on February 24, 2011
I'm currently reading Foucault's Pendulum in English, but being both an English mother-tongue and a proficient Italian speaker and reader (as well as a language teacher and translator) I would like to add a little observation about this book. One of the reasons for the akwardness of the prose style and ambiguity is the translation. Many times I found the characters rammbling on at lengths about something which seemed irrelevant, but, when I translated it in my head into Italian, it made sense. One example is the recounting of a dream about a trumpet. The character says that he dreamt of the trumpet which he wanted as a child but instead received a clarinet, which he never played. Another character then asks him if he didn't dream about the clarinet...to which he replies no I played it. This all seems so stupid until you realise that the Italian for 'dream' and 'play' are very similar sounding and the whole dialogue is a play on words.
A book of this nature needs an expert translator. A good translator will translate what is there. An expert would have tried to reword the conversation to find two similarly confusing words in English such as 'knew' and 'blew'. "I knew of a trumpet but I never blew it" for example. The plodding unnaturally pompous prose style is a result of this type of direct translation. Italian prose is full of sub-clauses and spliced lines: English written this way sounds stilted and disjointed. So you end up with sentences such as "I, in the morning, after waking from a dream, went, with great haste, to the bar, which is near my house, for a, as always, coffee." [that's not in the book by the way :)]
To sum up, the book could do with a retranslation.
I first read Foucoult's Pendulum back in college when it was first published. It was recommended by my bofriend, and I spent half of Spring Break plowing through it. Hard work. One of the few books that absolutely necessitates having a dictionary at hand to really absorb it, and it better be the OED because Webster's doesn't have all the words. Seriously. And in the end, I was floored, absorbed, and used the remaining days of vacation to read it again. I had found a new "Favorite Book Ever!"
I guess I understand why so many are so full of vitriolic loathing when they discuss "Foucault's Pendulum". It isn't really a thriller, nor a consipiracy theory text, nor a philosophical treatise, nor an easy read. If you really want some brain candy (and I certainly do a lot of the time--PG Wodehouse forever!) this is not the book to pick up.
It was, however, probably the first work of fiction I had ever read that made me think about the nature of reality... what is real, what is knowledge, how do we know and who decides. I loved the historical mind games, the twisted conspiracy plots, the flights of fanciful speculation. I found the language dense, yes, but dense like the best kind of rich, dark, brownies--intense and flavorful. For me the climax of the novel had nothing to do with the plot, it was the moment when I went "ah-ha!" and actually "Got It!" An intellectual pleasure in the extreme, but a genuine joy nonetheless.
Twelve years later I own three copies of this book (my tattered original paperback, a hardcover I've read once because I felt this was a book I wanted to own in hardcover, and another paperback for lending out). I've read "Foucault" three additional times... it would be more, but, as I said, it's a tough read and you have to be in the right mood. Every time I've experienced again that first wonderful "Ah-ha!" moment, though perhaps a little less intense since I know it is coming. The boyfriend who recommended it is now my husband. And hundreds of books later, it's still my favorite book.
on April 27, 2005
Dan Brown should be bludgeoned about the head and neck area for writing The Da Vinci Code without acknowledging that he essentially stole and dumbed down the plot of Eco's earlier, brainier mystery. FC is a world-spanning thriller packed with all of the elements that made Brown's book alluring (secret societies, cryptic religious symbolism, grand conspiracies, etc.). The twisting, turning thread of the plot is enough reason to keep reading, but what makes the book shine are all of Eco's philosophical, historical, and mythological/religious asides, crammed with detail. The kind of book where you sense the author checking and rechecking every line to make sure it's ... just the way he wants it.
on July 29, 2000
This book has it all! Mystery, thriller, suspense, world history, masons, world conspiracy, voodoo, magic, computers trying to reproduce the true name of God, jewish mysticism , druids of the forests, underground tunels that connect strategic points of the planet, publishers and writers, knights of the temple, action all around the world through the past 2 milenia. YOU NAME IT. Centuries of conspiracy and battle for the domination of the world , unspeakable secrets passed upon generation to generation from a few chosen ones, build up until the last climactic pages of the book.
The book is really worth for its money and it will keep you awake for a few days. You will refuse to close the book until you reach the end. In the beginning you will not understand a thing, what is going on, who are these people, what are they trying to do. Never mind, just carry on. Eco meant the book to be this way! Enjoy the book and if you dont understand some historical remarks never mind, just continue, dont stumble upon the little details and the dates, get the big picture. You will have plenty of time to think about it after you have finished but the main thing is to go entirely through the book and finish it. It will leave you with your mouth open. Dont let yourself think :I cant understand this, I am an idiot therefore I will not continue. No, just finish the book , at the end you will be rewarded as is the case with all of Ecos books. After all there is no such thing as "I dont understand the book", there is only "I didnt let myself free enough to understand it".
Eco writes his books this way, they are only meant for the strong of spirit, people with perseverance that are willing to strugle in order to reach the ultimate truth that only the very few have mastered. His novels are deliberately cryptic but only to the point that they discourage the faint of hurt. For the few strong men that are willing to engage into the battle, all the mysteries and the hypes reveil themselfs at the end,like the petals of a rose in the spring. This is the REWARD, something central on Eco's novels.
