"Revisiting history: conspiracies and fabrication of texts in Foucault's Pendulum and The Prague Cemetery".
In October of 2010, a few days after the publication of The Prague Cemetery, Eco became the target of bizarre criticism. It started with the views expressed by Lucetta Scaraffia, a history professor who writes for L'Osservatore Romano, Riccardo di Segni, chief Rabbi of Rome, and Prof. Anna Foa, a reporter for the Jewish paper Pagine ebraiche. They suggested that in The Prague Cemetery, although unwillingly, Eco flirts with anti-Semitism. (4) Actually, ambiguity and anti-Semitism were first mentioned by Anthony Burgess in 1989. In "A Conspiracy to Rule the World'--an excellent review not entirely free of skepticism--Burgess spoke of Foucault's Pendulum in terms that are also applicable to The Prague Cemetery:
The world, as we know, is full of conspiracy hunters. Sometimes the conspirators are the C.I.A., sometimes the makers of Coca-Cola, or all the Jews, all the Catholics the ultimate conspiracy synthesizes all possible conspiracies--il complotto dei complotti--and one wonders what precisely they are complotting against. No matter. A plot is a structure, a semiotic fabrication [...] In some of the European newspapers, Mr. Eco has also been called anti-Semitic, a charge that has been thrown around irresponsibly about many authors. The accusation probably stems from his resurrection here of the specious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which naturally form part of the cosmic conspiracy... (5) (my italics)
With The Prague Cemetery some readers who do not appreciate Eco's art of applying parody, intertextuality and polyphony to a montage of the already said also accused him of plagiarism. For Eco this was a familiar accusation. (6) In 2004 in a lecture on "Combinatoria della creativita" (combinatorics of creativity) he quoted once again Blaise Pascal's Pensees: "Qu'on ne dise pas que je n'ai rien dit de nouveau: la disposition des matieres est nouvelle" ("One cannot say that I have not said anything new: the arrangement of the material is new"). (7) With this affirmation in support of the art of montage Eco was responding in a clever intertextual way to those who were criticizing his art of bricolage (8) of the deja vu, beginning with The Name of the Rose. Two of the alleged misappropriations in Cemetery were Norman Cohn's Warrant for Genocide (1967) and Giuseppe Cesare Abba's diary novel Da Quarto al Volturno (1891). Abba, like Cesare Bandi and the novelist Ippolito Nievo who died in a mysterious shipwreck (March 4, 1861), had followed Garibaldi on his expedition during the war of Italian Unification. However, Eco has referred to Cohn's essay and in the novel he explicitly mentioned Abba and Bandi. (9)
In other countries the novel has been reviewed favorably. (10) In France, including the ironic review of Pierre-Andre Taguieff in Le Figaro, Le cimetiere de Prague received high praise. In the United States, following the polemics incited in Italy by Di Segni and Scaraffia, perhaps as a precaution, on the back cover of The Prague Cemetery there appears a paratextual blurb signed by Cynthia Ozick, a well known writer and longtime fighter of anti-Semitism. She warns superficial readers who may not understand Eco's irony:
A J'accuse is always timely, but there has rarely been anyone to write it-until the advent of falsely demonic Umberto Eco, a Zola posing as the devil. His is a satanically dangerous novel, as are all ironic tales, especially if they should fall into the hands of a naive reader. So: naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers, keep away! This magnificently sly, scarifying, circuitous, history-besotted jape is meant solely for the wise, the intrepid, and ... the righteous.
In addition to different categories of readers Eco (1984) has spoken about his strategies of double coding and has explained how and for whom he writes, as well as the difference between truth in fiction and truth in reality in essays collected in On Literature (2002) and in Confessions of a Young Writer (2011). (11)
Since his first novel Eco has been constructing ingenious possible worlds (Pavel; Dolezel) rich with historical, philosophical, theological and semiotic inquiries with at least two types of readers in mind: one erudite and more knowledgeable of intertextuality, metafiction, semiotics and literary theories; the other, more familiar with different elements of popular culture ranging from comic books to music, theater, films and TV shows. This, however, does not imply that one category excludes the other. Eco's narratological strategy takes into consideration, just as Leslie Fiedler advocated, the importance of crossing the border and closing the gap between the two cultures in his historic essay "Cross the Border-Close the Gap" (Collected Essays 461-85). Foucault's Pendulum is Eco's most intellectually engaging narrative written with allusions to French cultural gurus like M. Foucault, LeviStrauss and R. Barthes, as well as to narratological and literary theories of R. Quenau and the Oulipo, the Gruppo '63, J. Derrida, G. Genette and M. Bakhtin--all in vogue in the 70s and 80s. Nonetheless, the novel can be enjoyed as a suspenseful mystery fiction about the Grail, Templars, Masons, coded messages, search for knowledge, conspiracy theories, golems and secret symbols.
The Prague Cemetery has been described by a wide variety of reviewers as being complex, confusing, too long, ambiguous, compelling and dense with information. These labels are essentially true of all Eco's novels. With his sixth novel he has once again shown his coherence in exploiting the intricate webs of history and intertextuality. I am referring to his rhizomatic network of references to other texts and cultural events as well as to his practice of making clever intratextual allusions to the whole corpus of his own work--a self-reflexive intertexuality of his novels, essays and semi-autobiographical anecdotes. (12) In my reading, as soon as I encountered in the opening chapters names and topics such as Piedmont, Paris, Haussmann, flaneur, fog, Templars, amnesia, trauma, forging, secret services, feuilleton and the search for identity, my reaction was to look for more intratextual references to Foucault's Pendulum, Baudolino and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. And once the theme of the double (Simonini-Dalla Piccola) became central it was also a question of whether Eco was sending us back to Roberto della Grive and Ferrante in The Island of the Day Before.
As I am about to discuss, in addition to thematic elements such as secrets, secret societies and plotting (Simmel) and to the fact that several chapters of Foucault's Pendulum (especially chapters 73 and 90 to 97) refer specifically to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", there are also narratological and structural analogies that link these two novels. Both novels illustrate the metanarrative relationships between forgery and writing fiction. We have already seen this narrative strategy in Baudolino. In essence we witness how the forging of a fictitious text within the story mirrors the outer fabrication of the novel being read. The Prague Cemetery is essentially a sequel--if not a long digression-to Foucault's Pendulum. Let's not forget that the answer to the question "what is the connection between The Protocols and our Plan?" (483) is provided by Casaubon and Diotallevi as they reveal the metamorphosis, or better, how The Plan is derived from The Protocols. They also explain how the Templar conspiracy has been constructed with legends through the ages in a variety of historical and fictional texts:
It's the sense of deja vu. The upshot is that these Elders are planning to conquer the world, and we've heard all that before. Take away the references to events and problems of the last century, replace the tunnels of the Metro with the tunnels of Provins, and everywhere it says Jews write Templars, and everywhere it says Elders of Zion write Thirty-six Invisibles divided into six ... My friends, this is the Ordonation of Provins! (485)
Setting aside a discussion on 'transtextuality' and 'hypotext' versus 'hypertext' (Genette), there are some major differences that separate these two novels that deal with the irrational and empty secrets. For example, in Foucault's Pendulum the focus is on the satire, irony and parody that accompany the forging of an outlandish universal secret conspiracy called "The Plan." In Cemetery there are ethical and moral issues that readers must consider. After all, while in Pendulum the fabrication of a bad joke hurts mainly Casaubon and his partners, in The Prague Cemetery those who concocted The Protocols continue to hurt millions of innocent people.
