While I first read this novel in 2009, I bought a second-hand copy in May, 2013 for $7, which I thought was a bargain price fPLAYFUL:
An Opening Gambol
While I first read this novel in 2009, I bought a second-hand copy in May, 2013 for $7, which I thought was a bargain price for the degree of pleasure it's given me.
Only when I was half way through did I notice a sheet of white paper slipped into the last pages.
It shows four hand-drawn circles, each of which contains the name of a city and a number.
If the numbers represent years, they cover 21 years. If you add 2 and 1, you get the number 3. If you examine the gaps between the years, you get the numbers 11, 4 and 6. If you add these numbers, you get 21, which when added together, comes to 3. If you add 1, 1, 4 and 6, you get 12, which when added, comes to 3.
If the numbers are not years and you add them together, you get 8,015. If you add these numbers, you get 14, and if you add 1 and 4, you get 5. If you add 3 and 5, you get 8, which is exactly twice the number of circles on the sheet.
Here is a photo of the sheet:
I've been back to the bookshop where I bought my copy, but the owner wasn't able to remember who she had bought the book from.
I'm not sure how many of these cities get mentioned in the novel [all but Madrid, as it turns out, unless I'm mistaken]. However, I've since discovered the following facts with the assistance of Professor Googlewiki.
Manchester is the home of the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England, from which some Rosicrucian Orders derive their charter.
Madrid is the home of Gran Logia AMORC, Jurisdicción de Lengua Española para Europa, Africa y Australasia.
The Rosicrucian Order, Christian Order of the Hermetic Gold & Rose+Cross is based in Los Angeles.
In Paris, the Temple was a medieval fortress, located in what is now the 3rd arrondissement. The Knights Templar originally constructed it as their European headquarters.
If you have any ideas about the significance of this sheet of paper, please message me or post them in the comments below, with a spoiler warning. Alternatively, please send them with a stamped, addressed envelope containing US$20 processing fee [plus any gratuity you are happy with] to my home address.
If you're the first to work out some sort of solution that convinces me of its authenticity, I'll post a photo of something that might absolutely amaze you.
P.S. Brian's hypothesis has convinced me.
How Foucault's Pendulum Works (Maybe)
1. Imagine the Earth is a perfectly spherical hollow ball (it is, you know, or is it?).
2. Imagine that a steel cable 6,371 kilometers long is attached to the bottom side of the North Pole. This is more or less the radius of the Earth.
3. Imagine that a really bloody heavy lead bob is attached to the end of the cable.
4. Let's imagine that the Earth isn't tilted off its axis.
5. Let's say we're sitting underground on a couch somewhere north of the Equator, and we drag the cable and bob over to the inside of the sphere, then we let it go, so that it starts swinging through the centre of the Earth and over to the other side.
6. Let's assume that the bob swings in the one plane, a constant relative to the space outside the sphere of the Earth, e.g., as measured relative to the stars.
6. Let's try to do this very carefully, just in case it swings back to exactly where we're sitting on the couch.
7. But it doesn't! (See steps 10 and 11.)
8. Let's assume that the bob swings so quickly that it takes an hour to swing back to the side it started (i.e., a complete cycle).
9. Let's assume that the Earth is rotating once every 24 hours (it is, you know, or is it?).
10. Every hour, the earth moves 15 degrees around its own 360 cycle (360 degrees/24 hours = 15 degrees).
11. By the time the bob returns to our side of the Earth, it touches the inside of the sphere 15 degrees away from our couch.
12. Repeat another 23 times, and the bob comes full circle and smashes our couch.
13. Fortunately it doesn't smash us as well, because by now we understand how Foucault's Pendulum works, and we got off the couch just in time.
14. If we map the path of the bob, it will look something like this (except that there would be 24 repetitions instead of eight):
15. If we mapped 24 repetitions, the map would look more like a rose. Hence, in mathematics, this type of map is referred to as a "rose" or "rhodonea curve", and each half of a repetition (from the circumference to the centre) is called a "petal".
16. Hence, in "Foucault's Pendulum", Umberto Eco takes us from "The Name of the Rose" to "The Shape of the Rose".
17. It is possible that everything I've said to you so far is false.
The Quest for Happiness
"Foucault’s Pendulum" is at once a Post-Modernist and an Existentialist novel.
Umberto Eco’s focus is not just Religion. It’s any form of ideology: Fascism, the Resistance, God, Socialism.
For Eco, these ideologies or belief systems are “Fixed Points” that determine our relationship with the cosmos.
While individual lives might be relatively chaotic, in constant motion, the belief systems are supposed to fix and secure our relationship with the universe. They create order.
The vehicles through which the novel explores these issues are the Word, the Book, the Manifesto, the Strategy, the Plan, even the Five Year Plan.
