Monday, February 25, 2013

Foucault's Pendulum (55th Book)

February left me without a Novel 100 book to read having already read Wuthering Height's as an angsty teen. I quickly devoured two Umberto Eco books off the "1001 books" list instead. Foucault's Pendulum was the second Umberto Eco book that I read. Unfortunately I didn't love it as much as the first, The Name of the Rose, but it is still a four star novel. I read this one almost as quickly as the first.

The premise of this novel is that three individuals from Garamond Press decide to make a mock book based on the Templar Plan that many of their reader's are obsessed with.  They spend days piecing together a plausible plot only to be taken completely seriously by the individuals they were trying to make fun of. Their game turns deadly when one of their members is kidnapped.

I loved this book almost as much as The Name of the Rose, except for two things. One was the infernal lists of variations on various occult groups, Templar levels and Rosicrucian rites etc. The lists, which filled up several pages at a time, I am sure, were included to show that every occult group has their variation on a theme. Stylistically though, they were difficult to read and I always had to slog through them to get to the other side. The second thing that dropped this book by a star was the fact that the book jumped in time by use of the phrase, " I really wish I had known then what I know now standing beside this periscope" etc, etc. The Name of the Rose frequently jumps in time like this book does, but the transitions were smoother in it. These transitions felt more  pretentious to me and although I was able to follow what was happening for the character they felt a bit contrived.

Despite those two things, this book is great. You are taken for a thrilling ride in a giant conspiracy theory that leaves you wondering if you will manage to remain sane at the end of the book. Never fear, by the end of the novel your senses have returned to you and you are left planted firmly back in reality.The novel spends quite sometime showing how everything in the world is connected. It's a dangerous experiment to get into as my friend and I discovered one summer while camping. Out of boredom, we both decided to track, out loud the paths that our brain's took to get from point a to point b. After speaking aloud the train of thought which lead from such things as stars in the sky to our favourite TV star your thoughts become really loud. We were blissfully unaware until that day how important it is that a lot of our thought processes are unconscious.  This book is a little like that, you could see connection everywhere, but the process will likely exhaust you.

This book is full of Umberto Eco's characteristic semiotics. I ate up these tidbits on symbolism as I did in his first novel:

"I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom"

"From prohibitions you can tell what people normally do."

"Resemblance: the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else"

"historia maistra vitae" (or history is life's teacher)

"he gathers together all the shreds of light, from wherever they may come"

The thing I like about Umberto Eco as a Semiotician is that despite studying symbols his whole life I think he still believes that there is inherent meaning in the world. I don't know much about the field of semiotics, but I have this idea that if you spend your life studying symbols, you would likely stop believing that they had any meaning.  Here are a few quotes I liked that pointed to the fact that despite all the chaos and craziness that there still could be ultimate meaning:

"There is nevertheless something that has more meaning than the rest"

"To be saved at the very beginning, for all eternity, it is necessary for that being to be tangled"

"But every book is interwoven with the name of God"

"Synarchy is God"

"The conspiracy of society...comes form abandoning God and then asking: 'Who is in his place'"

I would highly recommend Umberto Eco to anyone who is of a slightly philsophical bent. My boyfriend and I who have very different thought processes both loved The Name of the Rose. This one might be a bit more of a stretch for someone like him who is logical and rational....but for someone like me who has a mystical/ spiritual side I lapped it up.

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