The two novels show a major shift from witty parodies of secret sects, lunatics and esoteric literature in the first, to devious forgery, outright lies, propaganda and plagiarism in the second. Furthermore, Foucault's Pendulum is a divertissement noir and a bitter satire against hermetic semiosis, circular thinking, vanity presses, pompous intellectuals and gullible people who fall for secret societies like TRES, Rosicrucians and Templars and for revisionist history, misinformation, the occult and paranoia. A topic that Eco has treated in several essays, in his Bustina di Minerva in L'Espresso, and most recently in an article that appeared in the daily La Repubblica ("Variazioni sul Pendolo") where he speaks about Simmel, secrets, 9-11, Rosicrucians and Wikileaks. By contrast, The Prague Cemetery is a bitter ironic criticism of people who in need of an enemy, or of a scapegoat, choose to believe in conspiracies responsible for their misfortunes and for all the evil in the world--people, we should add, that are suspicious of anyone who is different and that choose hate over love. Hate, as stated by Rackhovsky, is natural:
But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same. Hatred has to be cultivated as a civic passion. The enemy is the friend of the people. You always want someone to hate in order to feel justified in your own misery. Hatred is the true primordial passion. It is love that's abnormal. That is why Christ was killed: he spoke against nature. You don't love someone for your whole life--that impossible hope is the source of adultery, matricide, betrayal of friends ... But you can hate someone for your whole life, provided he's always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart (342).
The Name of the Rose was the initial evidence that Eco excels in narrating stories that reflect his overwhelming erudition, his ongoing research, his own writings and his love for pop culture. As it is evident from the essays in Saggi su Il nome della rosa (1985), various aspects of 'Eco in fabula' (Stephens 1985; Capozzi 1988; Coletti 1988; Hutcheon 1992) were noticed by several scholars. After the publication of Foucault's Pendulum I began to notice that before and after the publication of every one of his novels Eco often discusses specific topics and characters from his possible worlds, in essays, lectures and in the often satirical but always informative column "La Bustina di Minerva" in L'Espresso. On the topic of conspiracies, two examples of the "Bustina" are: "La Sindrome del sospetto" and "Una bella Compagnia" (see note 9)--both columns were written while he was composing The Prague Cemetery. And as we see in an interview with Gianni Riotta, (13) Eco in 2005 was already commenting on conspiracy theories, the Protocols, K. Popper and W. Eisner. In 2004 he had written the introduction to Eisner's The Plot giving his views on The Protocols.
In my article on "Interpretation and Overinterpretation" I had mentioned that "anyone who has worked on Eco has quickly learned that it is almost impossible to discuss his writings without also mentioning how the author has already commented on the same issues. This is because Eco has an uncontrollable temptation in wanting to expound [...] on everything he writes. Consequently he often reveals some of the intertextual references in his writings and at times even responds to a few controversial reactions coming from his critics" (Reading Eco 224). Today I would add that he has an uncontrollable temptation to rewrite, except for A Theory of Semiotics (1976), what he has written in the past. This is the case for several of his essays and the revisions of II nome della rosa (2011) and Il Pendolo di Foucault (2013).
Foucault's Pendulum was published in the midst of numerous texts and movies dedicated to paranoia and secret conspiracies. In the area of fiction, setting aside esoteric texts, we recall for example the success of Thomas Pynchon's V (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Gravity's Rainbow (1973) which in a short period of time went from being popular bestsellers to object of studies in many universities. However, it is essential to point out that in Italy through the 1970s and 1980s there grew a widespread cynical attitude called dietrologia--essentially a syndrome of suspicion and paranoia that asked what lurked in the background of terrorist killings, suicides, kidnappings and intricate chains of scandals involving business magnates, politicians and the Vatican Bank. In the novel, among several social and political references such as the popularity of pinball machines and JB whisky, the 1968 student revolution and Italy's "gli anni di piombo" (years of lead), the "P2" (14) and the Black and Red Brigades, we read about Aldo Moro's execution on May 9, 1978 and the bomb explosion in the train station of Bologna on August 2, 1980.
Among his many fields of research Umberto Eco has a long record of interest in pop culture, fakes, forgeries and hyper-reality. (15) This, together with his studies on the hermetic tradition, cabala and the Torah, (16) is all evident in Foucault's Pendulum. By combining his encyclopedic competence with his skills in entertaining while teaching, Eco produced his second erudite intertextual divertissement that functions like a cognitive tool. The dynamic epistemological process present in every one of Eco's novels brings to mind the definition of sign by C.S. Peirce: "A sign is something by knowing which we know something more". (17) If we substitute "sign" with the word "text" we can appreciate how Eco puts into practice cognitive concepts of C. S. Peirce and I. Kant on the links between experience, perceiving, understanding, and interpreting signs. Indeed, by reading his texts we get to know a lot more about many topics including logic and mass communication. In the two novels here under examination we certainly learn more about the process of fabricating and disseminating false information by repeating a falsehood over and over again while also suggesting that it is secret news.
People love secret knowledge. Foucault's Pendulum and The Prague Cemetery are perfect illustrations of Eco's remarkable art of docere et delectare applied in engaging narratives full of ideas that force the reader to ask what does the novel really mean? We recall that William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose tells Adso: "Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means" (316).
Eco loves to delve into history. It is beyond the scope of this paper to illustrate how history, memory and rewriting enriched by imagination are key ingredients of a recurring formula applied in his novels, each grounded in periods of history characterized by changes and issues that continue to concern today's society. Eco's studies on memory, as evident in Yambo's recovery of his identity in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004) and in the scholarly study La Memoria vegetale (2007), extend from classic texts to more recent ones such as Paolo Rossi's Clavis universalis. Arti della memoria e logica combinatoria (1960; 1983) and Il Passato, la memoria e l'oblio (2001), (18) Frances Yates' The Art of Memory (1966), Lina Bolzoni's The Gallery of Memory (1995), and Paul Ricoeur's La memoire, l'histoire, l'oubli (2000). I also think that the study of his fellow medievalist and historian Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory--a text rich in discussions on "the ghost of the past" and "history of the present" (15) which appeared in Italy in 1977--may have been a major anxiety of influence for Eco a year before he adventured into the arena of novel writing. Eco has explained the interaction of past and present in "Postmodernism, Irony" in Postscript to The Name of the Rose (65-72).
Casaubon, who echoes M. Bakhtin when he admits: "I loved the polyphony of ideas" (50), explains the importance of one's past and the concept of docere et delectare in a typical Eco fashion:
I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. When I was ten, I asked my parents to subscribe to a weekly magazine that was publishing comic-strip versions of the great classics of literature. My father, not because he was stingy, but because he was suspicious of comic strips, tried to beg off. "The purpose of this magazine," I pontificated, quoting the ad, "is to educate the reader in an entertaining way (49; my italics).
Simonini, instead, blames his past believing that he was conditioned, from childhood, by his anti-Jewish grandfather, by his anti-clerical and mason father, by his first employer, the dishonest lawyer and forger Rebaudengo, by Machiavellian Jesuits and, psychologically (his first trauma), by the young Jewish girl who ridiculed his sexual advance. In reality it is because of his greed that he is easily convinced and coerced by others to spy, forge and commit murder.
Chapter 118 of Pendulum begins with a quote from Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations: "The conspiracy theory of society [...] comes from abandoning God and then asking: Who is in his place?" (617). (19) Later in the chapter Casaubon mentions G.K. Chesterton's alleged (20) aphorism: "When people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything" (620). We recall that the three protagonists, instead of using common sense, as advocated by Lia, end up believing in their Plan which had started as a joke. Unfortunately, it is their own powerful, uncontrollable and dangerous golem (21) that kills them: Diotallevi is dying of a cancer, Belbo is hung in the Conservatoire des Arts et Mdtiers, and Casaubon, in the closing page of the novel is waiting for his killers in the hills of Piedmont.
