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Eco my thoughts
by Asa Butcher
Issue 7
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Foucault’s Pendulum (Il pendolo di Foucault)
Umberto Eco
Vintage, 1988
Nothing would have ever made me read this book if Thanos had not presented it to me with a knowing smile and a slight nod of his head. The title alone was startling and the quotes on the back cover troubled me even more, ‘a Shakespearean alternation of paroxysm and intimacy’ and ‘intricate’. My approach to the book was one of trepidation, but I persevered and part of me was glad.

I understood less than ten percent of the plot content, but thoroughly enjoyed 100% of the book. You find that every page is packed full of genuine historical events, people and places, which brings a sinister truth to the novel’s conspiracy theories. I have learnt that the author is a professor of semiotics, which is the study of communication through signs and symbols; this skill allows him to turn books such as the Bible on its head and create controversial meanings from innocent Psalms.

The book utilises the idea of analogies to great effect and the characters use this to formulate their own Plan, in which they weave together all the conspiracy theories concerning a religious order called the Templars. The narrator of the story, Casaubon details the rules they follow and if you replace the objects with religious and historical theories, then you can understand how Eco put together the intricate Plan:

“There is no way to decide whether an analogy is good or bad, because to some degree everything is connected to everything else. For example, potato crosses with apple, because both are vegetable and round in shape. From apple to snake, by Biblical association. From snake to doughnut, by formal likeness. From doughnut to life preserver, and from life preserver to bathing suit, then bathing to sea, sea to ship, ship to shit, shit to toilet paper, toilet to cologne, cologne to alcohol, alcohol to drugs, drugs to syringe, syringe to hole, hole to ground, ground to potato.”

Casaubon, along with his two work colleagues Belbo and Diotallevi, play an intellectual game with the analogies. Together they piece together a plan that connects the Knight Templars, the crusades, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, plate tectonics, William Shakespeare, the Second World War, Francis Bacon and Foucault’s pendulum. Novelist, Anthony Burgess once commented that the novel is an encyclopaedic work that needed an index.

A friend compared Foucault’s Pendulum to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and said that Umberto Eco has written literature, while Dan Brown has produced a blueprint for a movie script. For all of you who are ‘blown away’ by the secrets of Dan Brown’s imagination, you have seen nothing until you complete this Eco literary masterpiece.

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