Ian Paganus's Reviews > Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
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Dec 04, 13

bookshelves: read-2009, exert-yourself, reviews-5-stars, eco, reviews, read-2013
Read from November 18 to 30, 2013, read count: 2

PLAYFUL:

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:

description

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):

description

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.


SERIOUS:

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.

Esoterica

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.


description

The Hollow Obelisk


AFFECTIONATE:

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.


SOUNDTRACK:

Beth Orton - "Sweetest Decline"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjF6ak...

"She weaves secrets in her hair
The whispers are not hers to share.
She's deep as a well.
She's deep as a well.

What's the use in regrets
They're just things we haven't done yet
What are regrets?
They're just lessons we haven't learned yet."


Beth Orton & M. Ward - "Buckets of Rain" (Bob Dylan cover)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJ2hc...

John Cale - "I Keep A Close Watch"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UX_Py...

This video is an hilarious juxtaposition of lyrics and imagery, just like the novel.

dEUS - "Nothing Really Ends"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbmBUU...

"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""


dEUS - "Nothing Really Ends" [Live]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO_SwO...



READING NOTES:

I transferred my reading notes and updates to My Writings here:

https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...
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Reading Progress

11/22/2013 marked as: currently-reading
11/22/2013 page 3
0.0% "Already on the first page, you realise you're in the hands of a master of prose."
11/23/2013 page 3
0.0% "When the Light of the Endless was drawn in the form of a straight line in the Void... it was not drawn and extended immediately downwards, indeed it extended slowly — that is to say, at first the Line of Light began to extend and at the very start of its extension in the secret of the Line it was drawn and shaped into a wheel, perfectly circular all around. (translation of the Hebrew)"
11/23/2013 page 3
0.0% "Keter is the highest of the Sephirot of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah.

Sephirot, meaning emanations, are the 10 attributes/emanations in Kabbalah, through which Ein Sof (The Infinite) reveals himself and continuously creates both the physical realm and the chain of higher metaphysical realms." 1 comment
11/23/2013 page 12
1.0% "12 Sam Spade

13 mirrors

15 the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth, the first Archon, odious creation of Sophia, who was responsible for the world and its fatal flaw" 3 comments
11/23/2013 page 19
2.0% "19 HOKHMAH

21 narrator = Casaubon

"The Plan. The Plan is real...They're after me."

22 "The Templars."

22 key to Milan apartment

22 The Plan real? Absurd. We had invented it ourselves.

22 Lorenza Pellegrini, photo

23 Abulafia" 1 comment
11/24/2013 page 49
7.0% "BINAH

49 1968

49 "To enter a university a year or two after 1968 was like being admitted to the Academie de St Cyr in 1793."

Born out of time, at the wrong time, born under a bad sign

49 Belbo 15 years older than Casaubon" 6 comments
11/25/2013 page 124
19.0% "They were settled in the Temple, making friends with the Moslems instead of killing them. They communicated with Moslem mystics...[and were] in contact with Arab and Jewish secret sects.

124 Casaubon: "Chairman Mao says that revolutionaries must live among the people like fish in water."

124 pigtailed communists

124 Provins" 1 comment
11/25/2013 page 158
24.0% "Some preliminary impressions:

There is a humorous religious and political scepticism at work in the novel. Plans feature in both religious and political contexts. They seem to be equally capable of fabrication. They are not necessarily to be believed. They are something that observers indulge in, rather than protagonists. Perhaps, protagonists just [get on and] do it. If something is secret, it must be valuable."
11/26/2013 page 216
33.0% "I'm going to put my reading notes in My Writings here:

https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/..."
11/28/2013 page 450
70.0% "You can read this novel with either a grin or a frown."
11/30/2013 marked as: read
show 2 hidden updates…

Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice Eagerly awaiting review! (Plus your reading trajectory seems to outdo even The Island of the Day Before, reading it from Nov. 2013 to Dec. 2009, as you have.)


message 2: by Ian (last edited Nov 25, 2013 07:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Haha, on this basis, if you start later than me, then you might be able to finish before I do?


message 3: by Brian (last edited Nov 28, 2013 02:31AM) (new)

Brian (view spoiler)


message 4: by Ian (last edited Nov 28, 2013 02:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus (view spoiler)


message 5: by Dvora (new)

Dvora Are you sure $20 is enough?


message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus $20 is never enough!


message 7: by Kyle (last edited Dec 01, 2013 06:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kyle (view spoiler)

...just saying...


message 8: by Ian (last edited Nov 30, 2013 08:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Kyle wrote:

(view spoiler)


message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael The amount of creative effort it took for you to digest this book for us is awesome, and it rings a lot of chimes for me. I am eager for someone to solve the riddles of the relationships between truth and beauty and have long held some hope for the role of this book. But I was wary that the book represented an empty game. You help me see that there is more than just a Wizard of Oz playing with the reader.