Popper and Chesterton's words about God, resonate in Eco's basic belief that when people lose sight of history/the past then they believe in anything that a society of images and spectacle, a government, or people thirsty for power feed to us using the power of the media. The classic futuristic dystopian novels of George Orwell, 1984 (1949) and Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953) are excellent examples of mind and social manipulation. On the same track Foucault's Pendulum and The Prague Cemetery are provocative historical illustrations of monumental lies/fakes becoming real for people ready to believe in anything and everything. Guy De Bord in The Society of Spectacle (1967), Eco in Travels in Hyperreality (1975), Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (1981) and The Transparency of Evil (1993), and more recently, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa in La civilizacion del espectaculo (2012) have examined how today we fuse and confuse much too easily the real with the artificial and the simulated. Often this is the result of the excesses of power of advertising and of the media in general but also of the proliferation of superficiality, the trivialization of culture and the reduction of everything to mere entertainment. We must ask: are we far from Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man (1964)?
Casaubon, Belbo and Diotallevi are protagonists and victims of an imaginary Plan that attracts lunatics and fanatics who fall prey to fictitious conspiracy theories dating back to the Knights Templars. Initially the three protagonists were concerned with the proliferation of esoteric texts like The Baphomet by Pierre Klossowski (1965), The Illuminati Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (1975), and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh (1987). These cult texts have generated a myriad of mystery novels dealing with coded messages, secret societies, deciphering mysterious symbols and infernal plots for controlling the world. The thrilling adventures of James Bond who fights global criminal organizations like Spectre and Indiana Jones's globetrotting sagas in search of a variety of holy and powerful grails come to mind mainly because allusions to Bond and Jones are present in Eco's novels. In Pendulum the Templar's Plan to control the "telluric currents" in order to control the world sounds very much like a Spectre threat to be thwarted by James Bond.
We should also take into consideration how many novels dealing with Templars, metaphoric grails and decrypting coded messages have been published around the world in the last three decades, and how often on the dust jacket of these novels we find references to Umberto Eco (22) and the Dan Brown phenomenon. In Italy, worth mentioning are two novels. Gunther of Amalfi. Knight Templar (1989), by the journalist and historian Franco Cuomo, which came out soon after Pendulum and started a trend of neo-historical novels featuring symbols and secret codes linked to Templars, Rosicrucians, Cathars and Masons. And Q (1994), a historical thriller about spies, terrorism and conspiracies during the Protestant reformation, written by four young writers using the pseudonym Luther Blisset, now known as the Wu Ming. Q is of particular importance because for a while, given the myriad of historical information and the complex structure of the novel some critics believed that it had been written with the help of Eco (Pina d'Aria).
In Holy Blood and Holy Grail, cited in chapter 66 of Pendulum, we find this interesting passage:
The Protocols propound in outline a blueprint for nothing less than total world domination. On first reading they would seem to be the Machiavellian programme, a kind of inter-office memo, so to speak for a group of individuals determined to impose a new world order, with themselves as supreme despots. The text advocates a many-tentacled hydra-headed conspiracy dedicated to disorder and anarchy, to toppling certain existing regimes, infiltrating Freemasonry and other such organizations, and eventually seizing absolute control of the Western world's social, political and economic institutions. And the anonymous authors of the Protocols declare explicitly that they 'stage-managed' whole peoples 'according to a political plan which no one has so much as guessed at in the course of many centuries. To a modern reader the Protocols might seem to have been devised by some fictitious organization like SPECTRE--James Bond's adversary in Ian Fleming's novels (189).
These words bring to mind the Plan of Casaubon and friends as well as Eco's essay, "The Narrative Structures in Fleming" that attracted Italo Calvino's attention. (23) However, to quote Casaubon and Belbo's ironic refrain: "let's not digress" (e.g.122, 144, 469).
In "Fictional Protocols," the last chapter of Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994), Eco outlines a brief history of The Protocols and provides a diagram (138) illustrating the evolution of the forgery. He also points out that some people have not accepted that the document is a forgery, even though in 1921 Philip Graves in the London Times had unveiled the truth and subsequently many others have argued that it is a hoax. Eco quotes Nesta Webster whom he had mentioned in Pendulum:
She was ... aware of the Times revelations, and knew the entire history of Nilus, Rachkovsky, Goedsche, and so on (she was ignorant only of the connections with Dumas and Sue, which are my own discovery). Here is her conclusion: "The only opinion to which I have committed myself is that, whether genuine or not, the Protocols do represent the programme of world revolution, and in view of their prophetic nature and their extraordinary resemblance to the protocols of certain secret societies in the past, they were either the work of some such society or of someone profoundly versed in the love of secret societies who was able to reproduce their ideas and phraseology" (137-38).
Webster's syllogism sounds even more absurd when we consider its similarity to a statement of Adolph Hitler from's Mein Kampf cited in the Appendix of The Prague Cemetery:
How much the whole existence of this people is based on a permanent falsehood is apparent in the famous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Every week the Frankfurter Zeitung whines that they are based on a forgery: and here lies the best proof that they are genuine ... When this book becomes the common heritage of all people, the Jewish peril can then be considered as stamped out (404). (24)
Foucault's Pendulum abounds with freewheeling connections often accompanied by ironic statements about the three protagonists' modus operandi, such as: 'Better to rewrite the books of others' (23), or, "Why write novels? Rewrite history. The history that then comes true" (529). Which is precisely what Simonini and company do in The Prague Cemetery. In both novels we detect Eco's cynicism in seeing history as an accumulation of falsehoods and forgeries from the "Donation of Constantine" to the legendary Letter of Prester John, the Corpus Hermeticum, religious relics in the Middle Ages and, more recently, the weapons of mass destruction and the War in Iraq. But if Foucault's Pendulum can be enjoyed as an erudite ironic historical thriller, The Prague Cemetery can perhaps be seen, especially by those who in general detest postmodernism, as a docu-fiction (new realism? (25)) that illustrates how Eco's cynical concept of history is in line with Popper's views in "Conspiracy theory of society":
The belief in the Homeric gods whose conspiracies explain the history of the Trojan War is gone. The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups--sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from--such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists. (Conjectures 341-2)
I believe that Pendulum and Cemetery show us Eco in agreement with Georg Simmel on secret societies and especially with Popper's notions on truth, falsehood, (26) objective knowledge, ignorance, tradition, conspiracies and "History (socio-political, moral and intellectual)" (364). Eco definitely agrees with Popper's warning that we must always adopt a "critical attitude" (122) when we accept or reject truths, lies and myths. Let's consider another statement from Conjectures and see how it relates to the philosophical discourse that Eco undertakes with his readers:
Knowledge, the possession of truth, need not be explained. But how can we ever fall into error if truth is manifest? The answer is: through our own sinful refusal to see the manifest truth; or because our minds harbor prejudices inculcated by education and tradition, or other evil influences which have perverted our originally pure and innocent minds. Ignorance may be the work of powers conspiring to keep us in ignorance, to poison our minds by filling them with falsehood, and to blind our eyes so that they cannot see the manifest truth (7).
This is a key argument that also runs through Eco's Turning Back the Clock (A passo di gambero, 2006). I am referring to his writings on how and why today we often repeat mistakes made in the past, including religious wars. Eco argues that it is as if history were moving backwards (like a gambero, a crab). Popper has said about history: "I believe that it is much easier for us to regress than to progress" (Conjectures 365). In essence, Eco abhors historical amnesia and advocates very strongly historical consciousness. It is no coincidence that in his novels in the discussions about the past we recognize allusions to the present and viceversa.
