Ugliness is more fun than beauty, author Eco says

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Warty noses, saggy skin and meaty thighs can be beautiful and fascinating, according to Italian writer and academic Umberto Eco, who praised the virtues of quirky bodies at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday.

Eco, presenting his new book “On Ugliness”, said ugly bodies are more interesting than beautiful ones because ugliness knows no bounds.

“We discovered how much fun it was to look for ugliness, because ugliness is more interesting than beauty. Beauty is frequently boring, everybody knows what beauty is,” the author of “The Name of the Rose” and “Foucault’s Pendulum” told an audience at the launch.

“With ugliness there is an infinity of formations that can take place -- you can make a giant, a dwarf, you can make a man like Pinocchio with a long nose,” he said.

The book, which develops a theme from Eco’s 2004 book “History of Beauty”, tells the story of ugliness through the ages with references to famous paintings such as Pablo Picasso’s “Weeping Woman”.

Although Eco admitted that ugliness, like beauty, was in the eye of the beholder, he said that this penchant for the strangely formed was actually a universal trait.

“There are horrible faces that we like. Jerry Lewis is ugly, but we like him,” Eco said, referring to the American comedian’s amiable face.

At the other end of the scale, the face of the devil can disgust and enthrall, Eco said, adding that even pictures of saintly figures show a fascination with the ugly.

“Christianity is linked to the contempt of the flesh... in some paintings there is a real appreciation of the ugly.”

Eco was shy, however, to point out his personal taste, although he showed appreciation for more rounded figures.

Asked whether he found the figure of a nude, bulbous woman painted by Fernando Botero attractive, Eco said: “At least she is not anorexic, she can be used in a campaign against anorexia.”

However, he drew the line at a 16th century painting of “A Grotesque Old Woman” by Flemish artist Quinten Massys, which depicts a saggy-mouthed, corseted woman with a face resembling that of an old man.

“Maybe I could say -- “Non e il mio tipo” -- she is not my type!”