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Umberto Eco: RIP

February 20, 2016

It has nothing to do with the ordinary focus of this blog site, but news today of the death of Umberto Eco makes me want to post briefly about how much I enjoyed his novel, Foucault’s Pendulum.  It’s by turns funny, thrilling, demanding intellectually, and always creative in characters and plot.  I know he achieved fame for The Name of the Rose, but Foucault’s Pendulum struck me as enchanting in its own way.

It’s all about a couple of guys who begin by having fun in spinning a conspiracy story, and then find that their crazy result actually draws in some ominous people, and deaths and a frantic search for the truth ensue.  The plot involves numerology, James Bond’s foes, Parisian sewers, various mystical and occult notions and devotees (with whom Eco had great fun), but subtly also there is a critique of such nonsense and a note pointing toward something more substantial.

I laughed out loud at the scene where the two guys begin inventing whole new disciplines in which to publish books (pp. 73-75), including “Urban Planning for Gypsies,” “Potio-section” (slicing soup), “Tetra-pyloctomy” (splitting a hair four ways), “Mechanical Avunculogratulation” (building machines for greeting uncles), and “A School of Comparative Irrelevance” (in which useless or impossible courses are given, such as the history of Easter Island painting, contemporary Sumerian literature, Montessori grading, Assyrio-Babylonian philately, et alia).

The book is fundamentally (it seems to me) an extended “send-up” of people who itch after exotic, esoteric stuff, disdaining what they view as simple notions, and conspiracy addicts (who, for example, insist that the moon landings took place on a Hollywood stage), the sort of people who mistake Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code as anything other than an easy “beach read.”  (I’m told that Eco was once asked what he thought of Brown’s book, and he replied, “Dan Brown is a character in Foucault’s Pendulum!”)

Toward the end of the novel, Eco teasingly portrays some fairly traditional Christian beliefs that, he indicates, are actually not quite as “simple” as  those who itch for the exotic and esoteric seem to presume (pp. 620-21).  I’ll not spoil things, but simply indicate that the book is a memorable read.  And on the occasion of his passing, I mention my admiration for a gifted writer.

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3 Comments
  1. Lin permalink

    If one is only around people who poses a bit of historical perspective, biblical literacy, and common sense, they will understand that Dan Brown’s books are fiction. It’s easy to then toss those who opposed his books under the bus, labeling them “conspiracy addicts” and such.

    The problem is that many people are not historically or biblically literate and when the book came out I encountered many who were apparently not able to figure out, for example, that da Vinci’s opinion amounts to bupkis since he was not a witness to the events, nor were Jesus and the apostles sitting for da Vinci as he crafted his famous painting of them.

    Many thought that Dan Brown had exposed “truths” that the Church had covered up and this was well played on TV shows as well. I applaud those who took the time to explain the Brown’s fiction since he refuses to be questioned or interviewed on his books.

  2. David Mackinder permalink

    Thank you for this appreciation of Umberto Eco’s _Foucault’s Pendulum_. The place where Eco made his comment about Dan Brown was an interview he gave The Paris Review (http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5856/the-art-of-fiction-no-197-umberto-eco), which is well worth reading. His witty conclusion is the sort of thing that itself could give rise to a conspiracy theory: ‘The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist.’

  3. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,
    Thanks for this. I am always up for a good read! I am intrigued enough now to check this one out.

    Tim

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