In Foucault's Pendulum we see Eco combining the Borgesian "Library of Babel" with a Deleuzian rhizomatic network of associations and connections within the universal encyclopedia of knowledge, while ironically toying with the notions of infinite semiosis and hermetic drift. We recall that the modus operandi of the three protagonists in fabricating the Plan is to connect and construct. Casaubon states: "the idea is not to discover the Templar's secret, but to construct it" (383). Two of the most recurring verbs throughout the novel are in fact to construct and to connect. And so Casaubon, Belbo and Diotallevi mix freely esoteric texts, historical facts, science and cabala. But by allowing their creative imaginations to run wild they lose perspective of what is real and what is fiction, and confuse a shopping list with a coded message (see Chapter 87). They give in to the irrational and become like Colonel Ardenti, Aglie, Prof. Bramanti and the Diabolics, and thus become like the 'lunatics' that they had initially ridiculed.
Belbo summarizes what has happened as he confesses having abused free associations, unlimited semiosis and hermetic drift of meaning: "I am dying because I convinced myself that there was no order, that you could do whatever you liked with any text ... I am dying because we were imaginative beyond bounds" (567). This is just one of several clues suggesting that the novel deals with literary and philosophical theories associated with poststructuralism and deconstructionism and with a rejection of the notion that "tout se tient" (179, 289, 618). A clue also implied in Lia's warning to Casaubon about reading too much into the alleged coded Templar's list. Without mentioning specifically Foucault and Derrida, Maria Corti was among the first reviewers to suspect that Eco was targeting literary theories, while A. Asor Rosa actually spoke on the issue of interpretation. (27) Eco has clarified his disagreements with deconstructionist theories in The Limits of Interpretation (1990) and later in his debates with Richard Rorty in Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992). He has never maintained a Nietzchean notion that there are no facts but only interpretations nor the Derridean proverbial "il ny a pas de hors-texte" (Derrida 158). Also, he has never refuted the concept of the self-sufficient text (Riffaterre) but insists that even though a text can have many meanings, it cannot be used to say what it does not want to say. In The Open Work (1962) and The Role of the Reader (1979) Eco has discussed the relationships between texts and readers popularized mainly by reader reception theories (Iser).
As I mentioned, in The Prague Cemetery there are numerous elements that recall Foucault's Pendulum. Of particular interest are the structural and narratological strategies that link the two novels. For example, the mixture of three voices. In Pendulum we have the voice of the first person narrator Casaubon mixed with those in free indirect speech of Belbo and Diotallevi. The graphic appearance of the text also draws our attention. From the opening page we notice different fonts being used for the epigraphs, digressions, quotations and above all for Belbo's files (28) from the computer Abulafia. In terms of its structure, the tree of the 10 Sefirots serves as a paratextual element. A diagram of the tree appears before the title page. We soon discover that it is the first allusion to the theme of creation from nothingness (for God and the narrator), (29) as well as to cabala and secrets. The Sefirots are also used for the division of the novel into 10 sections and 120 (30) short chapters. Each chapter begins with at least one epigraph from a vast variety of texts. These are some of the elements that underline the nature of a fragmented and decentered narration that does not follow a linear and chronological sequence of events. Casaubon reconstructs the events with flashbacks and digressions, starting from when he first met Belbo in the Bar Pilade in 1972. And although the time span of the entire story covers two decades, the time frame of Casaubon's fabulation--the remembering (31) and recounting of the fabrication of The Plan--covers four days, from June 23 (32) to June 27 of 1984. In terms of point of view, in Foucault's Pendulum the three voices provide, for the most part, a joint point of view, whereas in The Prague Cemetery we have two schizophrenic voices that require an internal Narrator for clarifications and coordination of what they are saying.
It is a fact that Eco excels in the art of contextualizing. Every one of his novels reflects accurately the history and culture of the times in which they are set. The Prague Cemetery is unmistakably written and structured like a 19th century feuilleton containing illustrations related to the story. Eco revisits the age of some of his favorite narrators such as Dumas (see his cameo appearance in Chapter 7 where he joins Garibaldi in Sicily), Hugo, Eugene Sue and Manzoni, as well as a century of revolutions and socio-political turmoil in Europe. Once again we find three narrating voices. Two are in first person: that of Simone Simonini and of his split-self and alter-ego Abbot Dalla Piccola, the other belongs to the third person Narrator who attempts to put order to the often contradictory interpolations of Simonini and Dalla Piccola. The anonymous voice of the internal Narrator is similar to that of the author who in the Appendix explains the differences between plot and story and outlines the chronology of events recounted in the diaries. And we would agree that in a novel about spies and counterspies it is befitting that the Narrator should behave like a spy on behalf of the reader, as he reads and comments on the pages of the diaries. Moreover, each voice appears in a distinctly different font. Also, just as in Pendulum, graphic appearance, digressions, flashbacks and numerous quotations accentuate the montage of a decentered narrative. Here the large timeframe of historical events spreading from 1830 to 1898 is recounted in Simonini's and Dalla Piccola's journal entries in a few weeks, from March 24 to April 19, 1897. The last two diaries, those of November 10 and December 20 of 1898, serve as a conclusion to the novel.
And thus, in both novels we find an extensive historical timeframe being reconstructed by narrators who recall through flashbacks and digressions, in a short period of time, a myriad of events trying to understand the complexities of actions and circumstances that lie behind the dilemma facing them at the beginning and at the end of the novel. We also notice overt metanarrative and self-reflexive references to the act of writing and narrating. Indeed, metanarrative clues and self-ironic allusions to Eco's practice of constructing possible worlds for generating interpretations are all in the open. Notwithstanding, in terms of the narratological strategies of mirror games and self-referentiality, although we can be tempted to examine if and how Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon are complementary split-selves and alter-Eco (clad with self-irony), contrary to Maurizio Ferraris' peculiar suggestion in his review "Capitain Simonini c'est moi" (Alfabeta2), it is difficult to imagine--even if only jokingly--that Simonini and his masquerading split-self Dalla Piccola reflect a dark side of Eco's inner voice (Eco becoming a Darth Vader?). Unlike William, Casaubon, Baudolino, Roberto and Yambo, Simonini is a character whose voice, through the distance of irony, is much too detached from the familiar rational, witty and erudite narrative voices of Umberto Eco.
Simonini is in part a fictionalized characterization of the Russian journalist and political activist Matvei Golovinski who operated with Pyotr Rackhovsky in the Paris office of the Czarist secret service organization, the Okhrana. In the Appendix and in several interviews Eco has stated that Simonini is the only fictional character in the novel; the other characters are all real historical figures. Simonini's gamut of sinister deeds begins with his first forgery in the office of Beraudengo in Turin, and continues with the long chain of deceits and crimes linked to Garibaldi's expedition, the death of Ippolito Nievo, spying in Paris during the Commune Revolution, the attempt on the life of Napoleon III, the Dreyfus Affair, his collaboration with French and Russian secret services, his assistance to the charlatan Leo Taxil and his sidekick Diana Waugh in their charade of conversion from Mason to Catholicism and their association with Palladians, his dealings with Jacob Brafmann, an anti-Semitic Jew converted to Christianity, selling his forgery to the Russian occultist Yuliana Glinka and, naturally, with his various roles in concocting The Protocols by exploiting literature and fierce promoters of anti-Semitism like Edouard Drumont, Osman Bey and Alphonse Toussenel.
Unlike his predecessor Baudolino, who also excels in the art of forging (e.g. the Letter of Prester John, religious relics and the holy grail) and narrating truths and lies to Emperor Barbarossa and Niketas Choniates, the greedy Simonini lacks scruples and morality because he has no consciousness of being evil. By his own admission he believes in nothing (26). A master at infiltrating revolutionary and conspiracy groups, Simonini is a proteiform, chameleon-like, ever-present character that resembles a mixture of Zelig and Forrest Gump, the parodic movie characters popularized by Woody Allen and Tom Hanks. He is too fictitious to be real and yet, like a modern Cagliostro, he stands for real persons who engage in all sorts of devious plans and spread misinformation that affect millions of people. The Prague Cemetery is indeed about truth being stranger than fiction.
