On Monday evening I finally plodded through Umberto Eco's On Ugliness. And a lot of plodding the book needed indeed.
Bear in mind before commencing that Eco is a semiologist, not an art historian.
As to the art history he has a stab at: it lacks both depth and accuracy. When I say he, I mean the other writers. The book was edited by Mr Eco.
It rakes up old suppositions and mismatched theories that have been debunked long ago by thorough research. It reflects more of Eco's own tastes instead of the consensus now generally circulating among historians. Granted, it does not try to present itself as a scolarly work, packed with references etc. But it does adopt a tone very much like it.
Even to the casual language savvy reader words like pancalistic, goliarchic, hypertrophic, demiurgic and antipetrarkism (yes, I did make a list of words I'd trouble understanding) are a bit much at times when he's simply stacking up the adjectives. (On a side note, I'm not the only one wondering about them). But then again, I'm reading a Dutch translation. Nevertheless, the book might appeal to someone needing an introduction to whatever kind of history in the humanities they’re into. For me, an art historian in the making, it was frankly, a waste of time.
I did enjoy a lot of the text excerpts Eco added to show some of the sources he bases his overview on. But, sadly, some of them give away the plot or crux of a novel because he cites the key passages. Luckily, most works are on my shelves and I have already read. (For the lulz: he reprints the end of Shelley’s Frankenstein).
It does include a bibliography at the end of all cited works, but, alas again, they are the translated titles with publishers mentioned and the last print date. Which is very annoying. It says thing like for instance:
Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 1990
But the book has tons of pretty pictures to make up for it.
(I added that just to say something positive).