All of these things exist, because we don’t quite know what we need or want. We’re not yet happy, nor do we really know how to get happy. Each one is an apparatus which is offered to us to help in our quest for happiness.
The Credulity of the Non-Believer
Eco loosely quotes G.K. Chesterton as follows:
"When men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything."
There is some uncertainty about the actual origin and wording of this quotation. I wondered whether it had simply been translated from English to Italian and then back to English, without checking the original. However, the more accurate version of it is:
"When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything."
Filling the Void
Religion maintains that God exists everywhere for us and that "the void does not exist". However, its opponents acknowledge that there is a void, but argue that it should not exist:
"A void had been created, and it has to be filled!"
What is to be done?
Somehow, the Book (whether or not it contains the "Holy Word") has become the vehicle with which to fill the void, create meaning, document beliefs and practices, and address the need to be happy.
Major Religions have their own Holy Book. However, side by side with them are heretical, esoteric and occult works that cater to the same need.
Many fraternities and orders have grown up around these books. [I wonder what proportion of the members are female?] Their members derive order from their order. In the case of the more military orders, the members also get their orders from their order.
To the extent that these books and beliefs have been perceived as heretical or threatening by mainstream religious institutions, a culture of secrecy has grown up around them, hence the term "secret societies".
The Mystery Dance
There is often a sense in which some level of mystery and imprecision needs to be preserved:
"The Templars' mental confusion makes them indecipherable."
Because heretical beliefs are erroneous in the eyes of the Church, Eco implies that error is almost a secondary issue within esoterica:
"An error can be the unrecognised bearer of truth. True esotericism does not fear contradiction."
What’s more important is the question and the mystery, as opposed to the answer and the certainty.
A secret remains enchanting until it has been revealed, at which point it has been emptied of enchantment.
Eco even speculates that the secret might be that there is no secret, as long as those outside the order believe those inside know something they don't know.
Secrecy is more important than the substance of the secret. Perhaps what is most valuable is the bond between the members of the order.
The secret might simply be the framework or glue that initially connects them. Once the order is in place, it can survive of its own accord.
A Post-Modernist Prank
The Post-Modern aspects of the novel derive from the narrative in which its three protagonists (Casaubon, Belbo and Diotallevi) resolve to fabricate a work of esoterica, so that a specialist publisher for which they work can capitalize on a credulous market ("the Plan").
"Foucault’s Pendulum" becomes a novel about the invention and construction of a work of non-fiction that is actually fictitious, perhaps one that even seeks to "arrive at the truth through the painstaking reconstruction of a false text.".
The work needs to have words and facts and connections.
Like the bond of a secret society, the power of words emerges from their connection:
"Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another. The connection changes the perspective; it leads you to think that every detail of the world, every voice, every word written or spoken has more than its literal meaning, that it tells us of a Secret. The rule is simple: Suspect, only suspect. You can read subtexts even in a traffic sign that says ‘No littering.’ "
"Invent, Invent Wildly"
The protagonists discover that their creative process follows certain apparently spontaneous rules.
The foundation stone is:
"Concepts are connected by analogy. There is no way to decide at once whether an analogy is good or bad, because to some degree everything is connected to everything else."
That said, readers are more comfortable with the conventional, with what they have heard before, with facts with which they are already familiar:
"The connections must not be original. They must have been made before, and the more often the better, by others. Only then do the crossings seem true, because they are obvious."
The connections can be crazy, as long as the facts are recognised.
The protagonists are urged to:
"Invent, invent wildly, paying no attention to connections, till it becomes impossible to summarize."
"Tout se tient" in the end. If "tout se tient" in the end, the connection works. So it’s right. It's right because it works.
This concept and phrase is usually attributed to the semiotician Saussure. In language, every element connects to, supports and is supported by every other element.
You can also see Eco's theories about how we read influencing not just his own novel, but the Book, the Plan that his protagonists are authoring.
Protagonists and Spectators
The characters' level of participation and commitment to the project varies:
"[Belbo] would never be a protagonist, he decided to become, instead, an intelligent spectator."
He can’t write fiction, but he can fabricate non-fiction. He also maintains a diary in which he fictionalizes his past and present.
Ironically, despite his lack of creative self-confidence, Belbo remains a major protagonist in Eco’s novel:
"Fear forced him to be brave. Inventing, he had created the principle of reality."
Existentialism, Doubt and Confidence
Belbo's realism results from courage, which in turn strengthens Casaubon’s resolve.
Casaubon learns the real source of Belbo’s lack of confidence, an event in his childhood when he had to fill in for a trumpeter in an impromptu public performance.
Casaubon concludes that there are for all of us certain decisive moments when we have to confront the essence of our character and fate. How we deal with these moments determines the happiness in the rest of our lives.