The gluttonous misanthrope, schizophrenic, impersonator and murderer Simonini loves only food and has a passion for literature, especially for feuilletons like Dumas' Joseph Balsamo (1848) and Sue's Les mysteres du peuple (1857). With the exception of his favorite writers he hates everyone, Germans, French, Italians, and especially women and Jews, regardless of the fact that he knows very little about women and Jews. He collaborates with Father Bergamaschi (33) but dislikes Jesuits. Indeed, just as the Jews and the Masons, Jesuits are stereotyped and criticized. The caption under the image of three Jesuits summarizes very well Simonini's feelings inherited from his anticlerical father, it reads: "Jesuits are Masons dressed as women" (15). And we remember that in Foucault's Pendulum Belbo says: "a Jesuit could eat two Templars for breakfast and another two for dinner. They were also disbanded, and more than once ... but they're still here" (471-2).
The list of Simonini's hatred is very long; his life motto is "Odi ergo sum. I hate therefore I am" (17). The litany of hate grows in every chapter along with the number of gluttonous and reproachable characters. It is sufficient to see what he says about Italians: "The Italian is an untrustworthy, lying, contemptible traitor, finds himself more at ease with a dagger than a sword, better with poison than medicine, a slippery bargainer, consistent only in changing sides with the wind [...] The fact is that the Italians have modeled themselves on the clergy ..." (12).
That The Prague Cemetery may provoke sensibility issues regarding prejudice and racism is undeniable. This includes the novel's focus on a France that fights for libertY, fraternite et egalite while it sees growing sentiments of anti-Semitism. However, if at first we find disturbing and offensive the way that Simonini stereotypes and discredits people, we should get used to his outrageous comments because his hate is universal and it is clear that no specific religion or nationality is alone in being denigrated. Once again, Eco's aesthetic of excess (34) is very effective as he applies it to descriptions, recipes, string of plagiarisms, numerous quotations and to Simonini's gluttony. Eco has charged with parody and irony many of his quotations of racist stereotyped cliches--some obvious, others obscure, taken from texts and speeches of well known people such as Martin Luther, Celine, Nietzsche, Marx and Hitler. From the opening pages to the Appendix he is relentless with his jabs at those who in need of a scapegoat create an enemy and find ways of justifying why they believe in secret conspiracies.
Eco is right when he replies to Rabbi Di Segni saying that far from playing with anti-Semitism, he wanted to debunk The Protocols and that his intention was to give the reader a punch in the stomach. The Prague Cemetery illustrates how stereotyping can be used against any group of people, and how various instruments of promoting hate and constructing artificial enemies have been used for centuries. He is also right in saying that he is not to blame if there are readers who sympathize with Simonini. There are, after all, those who sympathize with liars, villains or criminals like Cagliostro, Casanova, Bonnie and Clyde and Charles Manson.
Eco begins the novel with an epigraph from Carlo Tenca's La ca'dei cani (1840). This paratextual element is the first clue (a first wink) warning the reader that hundreds of historical "episodes" will divert his attention from the "the principal action" of the story. At the end, to help those who get lost in the labyrinth, with a closing wink, the author provides an Appendix, ironically named "Useless Learned Explanations". But, if the ambiguity in playing with anti-Semitism is caused by having introduced a fictitious ruthless and clever scoundrel among numerous real historical figures, Eco is again right in replying that he has written a novel and not an historical essay. Perhaps the real reason why some criticize his art of narration is because they are not comfortable with Eco's subtle use of parody and irony (playful or otherwise) that he exploits together with intertextuality, metafiction, palimpsests, cross readings and double-voiced discourse (M. Rose 1979; 1999) starting with the preface of The Name of the Rose (but as we know his art of using satire, irony and parody goes back to his first Diario minimo, 1963). Nor are his critics happy with the fact that he does not provide at the end of his novels solutions or clear conclusions. (35) Could it be that they do not like ironic 'open works' that smell of postmodernism and 'weak thought'?
Nonetheless it is also true that from The Name of the Rose on we have seen that his novels often raise more questions than provide answers or absolute truths. William admits stumbling on the truth of the murders in the abbey "pursuing a semblance of order" (492). Casaubon affirms: "But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth" (95). In The Prague Cemetery Eco revisits, or better, "resurrects" (to recall Anthony Burgess' expression), a malicious hoax, but focuses mainly on the manipulators in the genesis of the Protocols. In other words, the culprits are not brought to justice. This encourages critics like Lucetta Scaraffia to claim that Eco has given a voyeuristic and amoral account of evil without actually denouncing anti-Semitism and therefore of playing a dangerous game.
A close reading of The Prague Cemetery shows that Eco often describes with caricature features his scoundrel characters like Simonini, Rebaudengo, Toussenel, Taxil, Diana Waugh, Drumont and Bergamaschi. Many of the illustrations in the novel are also caricatures. This, combined with the author's irony should suffice to suggest a sense of disdain towards those who concocted The Protocols. Eco has explained in interviews (36) that he has revisited historical discourses of Barruel, Cavour, Garibaldi, Drumont, Taxil, Toussenell, etc., but that it's up to the readers to understand what lies underneath their words. Readers must discern truths among narrative lies that combine imagination and irony (see Eco's Tra menzogna e ironia). As William reminded Adso in The Rose, readers should apply a critical attitude in reading a book. It's not the author's job to provide an explication du text. Eco made this clear in Postscript to The Name of the Rose: "A narrator should not supply interpretations of his work: otherwise he would not have written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations" (1-2).
Irony can be misunderstood. Linda Hutcheon has rightly argued that it is double edged: "Irony's edge cuts many ways" (Irony's Edge 75). This is a lesson that Casaubon and his friends learn the hard way. At the beginning of the novel Casaubon states: "I had to play this ironically, as I had been playing it until a few days before, not letting myself become involved" (10). Indeed, irony, playful and pungent, is exploited throughout Foucault's Pendulum. Readers must understand the function of irony that Eco has defined within the spirit of postmodernism in Postscript to The Name of the Rose: "Irony, metalinguistic play, enunciation squared. Thus, with the modern, anyone who does not understand the game can only reject it, but with the postmodern, it is possible not to understand the game and yet to take it seriously. Which is, after all, the quality (the risk) of irony" (68). In an interview published in Le Magazine Littdraire Eco reiterates that an ironic discourse can be ambiguous, it goes beyond language and it involves the author and the reader. (37)
Without entering into an in-depth discussion of Eco's remarkable practice of using irony, parody, quick quips, puns and winking at the reader, we should differentiate the abundance of humor in Foucault's Pendulum from the occasional comical relief in The Prague Cemetery. Throughout Pendulum it is easy to recognize satire, irony and humorous statements related to the imaginary Plan that originates with the Templars and continues with Paulicians, 'Bogomils', 'Cathars', 'Patarenes', 'Albigensians', Illuminati, Masons, Jesuits and Jews. Belbo often reminds his friends that: "The Templars have something to do with everything" (e.g. repeated three times in chapter 65). In a similar fashion Simonini insists repeatedly that it is important to show that the Jews have something to do with every conspiracy. However, there is very little humor in the intriguing genesis of The Protocols because we are constantly confronted with moral issues in dealing with lies associated with an infamous hoax that promotes hate. Indeed, in The Prague Cemetery we witness an outrageous but never amusing hoax. And I would add that if we are to speak of a ludic dimension in Cemetery this is found mostly in the structure of the novel and in the aesthetic of excess.
