Umberto Eco: RIP
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.