You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault's Pendulum is a novel by the Italian author Umberto Eco. The material in the novel concerns secret societies such as the Templars and the Rosicrucians, but that is really the background, the threads that are used to weave the story.

The story is narrated by Casaubon, a student of the history of the Knights Templar. He meets a new friend called Belbo who is an editor at a local publisher in Milan. Belbo asks him to consult on a prospective author, Colonel Ardenti. Casaubon determines that Ardenti is another conspiracy theorist full of unsubstantiated rumors, so they send him away. But then a police detective calls to question them on the mysterious circumstances of the colonel's possible murder. Belbo convinces Casaubon to omit certain details, and the matter disappears. The only thing left is a list given to them by Ardenti, who claims it was found in a secret Templar base and is a description of their plan.

Casaubon goes to Brazil where he lives for several years teaching literature. There he meets and old man named Aglie who has knowledge of secret societies. He takes Casaubon and his girlfriend to a pagan ritual where the girlfriend, ever the rationalist, is dismayed to find herself affected by the rhythms and chanting.

Back in Milan, Casaubon finds himself involved with Belbo again, as well as Belbo's colleague Diotallevi. Diotallevi is a Jew obsessed with numerology and the Cabala. When the publisher gets the idea of printing a series of books on secret societies, the three of them run with the idea. They get so involved that they see connections to everything, and they even invent their own Plan, a master history of the world. The Plan tells how the known history has a secret history behind it. Many events were actually caused by things going right or wrong with the Plan.

As the three of them develop the Plan, Aglie, who has moved back to Italy, gets involved as a special consultant. The three don't really trust him due to his secretiveness and his attachment to a woman whom Belbo is involved with. The three start connecting many parts of history and various secret groups. They use the list to show how the Templars planned to meet every hundred and twenty years to put together more pieces of the Plan and wait for the timing to be right after six hundred years. The three men's creation starts to come to life when they notice things from their imagination in real life. Belbo, who ironically has avoided the act of creation by writing, has begun to write in his word processing program and assemble pieces together. This is tied back to the men's discussion of the Demiurge, the creator god who made the universe without permission, which may have been a terrible mistake.

Secret organizations are a rich source for stories. There's something compelling about the idea of knowing the real truth behind historical events, knowing what really happened to an group that supposedly faded from history centuries ago. This drive sucks in the three characters, to the point where they don't know whether Aglie is a knowledgeable older gentleman, a sinister part of a plot to ensnare them, or a figment of their imagination come to life. In a way he is all of these.

It starts to get complicated when Diotallevi gets ill and goes into the hospital. After mentioning too much to Aglie, Belbo becomes implicated in a bomb plot and is pressured into going to Paris. There he is kidnapped by the master secret society, and Casaubon travels there after receiving a frantic call and reading his files. Casaubon hides out in the Conservatoire, the home of Foucault's famous pendulum, and watches a macabre ritual. Aglie tries to force Belbo to reveal the map that will show where the central force of the world is, so that they can use it's powers to control mankind. But Belbo has made up the whole thing, so he is in a quandary: if he admits it is invented, will they kill him, or believe him and let him go? If he makes up something else, would they believe him or continue to demand a satisfying answer? At the pendulum, Belbo becomes fully integrated with his creation.

This novel is very imaginative. Eco takes the legends of the Templars and uses it as a framework, building a complex and involved history. The idea of characters creating history that comes alive and subsumes them is intriguing. In the men's Plan, one secret group is a front for another secret group, and there are secret groups as part of each secret society, creating an interleave network of layers. Supposedly the goal is the ancient Egyptian secret of the telluric currents, which is controlled through a nexus at the focal point of the world, where the pendulum swings.

The Plan comes from the characters, especially Belbo, whose past in part drives the story. His desire for creation, and his hesitation to create, lead to the Plan. He is driven to complete it, regardless of his publisher's urgings.

I enjoyed the many layers of the book, despite the extended histories getting a bit tedious. The history of the Crusades and the Templars is fascinating in its own right. I think at heart this story is about creation, and how it takes so much of one's soul. It's about how a creative work comes to consume one's life. The metaphor of the Demiurge is striking: a god or demon who goes against divine will to create a magnificent creation of its own. A


Post a Comment

<< Home