In Pendulum the dialogues between Casaubon (expert on the history of the Templars and eager to be a sleuth), Diotallevi (a devotee of cabala, he knows the Torah and believes that he is Jewish) and Belbo (a witty aspiring novelist who uses a computer befittingly named Abulafia), about their fabrication of the Plan through ridiculous associations are for the most part hilarious. How can one not laugh when reading about "Urban Planning for Gypsies," "A School of Comparative Irrelevance," "Templar phenomenology" or "Cabala applied to modern technology. IBM: Iesus Babbage Mundi, Iesum Binarium Magnificamur. AMDG: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam? Not on your life! Ars Magna, Digitale Gaudium! IHS: Iesus Hardware & Software!" (474). In contrast, Simonini's and his associates' ways of plotting, deceiving and forging are not funny, they are simply despicable.
In Cemetery there is some parodic erotic humor in the description of Dalla Piccola's sexual experience with Diana during a black mass. We may also find some dark humor in the charades of Leo Taxil and Diana, or in the surprising plagiarism that extends from Dumas' Joseph Balsamo, to Sue's Les mysteres du peuple, Joly's Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu, Goedsche's Biarritz and ending with Golovinski's final version. And perhaps we smile in seeing how the targeted enemy changes from Garibaldi's expedition, to French monarchy, to Masons, to Jesuits, to Napoleon III, to Jews. But there is no humor in following the intriguing evolution of anti-Semitism for nearly half a century, until The Protocols are published by Sergei Nilus in 1905. The events, whether they are narrated in a short story like "The Book of Kings and Fools" by Danilo Kis, or historicized in essays such as those of Philip Graves, Norman Cohn, Pierre-Andre Taguieff, and Cesare De Michelis, or illustrated in a graphic novel like Will Eisner's The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, do not invite laughter. In Pendulum it's natural to laugh with and at the three intelligent writers who rewrite history and make fun of empty secrets and stupidity. In Cemetery, faced with historical facts that show how blatant lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories are disseminated, we can only ridicule the fabricators of malicious propaganda and ask ourselves why some people do not recognize legends, fiction, prejudice and dangerous lies. On a lighter note, readers should appreciate Eco's irony in portraying Simonini as a clever impersonator and master of disguise who suddenly becomes schizophrenic and confused about his own identity, just as they should enjoy Eco's wit, for example, in constructing a scene in which Simonini meets Dr. Froide (37-46).
Foucault's Pendulum and The Prague Cemetery illustrate how people who seek power find a way to make words say what they want them to say. Casaubon says it very well: "I had a strict rule, which I think secret services follow too: No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them" (225). And thus we witness how comical and absurd free connections can be used to fabricate an outlandish plot that some people will find believable. In both novels Eco uses irony, parody and satire, at times to absurdity, in order to illustrate a point but in a final analysis proves that these are excellent instruments for allowing serious discussions. Then we recall how laughter was important in The Name of the Rose.
In Six Walks in the Fictional Woods Eco pointed out that his research on Dumas and Eugene Sue contributes to solving the puzzle of The Protocols. In his introduction to Will Eisner's The Plot, he reiterates the role of his research and underlines the moral and intellectual implications behind the reception of a hoax that continues to attract attention. Eco's introduction to Eisner's text should also be seen in light of his long history of strong support for comic books and graphic narratives such as Art Spiegelman's two volumes of Maus (I, 1986; II, 1991) because they are excellent popular art forms for teaching and remembering our history. We recall that nearly one third of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is rife with a variety of images (many from movies, comic books and political cartoons) that document several aspects of Italian life under Fascism. And we have seen how Casaubon comments on the art of docere et delectare. Nonetheless, the introduction to The Plot explains why Eco continues to be interested in The Protocols:
The most extraordinary aspect of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is not so much the history of its inception as that of its reception. That this fake was produced by a number of secret services and police of at least three countries, assembled from a collage of different texts, is by now a well-known fact--and Will Eisner tells it in full [...] But what seems incredible is how this fake arose from its own ashes each time someone proved that it was, beyond all doubt, a fake. This is when the "novel of the Protocols" truly starts to sound like fiction." [...] In other words, it is not the "Protocols" that produce anti-Semitism, it is people's profound need to single out an Enemy that leads them to believe in the Protocols. (38)
Eco's remarkable fusions of erudite scholarship, imagination, intertextuality and history have frequently been labelled as postmodern neo-historical fictions. Roland Barthes would have probably called them "writerly texts" (pleasurable reading; impossible to summarize). I have often referred to his multilayered narratives as encyclopedic hybrid fictions containing several interpretative possibilities. Eco likes to challenge his readers and we would agree that his brilliant mixtures of imagination, fiction and texts are all double coded and that they are not meant to provide either conclusions or absolute truths for the reader. His novels abound with elements of detective fiction because they underline the intricate mechanisms of interpretation. Therefore they are not easy reading and, because they are instruments for discussing ideas and for understanding and expanding knowledge, they are intended to function as cognitive tools that activate associations of words, images, ideas, fictional characters, historical events, cultural phenomena and innumerable texts. Furthermore, in all of them we recognize the presence of parody which for Eco in many ways functions like intertextuality, as a way of rereading and rewriting other texts (including his own). Briefly stated, Eco treats his novels as pedagogical instruments, or better as "epistemological metaphors" to use Eco's own expression applied to art in Opera aperta, p. 8 (The Open Work 84-104).
From The Rose to The Prague Cemetery Eco teaches us that knowledge is power. As a master of bricolage he loves to assemble narratives that focus on words and events from the past that are pertinent today. Eco is not afraid to flaunt erudition, self-referentiality and overt meta-narrativity. His texts certainly appeal to investigating readers who enjoy hunting sources and intertextual allusions--and thus, to those who like to enrich their own encyclopedic competence. While reading his novels one is tempted to connect to the internet (the electronic "universal library" that Eco redefines in The Infinity of Lists (39)), in order to acquire more knowledge about all sorts of names, events and books. Inquisitive readers willing to learn more will appreciate taking "inferential walks" (The Role of the Reader 13, 32) outside of Eco's text and into the labyrinths of libraries and encyclopedias, and will enjoy reading Eco as much as Eco enjoys writing his novels and winking at his readers. His novels require intellectual engagement, but ultimately we all agree that Eco possesses an enviable erudition, is full of wit and has a fervid "dialogic (historical, philosophical and literary) imagination." (40)
In closing I would like to quote two clever self-reflective and overt metanarrative statements from The Prague Cemetery: The first is by Golovinsky as he comments on Simonini's concoction: "Not bad for a cheap novel" (423). In the original it reads "non male per un romanzo d'appendice" (498). Romanzo d'appendice is another way of saying feuilleton, and this sends us back to "feuilleton" "dime novels" and "cheap novels" discussed by Belbo and Casaubon mainly in chapter 97 of Pendulum, but also to several of his earlier essays and to novels such as The Island of the Day Before and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. The second: "Certainly the papers your Narrator is browsing are full of surprise, and might be worth using one day as the basis for a novel" (271). In this playful game of mirrors we see Simonini advising Dalla Piccola as he winks at the internal Narrator acting as a reader of the diaries who in turn winks at the external Narrator, the author Eco, who is winking at his readers who recognize his familiar metaliterary motifs that he had already exploited in The Name of the Rose. For example in the conclusion, when Adso states: "what I have written on these pages, which you will now read, unknown reader" (501) and, above all, when Adso, recognizing his own life mirrored in various pages that he is leafing through in the Borgesian library that will soon burn, realizes that those books are telling him: "De te fabula narratur" (241). Indeed, Eco's novels are also about the readers. The Prague Cemetery is set in the 19th Century but it is mostly about us today and it entices us to read Eco's previous texts as well as many other books by many other authors.
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Holquist, Michael. Edited by. The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays by M. Bakhtin. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1981.