That new and valid realties can emerge out of a system of first principles, rules, and relationships is profound to me. Each level unpredictable from its precursors (laws of chemistry beyond physics, the mind richer than just biology). And even when first principles are a shaky foundation (Christianity, astrology, the ruse in this tale), a system that works can still emerge. The play of Aristotle vs. Plato in Dante's Divine Comedy was a paper topic that helped me pull a good grade out a "C" performance in an Italian class in college. That the Catholic system worked out in that book could work out relations among matter, motion, and form so beautifully stunned my atheist mind.

With the first mini-computers coming to a physiology lab in grad school, I couldn't get over how playing with equations and various incrementing variables in the programming could generate such beautiful forms, such as that rose figure. That so much of dynamics depended on formulas with the square root of a negative number (irrational number) was another humbling mystery for me. Thanks for ending with the Beth Horton--"The well is deep" and as you summarize "We have to figure it out for ourselves. There is no Plan, there is no Map."


message 10: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Michael wrote: "Thanks for ending with the Beth Orton--"The well is deep" and as you summarize "We have to figure it out for ourselves. There is no Plan, there is no Map.""

Thanks, Michael. Even as I searched for a Youtube clip of that song, I had no real idea of why I had chosen it for the soundtrack. Even though it's one of my favourite songs, I'd momentarily forgotten the last word of the title. I was searching for a song with "Sweetest" in the title. I've added some of the lyrics to my review, and can now understand a bit better why it chose itself. Thanks for the gentle nudge in the direction of this self-realisation.

Thank you also for your very generous comments on the review, but most of all for the deep reading of it. It means as much to me personally as these issues mean to you.

It's very easy to read the novel at a heavy detail level and get lost in all the esoterica and arcana. But there is something very simple and beautiful in it, and it is a heart beating.

The rest is play, a grin, a smile, a laugh.

There is truth and beauty in this novel, but, as in "The Recognitions", it emerges via the opposite, by way of and in response to fakery, inauthenticity and inherent vice.

(view spoiler)


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Michael wrote: "The play of Aristotle vs. Plato in Dante's Divine Comedy was a paper topic that helped me pull a good grade out a "C" performance in an Italian class in college."

I must read Dante, now that you've mentioned this, not to mention all the other reasons.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus I've added John Cale to the soundtrack.


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Fionnuala wrote: "Sitting here on my couch, I read as far as the centre of this review, Ian, and was totally knocked out by your demonstration of Foucault's Pendulum."

You have to get out of the way of the Pendulum! It will do that to you.


message 14: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Ian wrote: ".You have to get out of the way of the Pendulum! It will do that to you. ."

Some thump it gave me! Wow - knocked me straight of my couch, and right out of the discussion thread too!


message 15: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Fionnuala wrote: "...right out of the discussion thread too! "

You have to return!


message 16: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Fionnuala wrote: "Ian wrote: Some thump it gave me! Wow - knocked me straight of my couch, and right out of the discussion thread too!"

You only have to get out of the way when it's swinging back towards your couch.


message 17: by Fionnuala (last edited Dec 01, 2013 11:48AM) (new)

Fionnuala I was stuck for a while on the wrong side off the Void but guess what, when the pendulum did swing my way, I reached out and caught it, and now I'm back on track! Phew!
But I'm thinking the pendulum has knocked out some of my brain cells 'cos I didn't really understand much after the void part...
But the letter from Lia to Gulio, chapeau!


message 18: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Merci


message 19: by jeremy (new)

jeremy very well done, but especially for the inclusion of the incomparable ms. orton.


message 20: by Steve (new)

Steve (view spoiler)


message 21: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus I added the dEUS song to the soundtrack. I listened to it on my walk this morning.

"The plan it wasn't much of a plan."


message 22: by Ian (last edited Dec 03, 2013 03:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus jeremy wrote: "very well done, but especially for the inclusion of the incomparable ms. orton."

Thanks, jeremy. She is incomparable. Unless you compare her to Cat Power or PJ Harvey?


message 23: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Steve wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

OK, I believe you.

