Sunday, November 09, 2014

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Just finished Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a fun, somewhat exhausting read.

I’ve read The Name of the Rose, which I just discovered was Eco’s first novel, a couple of times. It’s the sort of book worth rereading because successive readings will perhaps bring to light things that went over your head previously. Maybe you’re not as dense as I am but you might miss an allusion or two the first time thru. Anyway, Foucault’s Pendulum has a similar vibrant complexity.

Eco combines scholarship with a playful humour. In FC, he gathers together what seems like every arcane organization you’ve ever heard of (Templars, Masons, Rosicrucians, Elders of Zion, and many more), in a crypto-paranoid, apocalyptic plot for world domination/personal enlightenment. Yikes!

Funny, I tried previously to read the book but got bogged down in a lengthy passage giving the history of the Templars and could not finish the book. How could I get bogged down in the history of the Templars? I don’t react well to narratives within narratives. It’s as if (to me) the author becomes distracted with this further narrative, and I’m trying to hold onto the main one. So no long accounts of a character’s dreams for me, thanks. Cheesy device, anyway.

The history of the Templars didn’t bother me this time, nor the history of the various other arcane groups Eco pulls into the story. I won’t try to explain the plot except to say it involves conspiracy of the highest order. All these groups combining in a rush towards some Final Truth. There’s a whimper at the end, I might as well note, not a bang.

The conspiracy angle provokes me. I had to look up what The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was. I’d heard of it, with a negative aura, but needed to look a little closer. Not too close: crazy talk. That shit sickens me.

It’s not like I disbelieve the existence of conspiracies, even grand scale ones. I just have trouble when supposition supplies the main elements. JFK’s murder certainly displays a lot of fuzzy holes in the narrative. I for one do not know what the ef happened, or how it happened to happen. Once again I nod to Keats for the relieving idea that I don’t need to know everything. Or perhaps anything.

Eco’s erudition is of the lightest sort. He clearly knows a thing or two but offers it casually. I’m not interested in Golden Roads to Supreme Knowledge but it fascinates me to think of the lengths people will go and have gone to get on that road.

But anyway. The plot ends up kind of like I expected but that seems a minor thing. The rush of plot tends too often to be the author’s intent, but I think the details and word life that exists between the first capital and last period carry a novel. Oh dear, the Pequod sank? No, there’s more to it than that.

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