over the world, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Art in America, Antaeus, Parnassus, The Threepenny Review, The Nation, and Granta. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages.

Among Ms. Sontag's many honors are the 2003 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the 2003 Prince of Asturias Prize, the 2001 Jerusalem Prize, the National Book Award for In America (2000), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography (1978). In 1992 she received the Malaparte Prize in Italy, and in 1999 she was named a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government (she had been named an Officier in the same order in 1984). Between 1990 and 1995 she was a MacArthur Fellow.

Ms. Sontag died in New York City on December 28, 2004.

Umberto Eco

Born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, northern Italy, the son of an accountant studied medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin, earning his laurea degree in philosophy in 1954. Following service in the Italian Army, he worked for the Italian public broadcaster RAI, before becoming a senior editor at a Milan publishing house.
Over the next few decades, Eco would go on to write and edit countless scholarly books, essays and columns on mass media and culture, semiotics (the study of signs and symbols), aesthetics and literary criticism. He is famous for his notion of the "open work," which postulates that literary texts compose fields of meaning, rather than unequivocal, linear narratives of thought - lending them more space for diverse interpretation.
All of that work likely informed the labyrinthine murder mystery "The Name of the Rose," which, among other things, analyzes texts and symbols in a medieval religious context. Five novels have followed, including "Foucault's Pendulum" and "The Island of the Day Before." His latest, "The Prague Cemetery," published in 2010, freewheels through everything from conspiracy theories to anti-Semitism.

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Signo's Website


ECO, U., Segno, Milan : ISEDI, 1973.In Italian

In English

ECO, U., The Open Work, trans. Anna Cangogni, Cambridg, MA : Harvard University Press, 1989 [1962].
ECO, U., A Theory of Semiotics, Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1976 [1975] (the complete English translation of Trattato di semiotica generale, Milano: Bompiani, 1975).
ECO, U., The Role of the Reader, Bloomington and London: Indiana U.P. and Hutchinson, 1981 [1979] (includes essays from: Opera apertaApocalittici e integratiForme del contenuto, Lector in Fabula , Il Superuomo di massa ).
ECO, U., Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.
ECO, U., The Limits of Interpretation, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
ECO, U., Interpretation and Overinterpretatio, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
ECO, U., The Search for the Perfect Language (The Making of Europe), trans. James Fentress, Oxford : Blackwell Publishing, 1995 [1993].
ECO, U., Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1995 [1994].

In French

ECO, U. (1965) [1962], L'Oeuvre ouverte, Paris: Seuil, 1965 [1962].
ECO, U., La structure absente, Paris: Mercure, 1972 [1968].
ECO, U., La production des signes, Paris: Livre de Poche, (1976) [1975] (a partial translation into French of Trattato di semiotica generale).
ECO, U., De Superman au Surhomme, Paris: Grasset, 1993 [1976].
ECO, U., Lector in fabula, Paris: Grasset, 1985 [1979].
ECO, U., La Guerre du faux, Paris: Grasset, 1985 [1983].
ECO, Umberto, Sémiotique et philosophie du langage, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, (1988) [1984].
ECO, U., Notes sur la sémiotique de la réceptionActes Sémiotiques, Paris, IX, no 81, 1987.
ECO, U., Le signe, Bruxelles: Labor, 1988 (about 40% of Segno (1973) in French translation).
ECO, U., Les limites de l'interprétation, Paris: Grasset, 1992 [1990].
ECO, U., Interprétation et surinterprétation, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995 [1992].
ECO, U., La recherche de la langue parfaite dans la culture européenne, Paris: Seuil, 1994 [1993].
ECO, U., Six promenades dans les bois du roman et ailleurs, Paris: Grasset, 1996 [1994].


  • Modes of Sign Production
  • Textual Cooperation
  • The Semiotic Process and the Classification of Sign

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

   All woods must fail

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
Despair not! For though dark they stand,
All woods there be must end at last,
And see the open sun go past:
The setting sun, the rising sun,
The day's end, or the day begun.
For east or west all woods must fail.

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born of British parents in Bloemfontein, South Africa in January of 1892, but moved with his mother, Mabel Tolkien, to England, at the age of  three. Tolkien lost his father when he was very young. In 1904 Tolkien's mother died, and the young John Ronald Reuel moved with his brother Hilary to his aunt's home in England (the West Midlands).