(view spoiler)


message 24: by Nate (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nate I hate it when I'm unable to get into books that are large and encyclopedic and so obviously wonderful like this one was. I too was absolutely captivated by the beginning but then dragged through the streets that followed like tedious arguments of this book.

And I furthermore hate that people like you Ian can so well elucidate the positives and the positive experiences you had with this book while I'm stewing in a sense of dissatisfaction. Why did the book feel more like work for me and why when I think back on it even now do I not appreciate that work or the intellectual rigor and postmodern prankery that I like to think I enjoy so much.

I've tried several times to write my own review to even more unsatisfying ends. Am I bullshitting myself when I say I think I have tremendous respect for the book even though I had very little thrill whilst reading it?

These are all, of course rhetorical questions. Somehow it felt more honest in interoggative form.


message 25: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Nate wrote: "I furthermore hate that people like you Ian can so well elucidate the positives and the positive experiences you had with this book while I'm stewing in a sense of dissatisfaction."

Hi, Nate, your post really resonates with me, because it raises many issues that I happen to question about the use of the term "encyclopaedic".

My response isn't directed at you, though I hope you find it useful or at least stimulating or worthy of response.

I've never endorsed the use of the term "encyclopaedic" (or "system") novel.

Just because a book is long or comprehensive doesn't mean it's encyclopaedic.

Even if any book was legitimately encyclopaedic in scope, it would raise the question of how to comprehend and review it. How do you assess something that at heart is a composite of 10,000 parts?

Do you review the parts? Or do you review the composite?

I think that people tend to confuse detail with scope (i.e., in the encyclopaedic sense).

They also tend to confuse length with detail.

For all the scope of "Infinite Jest" and even "The Pale King", I think there was actually a message about how to think about and approach life that could be relatively simply enunciated.

There is much more detail and arcana in "Foucault's Pendulum" than either of these novels.

I've seen people struggling with this detail as if it is the main game.

However, I think the detail is a game. Eco did want us to be interested in the detail, but more importantly I think he also wanted us to see the wood for the trees.

My review focusses on the wood.

It might be totally misguided, but the risk is that if you focus primarily on the trees, you might never see or appreciate or enjoy the wood.

I've read the novel twice now. The first time, I took no notes. Dog knows how much I understood the detail. The second read allowed me to relax into it a lot more. I got into the swing of it a lot more. I stopped overthinking the swing and just learned to swing, a bit like a golf stroke.


message 26: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj (view spoiler)


message 27: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Riku wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

(view spoiler)


message 28: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "I've seen people struggling with this detail as if it is the main game.

However, I think the detail is a game. Eco did want us to be interested in the detail, but more importantly I think he also wanted us to see the wood for the trees."


Great comment this one, Ian. I second your woody view on reading arcane authors.


message 29: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Thanks, Riku. It's so easy to analyse a book to death in a discussion group, but fail to come up with many or any reviews that capture its essence or what any one of us thought was its essence.


Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) Oh, Ian. I hate to be the one to tell you:

"1. Imagine the Earth is a perfectly spherical hollow ball (it is, you know, or is it?)."

A pendulum won't work inside a perfectly spherical hollow ball. There's no gravity (or, to be precise, the gravitational attraction from every point on the interior surface cancels out).

Somehow, I'm sure this completely misses Eco's point…


message 31: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Haha. Thanks, Derek. Exactly. Imagine that what is, is not, and what is not, is. As long as it sounds credible. Imagine, for instance, there is no shell theorem. Hence:

17. It is possible that everything I've said to you so far is false.


message 32: by Sue (new)

Sue Thanks for this mighty exposition (somehow the word review doesn't seem sufficient). I just read The Name of the Rose and am considering whether to tackle more Eco in the future. And you have tracks by Beth Orton! I am going to listen and see if they are songs I already know or ones I need to download. Love her.


message 33: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Sue wrote: "Thanks for this mighty exposition (somehow the word review doesn't seem sufficient). I just read The Name of the Rose and am considering whether to tackle more Eco in the future. And you have track..."

Thanks so much, Sue. Your review of The Name of the Rose made me want to re-read it, except my original copy has disappeared. Hope you enjoy playing Beth.


message 34: by Sue (new)

Sue Ian wrote: "Sue wrote: "Thanks for this mighty exposition (somehow the word review doesn't seem sufficient). I just read The Name of the Rose and am considering whether to tackle more Eco in the future. And yo..."

Thanks Ian. I just downloaded a couple of songs to add to the ones I own and considering a few more. Still considering more Eco but that wouldn't be for a while anyway. Ulysses is scheduled for this fall.


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