Paolo Fabbri 

Since June 2, the international semiotic community laments the loss of one of its most distinguished and dedicated members. After graduating from the University of Florence (1962) Paolo Fabbri (b. Rimini, 1939) continued his studies in Paris, where he attended the courses of Algirdas Julien Greimas, Roland Barthes and Julien Goldmann (1965-66). Upon his return to Italy, he taught semiotics with Umberto Eco at the University of Florence (1966-67) and Philosophy of Language at the University of Urbino (1967-76). While in Urbino, together with Carlo Bo and Giuseppe Paioni he founded, in 1970, the International Centre of Semiotics and Linguistics, which soon became a focal point and breeding ground of international semiotic thought. Subsequently, he taught Semiotics of Art at the University of Bologna (1977-2003) and the University IUAV of Venice (2003-2009). In true cosmopolitan spirit he also taught in Paris, Limoges, Toronto, Berkeley and San Diego, and gave seminars and lectures to numerous Universities around the world.  

Fabbri’s multifaceted output, that covers an impressively wide range of semiotic research areas and concerns, reflects his unquenching curiosity and breadth of learning: among others, his early interests in mass communication (Le comunicazioni di massa in Italia, 2018), his persisting engagement with the semiotics of modern art (Vedere arte, 2020), his signal contribution to intersemiotic translation (Elogio di Babele, 2000), his enduring fascination with the cinematic universe of his fellow-Riminese film director Federico Fellini (Fellinerie. Incurzioni semiotiche nell’ immaginario di Federico Fellini, 2016), and, last but not least, his steadfast effort to clarify semiotic theory and methodology (La svolta semiotica, 1998). Among the many books he edited/co-edited special mention is owed to Semiotica in Nuce (2000/2001, a 2-volume anthology he co-edited with Gianfranco Marrone that serves, in effect, as an extensive Appendix to La svolta semiotica, where it is delineated semiotics’ major legacies and its most promising future directions. 

Fabbri’s close friend, Umberto Eco, paid homage to his remarkable breadth of reading by naming after him (Paul of Rimini) the ancient librarian – and ‘most voracious reader’ – of his fictional, labyrinthine Library in The Name of the Rose. In the latter Eco makes an amicable jibe at Fabbri’s lasting commitment to Algirdas Greimas’s theoretical system, by having his hero, William of Baskerville, dismiss as ‘old monkish gossip’ the rumor that Paul of Rimini became an abbot on account of ‘the support of Algirdas of Cluny’. Truth is that Fabbri’s thinking was shaped by both Umberto Eco and Algirdas Greimas. By opening up his own personal path of reconciling and synthesizing their rival perspectives, Fabbri has long been regarded as the most Italian of the Paris School of semiotics and the most French of the respective Italian school of semiotics.

Fabbri made a crucial contribution to Italian semiotics not only with his writings but also with his translations (among others of A.J.Greimas and J. Courtés’ Dictionary) and his prolific work as editor. He directed a range of semiotic book series, such as Insegne (Mimesis Edizioni, with G. Marrone), La tradizione del nuovo (L. Sossella), Il Metodo semiotico (Mondadori) and Biblioteca/Semiotica (Meltemi, with G. Marrone), as well as the semiotic review La ricerca semiotica (University of Urbino). At the same time, with his global-wide lecturing, editorial work in numerous international semiotic journals (e.g. VISIO, Nouveux Actes Semiotiques, Rivista Chilena de Semiotica, DESIGNIS) and book series (e.g. Formes Semiotiques/J.Benjamins, Semiotic Crossroards/Minnesota UP) as well as the translation of his books in French, English, German, Spanish, Portugese, Polish, Greek, Lithuanian and Arabian, Fabbri has become one the best known and appreciated ambassadors of semiotics internationally. He promoted a kind of semiotics that, by contrast to the hermetic nature of certain of its strands, it is socially oriented, devoted to the decoding of our everyday experiences and practices, of the increasingly complex global condition of cultural hybridization, artistic creativity and multimodal communication. 

We humbly bid farewell to Paolo Fabbri, a true homo universalis, an inspirational writer and teacher, a tireless organizer and editor, a captivating orator, a sharp and engaging discussant. 


Gregory Paschalidis

President of the Hellenic Semiotic Society 

Legend accompanying the attached photograph: 

Paolo Fabbri at the International Semiotic Conference ‘Signs of Europe’ (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 1-3 Nov. 2019) with a group of graduate semiotics students and E. Kourdis (on his left) who translated La svolta in Greek. An interview he gave to the latter (https://youtube/qavipyQzY7M) will be published in the forthcoming summer issue of Punctum. International Journal of Semiotics.


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