These moments don’t necessarily have anything to do with God, Fate or the supernatural. Nor do they depend on the execution of Plans. They do have to deal with self-doubt and our inner reserves, both of energy and of insight.
These discoveries force Casaubon to question his adherence to the principles of the Enlightenment (including Cartesian Doubt).
"I had always thought that doubting was a scientific duty, but now I came to distrust the very masters who had taught me to doubt...
"I devoted myself to Renaissance philosophers and I discovered that the men of secular modernity, once they had emerged from the darkness of the Middle Ages, had found nothing better to do than devote themselves to cabala and magic."
Eat a Peach
Casaubon has his own existential "trumpet moment" at the end of the novel, when he must learn to play with the cards that Fate has dealt him:
"...yet, like Belbo when he played the trumpet, when I bit into the peach, I understood the Kingdom and was one with it."
Ultimately, it’s a moment that only the individual can handle. We have to figure it out for ourselves. There is no Plan, there is no Map.
"Kill me, then, but I won’t tell you there’s no Map. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, tough shit."
"Foucault's Pendulum" takes us on this journey with consummate intelligence, traditional, esoteric and pop cultural allusiveness, literary skill and humour.
The Hollow Obelisk
Casaubon’s Last Letter to His Wife, Lia
Animula vagula blandula, Hospes comesque corporis *
It hurts me to think I might not see you again.
It was all my fault. I was seduced away from you, not by another woman, but by another Other, something I thought was beautiful, because I was helping to construct it.
"People are hungry for plans, for cosmic solutions," you said. "If you create one, they’ll descend on it like wolves. If you make one, they’ll believe it. It’s just make believe, Pow, it’s wrong."
You always knew the book was superficial, that it was a fake, that there was no truth contained between its covers. But I made them all believe it had both truth and depth. Deep down, I knew they desired what this book had to offer: mystery, secrecy, answers, certainty. Even though once they had read it, the mystery would dissipate and they would be left satisfied, but empty, with nothing left, nothing new to strive for. Neither grail nor quest.
My audience was weak, unlike you, who are strong. You don’t need answers from outside. You’ve found them within. In your own body.
"Oh, I almost forgot," you said. "I’m pregnant."
I remember looking at you just before you told me. You were caressing your belly, your breasts, even your ear lobes. I was oblivious. I couldn’t understand these moves you were making. I had always thought of you as so slim and supple. Now I picture you as buxom, rosy-cheeked and healthy – I should have realised that you were pregnant.
You were trying to solve my problem. I was single-minded about that. You spoke confidently. You radiated a serene wisdom. You were luminous. You illuminated both of us. I realise now it might have been your maternal instinct, a fledgling matriarchal authority, that there were three of us present - you, me and Guilio – and that you were speaking for all three.
I know you will take good care of Guilio. Please let him know I will always love him.
* Little soul, you charming little wanderer, my body's guest and partner - Hadrian
A Letter from Lia to Guilio on the Occasion of His Thirteenth Birthday
My dearest son, Giulio, your father wasn’t born a wise man, but he died a wise man. He didn’t plan to be wise or to die when he did, but in many ways it was the result of a Plan, even if it wasn’t only his Plan.
Your father died when he was ready. He died at peace. He died as soon as he had attained peace. He attained his peace when finally he understood his place in the world. He died when there was nothing left to learn and nothing left to understand.
By the time he died, he had learned his place in the cosmos, on this earth, on this rock that is our home.
Your father, Casaubon, was a philosophical man. In the end, the wisdom that he had finally learned gave him great certainty and comfort. You were a big part of it. You gave him certainty and comfort, he called you his philosopher’s stone, that’s how much you meant to him, but equally he hoped and knew that the wisdom he had gained would pass on to you.
This is what he learned and what he wanted me to tell you on his behalf. Having learned, he wanted to teach you.
There is no map. There is no plan. There is only life. There is only us. Your father has gone already. And one day, when I am gone, there will only be you left. But you will have your wife and your children, and each of them will be your philosophers’ stone. Life will pass through your father and me to you and then from you and your wife to your children. These are the connections between us.
What your father learned is no secret, yet few get to know it in their lives. Too many people look without success for secrets, for profundity, for inspiration. Life is only as complicated as you make it. Happiness is an open secret, it’s within you, it’s in your soul, and all you have to do is open it.
I know how happy you have become, how happy you are. I am so proud of you, and I know your father would be too. We are grateful to you, our son, for the happiness you have given us and those who surround you.
"The plan it wasn't much of a plan I just started walking I had enough of this old town And nothing else to do It was one of those nights You wonder how nobody died We started talking You didn't come here to have fun You said: "well I just came for you""