IN ORDER TO PROVE MY POINT ECO HIMSELF ADMITTED that he included the first hundred pages of pure history in the "Name of the Rose" just to discourage the readers that would not have the strenght to continue with the book. That was the PRICE! that the readers have to pay in order to reach the monastery up in the mountains that the story takes place. His editor suggested that he should completely remove this big part of the book but Eco denied!
Going back to the PENDULUM, You should never forget that this book is a really mystery book. Not only for the heros of the book but also for you , the reader. There were times that I felt that I was involved in this world conspiracy and I may be in danger like the hero of the book. That is the trully amazing element of Eco. It gets the reader involved. And at the end you will have a completely different point of view about the world.
Eco has said that the ultimate mystery book is the one that the READER is himself the killer!
I definetely recommend the book, it will not dissapoint you.
on January 2, 2011
I have little to say that adds to other reviewers regarding the content of this book, but I do have a little warning for you. For those who buy the Kindle Edition, know that there are MANY instances where the letter C is substituted for the letter E. In other words, I see a lot of 'thc' when it should be 'the'. I see a few 'thcsc' instead of 'these'. It doesn't make the book unreadable, but it does take a while to get used to it. Just a heads-up for you all.
on August 19, 2007
This book is not for everyone, which is why I agree with the majority of both the 1-star and 5-star reviews. If you have a limited vocabulary and don't also speak French, Italian, Latin, Hebrew, etc., then this is a very frustrating book. Likewise, if you're not up on history - especially as pertains to arcane secret societies - this book will quite likely be incomprehensible. To those with a limited education, or at least a limited knowledge base, this book almost dares you to read it.
That said, I really liked Foucault's Pendulum, in part because I happen to be keen on much of the subject matter. Two of my favorite books are "The Illuminatus Trilogy" and "The Crying of Lot 49" so I was in familiar territory here. Eco has certainly done his homework. Probably the greatest charm of all this is his tying together of pretty much EVERY conspiracy and secret society in the past 1,000 years into a vast Unified Field Theory that by its definition is deliberately a hoax, or at least a joke.
Unfortunately, the book is very uneven: it starts and ends weakly. It's 650 pages long, about 400 of which are actually interesting. Still, it held my attention, plus I learned a lot along the way.
I plan to go back and read this in a few years, and I suspect I will get a lot more out of it.
on March 2, 2004
Trying to encapsulate Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum into one idea is as difficult as trying to explain the history of the world in one sentence. The story is about three editors of a publishing house who attempt to formulate (or, perhaps, discover) a grand, cosmic, and secret Plan by connecting known pieces of history together. And if my understanding of the book is correct, then I would contend that the underlying theme is precisely what those editors are doing: connecting. Early on, Causaubon, who tells the story, tells us, "It was also the day I began to let myself be lulled by feelings of resemblance: the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else" (139). At another point, Belbo, another one of the editors says, "I have letters that offer revelations on the connections between Joan of Arc and the Sibylline Books, between Lilith the Talmudic demon and the hermaphroditic Great Mother, between the genetic code and the Martian alphabet, between the secret intelligence of plants, cosmology, psychoanalysis, and Marx and Nietzsche in the perspective of an new angelology, between the Golden Number and the Grand Canyon, Kant and occultism, the Eleusian mysteries and jazz, Cagliostro and atomic energy, homosexuality and gnosis, the golem and the class struggle" (230). And finally, Causaubon explains, "But whatever the rhythm was, luck rewarded us, because, wanting connections, we found connections-always, everywhere, and between everything. The world exploded into a whirling network of kinships, where everything pointed to everything else, everything explained everything else..."(384).
As the three editors compile their information (originally only for a book on the history of metals), they research as wide a range of subject matter as can be imagined. They spend hours (or for Eco, pages) explaining histories of the Templar Knights, Rosicrucians, Masons, Jesuits, and every other secret society and conspiracy theory imaginable. Because they are convinced that every fact is somehow connected with every other fact, they recruit help from a rather unlikely source to make connections: Belbo's computer, Abulafia. Explaining history by connecting facts begins as a game until they start taking their "discoveries" too seriously. The outcome of their efforts follows naturally from their efforts.
Although many readers have been dissatisfied by the slow pace of the book, Eco does a masterful job in making his own connections and observations from actual history. Without a doubt, such a masterpiece would be impossible without an encyclopedic grasp not only of the facts of history but also of its consequences. Several lessons may be appropriately learned from this great work as well. I will mention only one here: simply, we are reminded to be wary of every new idea that purports to explain what we see around us. Dozens of conspiracy theories and cults claim to offer the one explanation for what has happened and is happening in the history of the world. And there is no shortage of dupes who accept and follow such explanations. In Foucault's Pendulum even a computer program spitting out responses to men who are playing a game lead people astray. Theories are propounded still, which are deduced from equally silly methods.
