26 Eco

The Poetics of the Open Work
Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco (b. 1932) is a leading European intellectual that has become an influential critic in theory and culture. He deals with literary interpretation, semiotic theory, linguistics, pop culture, medieval studies, and biblical analysis. He is currently President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici at the University of Bologna and an Honorary Fellow at the Kellogg College of the University of Oxford.

This article deals with indeterminacy in art (somewhat specifically in music) and focuses on four works in particular: Klavierstück XI by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sequenza for solo flute by Luciano Berio, Scambi by Henri Pousseur, and Third Sonata for piano by Pierre Boulez. Eco's main argument is that, while these pieces and pieces like them are technically unfinished (in that they require some thinking, improvising, or decision making from the performer), they are actually finished "works of art." He further distinguishes his use of this term as important because, socially speaking, works of art are only typically seen as such because they represent concrete ideas or experiences that have been conveyed via some media to the audience or observer. Eco argues that, even though each new reading provides a new aural sensation of these works, they will never be "gratuitously different." I personally agree with this statement, as it is almost always clear what field of possibilities that the composer is working in, and this is after all, according to Einstein, one of the fundamental principles of the universe: Relativity is the infinite variability of experience.

Wikipedia Article on Umberto Eco

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