Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Foucault’s Pendulum

Finally, I have finished this one of the most confusing and intriguing books I’ve ever come across: Foucault’s Pendulum! This is my second Umberto Eco (after Baudolino), and I don’t think I would ever come back to him again, ever. Not that his books are bad; on the contrary, they are genius. But there’s my problem, they are too genius to me that I must often open Wikipedia to consult almost everything from the stories. If you ask me, what this book is about, I might answer, it’s about conspiracy theory, Foucault’s Pendulum, semiotics, mystics, Kaballah, Knights Templar, telluric current, hermeticism, Rosicrucians, Paulicians, Synarchists, and many other (seem to be) incoherent topics. However, surprisingly, at the end of all those nonsense, you would find a quite deep philosophy that makes you think about the value of life, and your existence in the universe.

The story is narrated by Casaubon, an Italian freelance researcher, who was hiding in Parisian technical museum, from a secret society that had something to do with Foucault’s Pendulum, located in the museum. Casaubon then related the whole story in flashback. He was a student studying about Knights Templar’s history in Milan, while he met Belbo, the editor of a publishing house. Together with Belbo’s colleague, a cabalist called Diotallevi, they became involved in the story of the Knights Templar. A writer came to the publishing house, he believed that, although the Templar had been disbanded by French monarchy and the Church six centuries ago, its followers have planned a secret conspiracy to take over the world as their revenge. Although nobody knew the exact truth, our trio excitingly worked on the conspiracy theory, as a fun game at first, maybe to challenge their active minds. But soon they became obsessed with it, and so seriously they took The Plan (as they called it), that some people believed The Plan did really exist, and suddenly, our trio’s game was not fun anymore, but mortally dangerous!

During their game, they met many people who believed in supernatural things (occultist), whom they called the Diabolical. From them, and from their own knowledge and unlimited sources from libraries, they built their own theory. Oh, and don’t forget the valuable help from Abulafia (the nickname of Belbo’s computer), and the index card system built by Casaubon. Reading this, I only imagined, how their work would have been so much easier were they born on this century, with all the search engines on the internet….

I did not know whether all the theories (the connection of those hundreds of sects) in this book were historically true, or at least there were people who wrote them, not just Eco’s invention. If it was true, then Eco himself is a great researcher, and to craft all those conspiracy theories into a thriller is great. But if he invented some of those, then it is a geniusness.

But this book is not all about conspiracy theory and semiotics, it is also about human’s seek of existence. During their working together, Belbo told Casaubon his bitter past. From his childhood he was never a brave boy. He often missed his chances because he was always a doubter; a boy who could not make decision. Later he grew as a loser; he lost better chances not because he failed but because he thought about lost before even trying. So, with The Plan, Belbo was in quest of his existence, more than a quest of the secret of Templar. But not only Belbo who has been changed by The Plan; Casaubon too, finally saw that Wisdom is the most important thing, not knowledge. Many people pursue knowledge, and when they reach the highest level, only then that they realize it was vain. And when the realization comes, it is perhaps already too late; you have been chasing the unreal things while ignoring the most important ones.

While I was skeptical during the whole thriller, I was amazed by the ending. I have learned that Eco was a Roman Catholic, but when he was in college, he left Catholic Church and his believe in God [source: wiki]. His cynical towards Catholic Church is obvious in this book, but I don’t think he completely stopped believing in God. The way he talked about the Supreme Wisdom and the vanity of chasing knowledge is one signal that, on the contrary, he believes in God, but perhaps, dislikes the religion. Whatever the truth is, I think Umberto Eco is one of the biggest authors in our post-modernism literary world.

Three and a half stars for this extraordinary, although quite frustrating to read, piece of work!


I read translated edition, by Bentang Pustaka

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