Thursday, August 22, 2013
Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
1988; 533 pages. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Contemporary Fiction; Highbrow Literature. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Where’s the Holy Grail? What are the Rosicrucians hiding? Who can tell me what the big secret is that the 32nd level of the Masons are hiding? Surely all of this is interconnected. But how?
Everybody and his brother are writing their theories about this, and submitting their manuscripts to Garamond Publishing. It falls upon Casaubon and his two colleagues to read through all these submissions.
To relieve their boredom, they decide for develop their own secret system, which they call “The Plan”. It’s all a joke to begin with (Minnie Mouse is part of it), but with time they take their additions to it more seriously.
Still, none of them loses sight that it’s all a hoax. What harm could possibly come of their divertissement?
What’s To Like...
It’s nice to read the work of a top-tier author every once in a while, just to be able to contrast it with “ordinary” storytelling. The writing is smooth and complex, and the words that Umberto Eco chooses will have you scrambling repeatedly for a dictionary, even though the book was originally written in Italian.
The main purpose of Foucault’s Pendulum is to extensively explore mystical experiences, arcane secrets, and clandestine societies. Eco takes a refreshingly different approach - skepticism - and uses the protagonists to evaluate the subject in three separate lights. He doesn’t give you any clear-cut answers at the end, but you will have lots to ponder, regardless of your spiritual persuasion.
There is some subtle humor – ghostwriting for Shakespeare and Cervantes, for instance. There’s a lot of French (and a slew of other languages), but if you’re monolingual, you won’t be missing anything critical. My Gnostics show up; that’s a personal plus.
If there’s a lesson to take away from reading this book, it’s to beware of making a bunch of metaphysical sh*t up. You might sell a few books and shill a few sheep, but if people start believing in your palaver and think you hold some super-duper secret, there’s no telling what lengths they’ll go to in order to pry it out of you.
Kewlest New Word...
Spagyric (n.) : an alchemist; esp. one who deals with the production of herbal medicines using alchemical procedures. There were dozens of other kewl new words. There are even a couple websites devoted solely to the big words in Foucault’s Pendulum.
The gods of the underworld were protecting us. At that very moment Lorenza Pellegrini came in, more solar than ever, making Belbo brighten. She saw the fliers and was curious.
When she heard about the project of the firm next door, she said, “Terrific! I have this fantastic friend, an ex-Tupamaro from Uruguay, who works for a magazine called Picatrix. He’s always taking me to séances. There, I met a fantastic ectoplasm; he asks for me now every time he materializes!” (pg. 223)
“Ma gavte la nata.”
Lorenza, still showing her pleasure at the invitation, asked Belbo what that meant.
“It’s Turin dialect. It means, literally, ‘Be so kind as to remove the cork.’ A pompous, self-important, overweening individual is thought to hold himself the way he does because of a cork stuck in his sphincter ani, which prevents his vaporific dignity from being dispersed. The removal of the cork causes the individual to deflate, a process usually accompanied by a shrill whistle and the reduction of the outer envelope to a poor fleshless phantom of the former self.”
“I didn’t know you could be so vulgar.”
“Now you know.” (pg. 418)
“You three have been faking. Beware of faking: people will believe you.” (pg. 444)
I read about one highbrow novel a year, so Foucault’s Pendulum meets my quota for 2013. In 2012, it was Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (reviewed here); in 2011 it was Infinite Jest (reviewed here).
They are all somewhat similar - the action is sparse; the emphasis is on the characters, the drama, and the philosophical musings. They are slow reads, not something you want to try a skim through the night before a book report is due.
But they are eminently worthwhile, primarily because they are so freaking well-written. Highbrow literature may not keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will feed your literary soul.
8 Stars. I have Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose sitting on my TBR shelf, but don’t be surprised if it becomes my 2014 highbrow book.