No, Eco's book is not for everyone. It moves slowly. The plot itself does not include much action. But in the end, those who persevere will be greatly rewarded.
on February 18, 2000
The trouble with the reviews that either praise the book as the best ever, or dismiss it as worthless, is that they didn't help me figure out if it's the kind of book I'd like to read. About half-way into it, I thought, "I wasn't looking for another detective story with a puzzle to solve," but after finishing it, the overall picture, I think, redeemed the effort. The big words, the pomposity, the big lump of detailed nonsense in the middle, and then the corny end of the chase are fitting. It inflates and then pops the cork. Even with all the detail, I found the book hard to put down and a quick read. The only way I can see the book being hard to read would be if someone thought they had to keep track of the detail to understand the ending.
The narration itself seems to mock the book from the beginning, and Eco's digressions and witty (but still ambiguous) comments, seem to me the treasure of this book, even more than the pensive summary at the end. It keeps to its message through-and-through. It puts positivists in their place, dethrones scientists from their crusade of saving the world, deflates mystics who search for proof, and leaves an onion where Rilke might have put a rose. I'm not in that "business," but I think Eco the semiotician attempts to show us laymen how meaning is created, its slippery delusional character, and its endemic presence. I think he succeeds, even though I don't understand it on a cerebral level (the conspiracy wins, after all).
I have two minor complaints. First, Eco seems to struggle sometimes while attempting to keep the characters interesting, and to avoid turning the whole book into a treatise, though I guess it's not surprising that a postmodernist text doesn't read like a Dostoevsky novel. Second, I either didn't see all that Eco offers in the windup of the book, or the "explanation" he ends with is no more than a "traditionally" postmodernist message, however human and down to earth. Or maybe, the ending just means to discredit itself, and claim its power elsewhere.
on March 13, 2007
I have read this book at least six times over the last fifteen years. Each time, I get something new from it. It is not so much a novel about the Templars or any other esoteric or hermetic group. Rather, it is a novel that uses bizarre conspiracy theories concerning the Templars and nearly every other esoteric tradition as a literary device to explore how people are more than willing to accept wholeheartedly historical narratives that are fabricated to feed upon their desires for secret knowledge and power. Eco not only points out how misguided conspiracy-minded people are, but he goes even further and demonstrates how dangerous such people can be. They do not care how information from the past is used, as long as it affirms what they wish history would be. Foucault's Pendulum not only makes fun of the people who look to authors like Dan Brown or Tim LaHaye for secret truths, but Eco shows how intellectually bankrupt and dangerous authors like these can be. Because they write tripe that purposely feeds the sick needs of conspiracy-minded people, these authors are contributing to the larger sickness of a self-absorbed and power-obsessed society. Eco's novel is a smart critique of pseudo-historians and self-serving revisionists who pose as historians.
on January 30, 2005
This book was on my shelf for years but I finally got around to reading it after reading the DAVINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS. They have similar themes, but Foucault's Pendulum has a much larger point having to do with the search for meaning. The point is that the search itself is compelling, and the temptation of searching for secret meaning can become obsessive. But it's hard to get into the swing of PENDULUM. To get to that main point, Umberto Eco constructs a story that manages to pack speculation about just about every occult group and secret society in history into one unified theory. Are the characters discovering or creating their story? Or is their imagination producing reality? Or are they, or at least the narrator, simply delusional? I think that's what I was supposed to be wondering while reading the book. I was pleased with the ending, which though a little ambiguous did not turn out to be confirmation of magic or the discovery of a secret of secrets. Dark and mysterious figures seem small and petty by the end. Cleverly, Eco leaves us at a point where the narrator simply arrives at a new theory, which he had been doing throughout most of the book, so I suppose what's really going on could be just about anything, but at least the ending seems to be about human nature in this world.
Although I liked the ending, I had many problems with this book. First, it took far too long to get to the ending. I think Eco wanted us to ease into the characters' descent into obsession, so the first half of the book contains too much off-the-main-plot narrative. Then Eco wants to overwhelm us with scope, so he writes pages and pages and pages about obscure secret societies, some of which I had known something about, some of which I hadn't. Where Dan Brown introduces quasi-historical organizations like the Illuminati with a lot of explanation, Eco's characters talk about them as if everyone is already familiar with them (including many groups far more obscure than the Illuminati). I don't think Eco here is trying to be pretentious. I think he's trying to establish a murky atmosphere within which he has an easier time manipulating our recollection of myth and history. But wading through pages upon pages of disorienting uncertainty can be tedious.
Eco also has an annoying habit of switching styles. At first he writes in his deliberately disorienting way, then he has pages of clear exposition, then he breaks into fine print that is supposed to be the writing of one of his characters. This too is uncomfortable, and I found the style shifts to often kill the book's momentum.
Finally, though the mysterious figures surrounding the book's main characters are rendered more plausible as frauds by the end of the book, there is no plausible explanation of why the main characters are surrounded by so many frauds, in on a lesser version of their grand plot. I think this is supposed to add to the story's deliberate ambiguity, but I'm not sure and not entirely convinced.
Ultimately I was wrong to pick up with book after reading Dan Brown's books. Brown writes "page turner" thrillers, which this is most certainly not. The right way to come at FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM is to recognize it as a character-driven novel about human nature.