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Connections, connections, connections,
This review is from: Foucault's Pendulum (Mass Market Paperback)
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.