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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum," the last post

Work has been keeping me from posting the last part of my re-reading of "Foucault's Pendulum," by Umberto Eco. I finished reading it last month, but I have been crazy busy and unable to transpose my scribbling Moleskine notes to the blog. The main reason why I re-read this magnificent book was due to the fact that the first time I read it (1994), blogs were not the blogs we know today, and despite the fact that I reviewed my notes from that 1994 reading and considered posting those here, I thought it best to just have a fresh, clean read... top to bottom. And it was absolutely worth it.
The main issue I rediscovered is that after Chapter 80 or so, the Plan takes a life of its own. With this I mean that the narrator, Casaubon, begins to decipher the Plan as an "ever-evolving-taking-a-life-of-its-own" document. If Belbo had written the Plan to incite the Templars/Diabolicals/Rosicrucians to come out to play, he did a marvelous job. They came out to play "en masse." It is after Belbo's disappearance, or shortly before it, that Casaubon notices this "life of its own" phenomenon. The Plan goes from 1) a mysterious Templar map to 2) a Rosicrucian reformulation of the location of the "umbilical cord of the world" to 3) a Jesuit conspiracy to overthrow the King of France by discrediting and covert action. This last one in particular strikes me as fascinating. Supposedly, the Jesuits developed some thing called the "Artis Magnae Sciendi Epilogismus," and this little something was a combination of numbers and letters all tied together to develop a seemingly unbreakable code. The problem wasn't that this code, or the many others embedded within (they actually look like they are interminable) wasn't valuable, it just happen that the Jesuits developed it as a "bait" and made other groups seeking the same secret believe that this was the code they were using to look for the secret. It wasn't, and this "fake" code (because as numerically legitimate as it was it was fake) was only devised to send other groups on a wild goose chase. Brilliant!
But it doesn't end there... the great Mashall Ney, the man who single-handedly marched Napoleon's troops back from the Russian disaster makes an appearance. In 1808, Ney and his troops were in Tomar searching for the plan. Napoleon, about to conquer all the "centers" of Europe, now wanted the "center" of the world. Yes, yes... this is the same Marshall Ney that Hemingway mentions in "A Movable Feast." I wonder if that statue of Ney that Hemingway writes about is still in that park in Paris.
At any rate, the Plan goes from the Templars to the Paulicans, to the Rosicrucians to the Jesuits... who might be next? The Jews, of course, and the great conspiracy of the Protocols... the great Jewish plot, right? Wrong. That's the deadly mistake both Belbo and Casaubon make... the Protocols were not written by Jews. The Protocols could, in essence, be another "Plan" someone put in place in order to get the aforementioned groups to "come out and play."
Jacopo Belbo bit on more than he could possibly chew. What started out as an intellectual "game" ended up as a miscalculation of massive destructiveness. There was no "Plan," but the more they played the game, the more everyone believed there was one.
This is a brilliant, brilliant book. Umberto Eco is a master and genius of not only fiction, but a marvelous philosopher, etymologist and philologist (please read anything by him).

Note to Dan Brown's critique of "Foucault's Pendulum: You, sir, are a dreg. You are no writer, albeit a brilliant businessman. Your artistry is a sham, your books shallow and under-researched. You must consider, sir, reading "Foucault's Pendulum," if you haven't already... better yet, don't read it; it might inspire your next venture into the "plagiaristic/idea stealing" path that gave rise to your star status.

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