The Biggest Secret

The conspiracy theory of society...comes from abandoning God and then asking: "Who's in his place?"
             ---Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, London, Routledge, 1969, iv, p. 123  

PhotobucketThere is a great danger in man's obsession with historical theories and other self-fulfilling prophecies. Time and time again the power of conviction without a solid proof is in his blood because man by nature, is a believer. There's nothing wrong with believing. The problem is in the person when he becomes obsessed.

Umberto Eco's FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM warns us of that danger. This intellectual adventure story of the first order warns us about the number of writers employing the strategy on tackling historical theories and claiming that they are most probably true (like Dan Brown did and the rest of his clones). There is a thin line that separates entertainment from truth, but when spiteful reactions spawn irresponsibly from the unproven conviction of this never ending search for the truth about the Templar Knights and other secret societies, the damage is already done to the global consciousness and the once united structure are breaking into pieces and factions before we know it. Rephrasing a nugget from the late Martin Luther King Jr,-- humanity must learn to live together as brothers if we don't want to perish together as fools.

Back to the novel, the novel actually starts near the ending and zooms you back to its origin. From that, you will take a roller coaster ride deeper into diverse narrative genres of detective stories, commentaries on the publishing world, philosophical discourses, social realism and science, nationalism, romantic love, comradeship, historical theories, fanaticism, religion, and adventure. Eco did it effectively without sacrificing his sage-like witticism and sarcasm and for that, this novel entered the literary status. If you're intimidated by the page blurb from Time saying that it's endlessly diverting, I advise you not to believe in it. The series of historical (and Jewish) addendum is important (including those medieval and hermetic quotes in the form of their original languages) for they only add up to the novel's unique atmosphere of the arcane and the secret knowledge. I consider this book as more of a Speculative History than Historical Fiction and I enjoyed the verbal antics of the major characters.          

If you're hungry for historical conspiracy theories, this book is a repository of them. And if you see yourself overwhelmed by the labyrinthine chase in history on who-dun-it and predator-prey dichotomy (the main characters talk on lots of eccentric, shadowy, historical characters like Marx, Aleister Crowley, Count Cagliostro, De Molay, et. al.) don't worry, there is an Enlightenment chapter, the main character Casaubon will summarize it all.

Another good part of this novel are the parallel stories on Casaubon's romantic struggles with Amparo, and then with Lia, and also Belbo's struggles with Lorenza and other women, and his childhood love and war stories in an undisclosed European countryside. This is surely a man's book and I will miss reading it. Eco depicted Casaubon's wife Lia to be an ideal woman. She's not scared of saying you're an idiot, and she always know how to enlighten and clear a fuzzy mind of a man absorbed in his day's work with care. Smart, gutsy, nerdy, and practical chick--an opposite to Lorenza's tempting and sultry character.

Diotallevi's wisdom of a dying man is also highly memorable, because he sees the major folly of playing with historical facts and turning them into more dangerous theories--The Plan, that their readers will easily believe without a doubt. Fanatics feed their own beliefs and Diotallevi is remorseful of that. Karma is employing Science against Diotallevi, and I admire him for being brave in facing it. It all started with The Plan; the three writers of the arcana--- Belbo, Casaubon, and Diotallevi started it all upon obtaining a secret list from an aging Colonel Ardenti, and Belbo's final resolution for all of this in facing the inevitable alone is also highly admirable. His tragic end at the Pendulum is highly symbolic.  

Overall, the novel's major message is that there can only be two answers to a secret. The first answer is a major disappointment (secrets not so very grand and epic), and the second is there's actually no secret at all.    

Tragicomic it may sound, but that is the final answer to the biggest secret of them all.

random but notable passages:

Whenever a poet or preacher, chief or wizard spouts gibberish, the human race spends centuries deciphering the message. The Templar's mental confusion makes them indecipherable. That's why many people venerate them.

Amparo had made up her mind: religion was always the opiate of the people, and pseudo-tribal cults were even worse. But when I held her by the waist in the escolas de samba, joining in the snaking lines to the unbearable rhythm of the drums, I realized that she clung to that world with the muscles of her belly, her heart, her head, her nostrils...Afterward, she was the first to offer a bitter, sarcastic analysis of the orgiastic character of people's religious devotion--week after week and month after month---to the rite of the carnival.

"Mysticism is a democratic, if not demagogic phenomenon; initiation is aristocratic."

"But nowadays all you need was information; everybody was greedy for information, especially if it was out of date."

"Oh, it's a game. I met him at a friend's place--all right? And I find him fascinating. He kisses my hand as if I were a princess. He could be my father." 
"He could be the father of your son, if you aren't careful."
It sounded like me, in Bahia, talking to Amparo. Lorenza was right. Aglie know how to kiss the hand of a young lady unfamiliar with that ritual."

"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 a Secret."

Rating: 5 laundry lists
Genre: Speculative History, Adventure, Satire, Mystery

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