Then they moved to the Birmingham suburb of Edgbaston. Mabel and her children became estranged from both sides of the family in 1900 when she was received into the Roman Catholic Church. From then on, both Ronald and Hilary were brought up in the faith of Pio Nono, and remained devout Catholics throughout their lives. The parish priest who visited the family regularly was the half-Spanish half-Welsh Father Francis Morgan.  In 1904 Mabel Tolkien was diagnosed as having diabetes, incurable at that time. She died on 15 October of that year leaving the two orphaned boys effectively destitute. At this point Father Francis took over, and made sure of the boys' material as well as spiritual welfare, although in the short term they were boarded with an unsympathetic aunt-by-marriage, Beatrice Suffield, and then with a Mrs Faulkner.

In 1908 Tolkien attended Oxford. In 1915 he was awarded First Class Honours degree in English Language and Literature. Next year Tolkien married Edith Bratt, whom he had met in 1908. During WW I Tolkien served in the army and saw action on the Somme. He returned home suffering from shell shock, and while convalescing he started to study early forms of language and work on Silmarillion (published 1977). For the rest of his life, Tolkien expanded the mythology of his fantasy worlds. 

In 1918 Tolkien joined the staff of New English Dictionary and in 1919 he became a freelance tutor in Oxford. Tolkien then worked as a teacher and professor at the University of Leeds. In 1925 he became Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. He was appointed Merton Professor of English at Oxford in 1945, retiring in 1959. His scholarly works included studies on Chaucher (1934) and an edition of Beowulf (1937). He was also interested in the Finnish national epos Kalevala, from which he found ideas for his imaginary language Quenya and which influenced several of his stories. Most of the inhabitants of Tolkien's imaginary Middle-Earth are derived from English folklore and mythology, or from an idealized Anglo-Saxon past. 

With C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and other friends, Tolkien formed an informal literary group called The Inklings, which took shape in the 1930s. They all had an interest in storytelling and their Tuesday lunchtime sessions in the Bird and Baby public house became  a well known part of Oxford social life. At their meetings the Inklings read aloud drafts of fiction and other work. Williams died in 1945 and the meetings faded out in 1949. - Other members of the club included Christopher Tolkien, JRR's son. 

In the mid-1960s American paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings started to gain cult fame. The Tolkiens moved in 1968 to Poole near Bournemouth but after the death of his wife in 1971, Tolkien returned to Oxford. In 1972 he received CBE from the Queen. Tolkien died on September 2, 1973. 

The Hobbit was published when the author was 45 years old (1937). He developed further the history of Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings. It was published when Tolkien was over 60. His motivation for creating a new mythical world arose from his fascination in myths and folklore. Another motivation was his rejection of modern England. He rarely watched a film, busied himself with the early English dialects of the West Midlands, and enjoyed the company of other professors. 

Tolkien's epic world is populated by elves, dwarves, magicians, and evil monsters. He saw himself as a Hobbit: "I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food...." Tolkien made up languages for the races that inhabit his Middle-earth. for the background of his stories he created a complex history, geography, and society. But he also wished, that the stories leave scope for other minds to develop his ideas further. Since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, a whole industry of fantasy literature, computer games, and other by-products, have been created by a worldwide community of Tolkien's fans to continue his work.

Published works: 
A Middle English Vocabulary, 1922 
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 1925 
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, 1936 
Songs for the Philologist, 1936 (collection, with E.V. Gordon and others) 
The Hobbit 1937 
Farmer Gill of Ham, 1949 
The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, 1954 (radio play) 
The Fellowship of the Ring 1954
The Two Towers(1954) 
The Adventures of Tom Bombardil and Other Verses from the Red Book, 1962 
Ancrene Wisse, 1962 (ed.) 
Tree and Leaf, 1964 
The Tolkien Reader, 1966 
The Road Goes Ever On, 1967 
Smith of Wootton Major, 1967 
Bilbo's Last Song, 1974 
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 1975 (translator, ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
Tree and Leaf, Smith of Wootton Major, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, 1975 
The Father Christmas Letters, 1976 
Bilbo's Last Song, 1977 
Silmarillion, 1977  
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1979 
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, 1980 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
Poems and Stories, 1980 
The Letters of J.R.R. Tokien: A Selection, 1981 
The Old English Exodus, 1981 (translator) 
Mr Bliss, 1982 
Finn and Hengest, 1983 
The History of Middle-Earth, 1983 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien - publication of posthumous works continues) 
The Book of Lost Tales 1-2, 1983-84 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The Monster and the Critics and Other Essays, 1984 
Lays of Beleriand, 1985 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The Shaping of Middle-Earth, 1986 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The Lost Road and Other Writings, 1987 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The Return of the Shadow, 1988 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The Treason of Isengard, 1989 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The War of the Ring, 1990 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
Sauron Defeated, 1991 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
Morgoth's Ring: The Later Silmarillion Part 1, 1993 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien) 
The War of the Jewels: The Later Silmarillion Part 2, 1994 (ed. by Christopher Tolkien)\