Hutcheon, Linda. Irony's Edge. New York: London: Routledge, 1994.
--. "Irony-clad Foucault" in Reading Eco. An Anthology. Ed. by R. Capozzi.
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997: 312-27.
Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
Jameson, Frederic. The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1972.
Kis, Danilo. The Encyclopedia of the Dead. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1989.
Lerner, Gad. "IL grande complotto', Repubblica, October 29, 2010.
Le Goff, Jacques. History and Memory. Translated by S. Rendall and E. Claman. Columbia UP. 1992.
Pansa, Francesca--Vinci, Anna. L'Effetto Eco. Roma: Edizioni del Gallo, 1990.
Pavel, Thomas G. Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard UP, 1986.
Pende, S., Regazzoni, E. "Francoforte, la sindrome Foucault. Eco e Narciso". L'Europeo. October 21, 1988, 142-5.
Peirce, Charles Saunders. Collected Papers 1931-1958. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958, vol. 8, 332.
Phiddian, Robert "Foucault's Pendulum and the Text of Theory," Contemporary Literature, 38:3 (Autumn 1997): 534-57.
Pozzato, Maria Pia. A cura di. L'idea deforme:interpretazioni esoteriche di Dante. Milano: Bompiani, 1989.
Popper, Karl R. Conjectures and Refutations. The growth of Scientific Knowledge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.
Riffaterre, Michael. "The Self-Sufficient Text", Diacritics 3 (1973): 39-45.
Rose, Margaret A. Parody, Ancient, Modern and Postmodern. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1993.
--. Parody, Meta Fiction: An Analysis of Parody as a Critical Mirror to the Writing and Reception of Fiction. London: Croom Helm. 1979.
Scaraffia, Lucetta. "Umberto Eco: il voyeur del male." L'Osservatore Romano. October 30, 2010.
Seurani, Alessandro. "L'io ironico di Umberto'. Letture, 534 (February 1997) 119-24.
Simmel, Georg. "The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies" American Journal of Sociology 11 (1906): 441-98.
Taguieff, Pierre-Andre "Eco, peut-il ecrire ce qu'il veut." Le Figaro,17 March, 2011. "Umberto Eco's Cemetery of Prague Creates Controversy." Three Monkeys Online, N.D. Available online at the following link: http://www .threemonkeysonline.com/umberto-ecos-cemetery-of-prague-creates-controversy/. Retrieved on April 15, 2013.
West, Kevin. "Foucault's Pendulum and the Hemeneutics of Umberto Eco'. Journal of Faith and the Academy, II, 2 (Fall 2009): 27-37.
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University of Toronto
(1) Foucault's Pendulum (1988), all quotations come from the 1989 William Weaver translation. In June 2013 Eco released a revised edition of Pendulum. For the most part it entails minor stylistic revisions (such as italics, punctuation, eliminating redundancies or splitting long paragraphs), changing some expressions, clarifying a term, or replacing the word "file" with "document". Some significant changes occur in chapter 75 and 76 where a long list and entire paragraphs are eliminated. Also a new image has been added in chapter 4 (42)--a print depicting the Tower of the Rosicrucians modeled after the Temple of Gerusalem. Eco has explained some of these revisions in an interview with Antonio Gnoli, in Repubblica (May 5, 2013): "Cosi ho cambiato il mio romanzo sul complotto". He also explains why the revisions are different from those made to Il nome della rosa in 2011. It is interesting to note that on the new cover of Pendulum, instead of an image of a siluet suggesting mystery and detective fiction, appears a Gargoyle looking over the Parisian skyline. It is the same image (same gargoyle) that we find on the cover of the North American edition. In other words now the Parisian setting becomes a clear key paratextual reference. Also worth noting is Eco's lecture on "empty secrets" given at the annual festival La Milanesiana 2013 that had chosen "Il Segreto" (the secret) as the main theme of the events; see "La bella magia del mistero dai Rosacroce a Wikileaks," La Repubblica (June 27, 2013).
(2) On October 2, 1988 in the weekly Panorama there appeared a section on Foucault's Pendulum with writings by Paolo Rossi, Omar Calabrese, Maria Corti and Elemire Zolla. A week later L'Espresso (October 9, 1988) dedicated 20 pages to Foucault's Pendulum, with several photos of Eco in Paris. By January 1989
most Italian newspapers had discussed the Eco phenomenon. The magazine L'Europeo reported on Ecomania (October 21, 1988:141-5), and with the catchy title "Stupendolo" featured Templars and esoteric texts in Pendulum on January 20, 1989: 92-7. The expression "Ecomania" referring to Eco's amazing success became popular also outside of Italy; see for example Clyde Hamberman: "Italian Scholar's 2nd Novel: Instant Pop Icon," The New York Times, Dec. 13, 1988. Margherita Ganeri, II caso Eco; Francesca Pansa e Anna Vinci, L'Effetto Eco; my own account of the "fenomeno Eco" in "Troppi movimenti intorno al Pendolo di Eco," Quaderni d'Italianistica, 300-13.
(3) Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium (1988); Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994).
(4) The debate between Eco and Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni is available online and in L'Espresso, 'Eco, gli ebrei e i complotti' (October 28, 2010). Lucetta Scaraffia makes some strong allegations: "Che senso ha, allora, questa ricostruzione che gia e stata fatta? Non si puo negare, invece, che le continue descrizioni della perfidia degli ebrei facciano nascere un sospetto di ambiguita, certo non voluta da Eco ma aleggiante in tutte le pagine del libro ... La sua ricostruzione del male senza condanna, senza eroi positivi con cui identificarsi, acquista una parvenza di voyeurismo amorale, in cui ci si puo impantanare." "Umberto Eco: Il voyeur del male", L'osservatore romano (30 ottobre 2010; review is online). A few critics joined in on the attacks blaming Eco for his 'absolute relativism' others like Gad Lerner, came in strongly on Eco's side. Several statements from these reviews have been reprinted on websites: http//espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/eco-gli-ebrei-e-i-complotti; http://www.dagospia.com/rubrica-2/media_e_tv/eco-il-guardonedellantisemitismo-tutta-pubblicit-una-doppia-stroncatura- sullosservatore- romano-il-voyeur-del-19872.htm; http://threemonkeysonline.com/book_blog /2010/novels/umberto-ecos-cemetery-of-prague-creates-controversy.
(5) In "A Conspiracy to Rule the World" we also read: "Not an easy book, Foucault's Pendulum is an encyclopedic detective story about a search for the center of an ancient, still-living conspiracy of men who seek not merely power over the earth but the power of the earth itself, and who in the end draw their pursuers into a circle where discovery of the truth is lethal. It is not meant to be easy. But neither was The Name of the Rose, which became a best seller, even though one wonders how many people actually read all of it. Foucault's Pendulum will almost certainly become a best seller as well, and great are the rewards for those who actually manage to read it. For while it is not a novel in the strict sense of the word, it is a truly formidable gathering of information delivered playfully by a master manipulating his own invention--in effect, a long, erudite joke." (7)
(6) It started with The Name of the Rose when among the alleged plagiarisms were mentioned several of Borges' short stories and Jan Potocki's The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.
(7) Pensees 8. The lecture given in Florence, 15 Sept. 2004, is available in Eco's website: www.umbertoeco.it/CV/Combinatoria della creativita.pdf. To be noted that Eco had used this pensee as an apigraph for the preface of his Trattato di semiotica generale, p. 5.
(8) In "Verso un nuovo medioevo" (written in 1972), Eco speaks of "l'arte come bricolage," Dalla periferia dell'impero, 207-209. A modified version appears in Travels in Hyperreality, 59-86.
