Monday, August 18, 2008

One last Eco

So I finished the Foucault's Pendulum. This is a book you should probably read. It's long (+500) and the writing style is not particularly skilled (at least in translation), so it may not be your top choice for a fun read, but I think it's well worth the work. It's not an action book, like The Da Vinci Code, to which I compared it earlier (and I may repeat some of that here, since I don't remember everything I wrote); instead, the layout of the book is one of immersion. Most of the dialogue serves the same purpose as the internal narrative: to provide either historical background or the narrator's (and his companions') re-reading of history.

Does this count as a spoiler? I don't think so.

But if you're super worried, you should stop, just in case. I'm just gonna talk a little about the moral of the story.

Turns out I was mostly right, or at least Umberto agrees with me. After the climactic scene of the book, the narrator, Casaubon, reflects on what he's learned--in a chapter reminiscent of the end of most "South Park" episodes. He talks at length on the importance of mystery, though, rather than revelation. To me, this is a book about the construction of order to make sense of chaos: we create things like history and religion so that the things we do are important. Whether we're instruments of God or Humanity (I'm looking at you, humanists), the adoption of a narrative for reality means that what I'm doing has meaning--what's more, as Belbo points out, since God and Humanity are transcendent categories (humanism is only a substitute negative theology), we need neither question our role in the narrative, nor worry about the utility of our actions: the lord works in mysterious ways, etc. Indeed, the more esoteric the plot (the Plan, as Casaubon and Belbo come to name their re-reading), the less the hero--you--needs to worry about his/her meaning.

I don't want to make it sound like religion is Eco's primary target, nor do I mean to single it out for my own attack here. On the contrary, one of the important lessons of this book is that religion is but one form of ordering, and turning to secular humanism only substitutes one god for another (this seems similar to the warnings against gynocentrism voiced by some feminists). Eco also takes some time to recuperate Jesus, remembering that He said there's only one real rule, and that we can forget about the rest...and of course after this we rushed to fill the void. "What? That's it? We've been waiting millennia [the plural eludes spell check] for the revelation and it's that simple?" And from there we proceed to invent something much more complicated. From my point of view, this begets the creation of dogma; from Eco's point of view, this creates the further mysteries. We might sum this last up with "the lord works in mysterious ways," but Eco is more specific, pointing at the Templars, the Rosicruscians, and the Illuminati, though I read these as largely metaphoric--I don't think he's really that concerned with why there is a subculture of occultism.

My narrative is breaking down (the printed one). There were some interesting passages I was gonna cite, but right now the idea of constructing a quasi-academic review is completely unappealing

The secret is that there is no secret. And we shouldn't expect that to come as a relief.

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