Il pendolo di Foucault
Foucault’s Pendulum is a book written by the Italian writer Umberto Eco. To me, it was his most known work after The Name of the Rose, which I read when I was 16 or something, and which I really enjoyed. The writer had recently passed away when I ran into some of his books in a supermarket in Italy, and this title caught my attention, so I went ahead and bought a copy.
A word on the plot
The book is the story of a young student who finds himself involved in what he and his friends thought a big game, which at some point becomes serious and dangerous. For a series of circumstances, the protagonist, Casaubon, starts consulting a huge number of documents about occult history, starting from the Templars but rapidly expanding to include anything which could be reached by association, as he himself explains late in the book, when he realizes what they are doing: They think they have found a Plan, as it has been designed by some secret society, according to which a group of people has accumulated some mysterious knowledge along 6 centuries, and is looking for the missing piece to carry out their plan of world domination. And the 3 friends (Casaubon, Jacopo Belbo, and Diotallevi) have deciphered the Plan by making associations between documents, with the sole constraint of each association having been made by someone else before, even better if more than one.
The plot starts getting dangerous when someone else seems to be interested in their Plan as something actually existing.
The great idea of the book is that people get stupid following secrets that don’t even exist, and what Casaubon and friends do is actually to mock exactly this kind of people. The tragedy is that even though all their connections are a joke, there are people ready to believe to them, and these people can become a real threat, like everyone who believes blindly in any ideology. The great thing about this book are the reflections on human nature and on people with a consuming desire to understand the unknown, at the point of not accepting their lack of understanding, and recurring to irrational, magic and rituals and secrets and all sort of fantasy, in order to give what seems to them a sound interpretation of what happens in the world.
And how many times you listen to a bad teacher, who mocks you and excludes you from some so-called knowledge only for the initiated, and in this finds a form of power? The fools.
Now, I didn’t really like the book. I mean, it was a good read and I am happy I did it. The plot is good and interesting; but it feels at times too lengthy, too detailed. You know the author knows his stuff. It is comforting to know that there have been people in the History that have actually believed this kind of ideas. But the references are just too many, and at some point, you go through pages and pages of them. I enjoyed the parts where a character would summarize his findings and tell a story. I wouldn’t enjoy those where they go researching themselves and add up to the material. I understand they do that to mimic the process and effort of a research, but these parts take just too long, to the point of losing my interest for pages at a time, where I would read on to understand where all of this would end up to.
There is an exceptional answer given by Umberto Eco in the occasion of an interview to The New York Times Magazine to the question: Do you think your book has influenced Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?