(9) L'Espresso "La Sindrome del sospetto" (Feb. 6, 2007) and "Una bella compagnia" (Jan. 11, 2008), Eco speaks about conspiracies and recent publications of texts of Cohn, Eisner, Daniel Pipes and Kate Tucket. In "Una bella Compagnia," referring to an alleged Jesuit Conspiracy, again Eco mentions Popper and Daniel Pipes's Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From (1997). Regarding Abba, in The Prague Cemetery Simonini states: "Over dinner I befriended two volunteers, one called Abba, just over twenty years old, from Liguria, and the other Bandi, a journalist about my own age from Livorno. Their accounts enabled me to build up a picture of the arrival of Garibaldi's men, and their first battles." (119)
(10) For example: A.S. Byatt's "The Cult of misinformation", London Financial Times (Dec. 9, 2011); Andrew Martin's "U. Eco and The Prague Cemetery," Paris Review Daily (Nov. 15, 2011); Rebecca Newnerger Goldstein's "Umberto Eco and The Elders of Zion," The New York Times. Sunday Book Review (Nov. 18, 2011); Mark Harris, "A connoisseur of conspiracies", Toronto The Globe and Mail (Dec. 23, 2011); Pierre-Andre Taguieff, "Eco, peut-il ecrire ce qu'il veut", Le Figaro, March 17, 2011
(11) See especially "How I write" in On Literature, 302-34. Confessions of a Young writer (2011) contains the four Richard Ellmann lectures delivered at Emory University in October 2008.
(12) Readers will find interesting the discussion on autobiographical references where to the question "To what extent are your novels autobiographical?" Eco replies: "In some way I think every novel is. When you imagine a character, you lend him or her some of your personal memories. You give part of yourself to character number one and another part to character number two. In this sense, I am not writing any sort of autobiography, but the novels are my autobiography. There's a difference." Interview with Lila Azam Zanganeh, "The Art of Fiction", The Paris Review n.197 (2008), op.cit., available online.
(13) Gianni Riotta, "Eco: l'inutile caccia al grande vecchio", Corriere della sera (July 14, 2005). The interview appeared shortly after the publication of Eco's introduction to Will Eisner's The Plot. The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, v-vii. See also on American conspiracies "11/9: La cospirazione impossibile" "Bustina di Minerva", L'Espresso, Nov. 6, 2007. In 1994 Eco lectured on "The Force of Falsity" mentioning falsehoods and conspiracies, see Serendipities, 1-21. Moreover, we could consider Eco's fascinating lecture, given in 1991, on the image of Cagliosto that migrates through legends and myths. Today it is easy to see how his discussion on Cagliostro and the count of Saint-Germain which was applicable to II Pendolo di Foucault becomes equally important for Il cimitero di Praga. See "Migrazioni di Cagliostro" in Tra menzogna e ironia, 7-24.
(14) The two decades leading to Moro's death were known as the years of "lead and P2", referring to the bullets, guns and a ghost government that had destabilized Italy.
(15) Parts of "Faith in Fakes" were written in the 70s when Eco was discussing fakes and hyperreality associated with wax museums, Las Vegas and Disney World. See also "Fakes and Forgeries" in The Limits of Interpretation, 174-202.
(16) See Eco's "Introduzione: La semiosi ermetica e il 'paradigma del velame' ", in L'idea deforme: interpretazioni esoteriche di Dante, ed. Maria Pia Pozzato, 9-10.
(17) Collected Papers 1931-1958, vol. 8, 332; the quote comes from a letter, n. 463, to Lady Welby on October 12, 1904.
(18) Writing in memoriam of Paolo Rossi, Eco states: "Paolo Rossi e stato un pioniere della mnemotecnica. E ci ha messo in guardia dai rischi della 'dimenticanza culturale': bisogna evitare che l'eccesso di sapere portia cancellare il passato." "In ricordo di un maestro della memoria', L'Espresso (January 19, 2012). Jacques Le Goff's History and Memory (1992) had appeared in Italy in 1977 as Storia e Memoria (Torino: Einaudi)
(19) In "Towards a Rational Theory of Tradition" Popper states: "Homer conceived the power of the gods in such a way that whatever happened on the plain before Troy was only a reflection of the various conspiracies on Olympus. The conspiracy theory of society is just a version of atheism, of a belief in gods whose whims and wills rule everything. It comes from abandoning God and then asking: 'Who is in his place?' His place is then filled by various powerful men and groups--sinister pressure groups, who are to be blamed for having planned great depression and all the evils from which we suffer." Conjectures and Refutations. The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 123.
(20) The opening logo on the website www.umbertoeco.com reads: "When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything." Nonetheless, I say "alleged" aphorism because Chesterton's specialists have not found it in his works. It is possible that, as suggested by Emile Cammaerts in The Laughing Prophet, it is a distilled version of a sentence from the short story "The Oracle and the Dog" in which Father Brown states: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can't see things as they are. Anything that anybody talks about, and says there's a good deal in it, extends itself indefinitely like a vista in a nightmare." Chesterton, G. K. The Complete Father Brown Stories, 394-5. See also online "Aphorisms from the Work of G. K. Chesterton" Compiled by Ralph Wood (Baylor University, Waco, Texas). In my opinion, Eco read two of Borges' favorite precursors, E. A. Poe and G. K. Chesterton. Indeed Chesterton's detective stories featuring Father Brown ultimately played a role in both The Rose and Pendulum. In Chesterton's "The Sign of the Broken Sword" (containing echoes of Poe's "Purloined Letter") we find this interesting dialogue: "Where does a wise man hide a pebble?" And the tall man answered in a low voice: "On the beach." The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: "Where does a wise man hide a leaf?" And the other answered: "In the forest" (161). Furthermore, Borges, who loved Father Brown's investigating skills (see for example "The labyrinths of the detective story and Chesterton" in Jorge Luis Borges. Selected Non-Fictions, 112-14) singles out this passage from "The Head of Caesar": "What we all dread most," said the priest in a low voice, "is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare" (The Complete Father Brown Stories, 259). The question is to what extent Eco has in mind Chesterton's stories mentioned by Borges? In The Rose Eco hides a manuscript among books in a library and the labyrinthine library is certainly not a classic one, with a center. We need only to recall how J. J. Annaud pictures it in his filmic adaptation, it is a combination of Escher and Piranesi. In fact, it is an appropriate rendition if we consider that Borges defines Piranesi's jail "impenetrable labyrinths" (Selected Non-fictions, 238). And Jorge of Burgos, a metaphoric Minotaur, is not found at the center of the maze but in a room at the center of one of the wings of the library. Also, William, a sharp observer and remarkable logician, is a mixture of several sleuths including Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael and Chesterton's Father Brown. Moreover, in addition to his investigating skills, William excels in the Socratic method of teaching through dialogue using Adso in a teacher and student relationship--a distinguishing feature also of Father Brown.
(21) Throughout the novel there are several references to the golem but it is interesting how Casaubon relates it to Belbo: "He fell in love with his golem, found it a source of consolation. Life-his life, mankind's-as art, and art as falsehood. Le monde est fait pour aboutir a un livre (faux). But now he wanted to believe in this false book, because, as he had also written, if there was a Plan, then he would no longer be defeated, diffident, a coward [...] Inventing, he had created the principle of reality (530-1). In The Prague Cemetery the concocted plot is not a golem but a Frankenstein made up of texts' parts.
(22) I began to focus on these blurbs in 1983 after noticing on the front cover of John Fuller's first novel, Flying Nowhere (1983; Penguin edition), the sentence: "As rich and exciting as The Name of the Rose, but deeper and more disturbing. The New York Times Book Review"; on the back cover there are more of these brief statements, including: "Filled with everyday happenings and miraculous events. Flying Nowhere, like The Name of the Rose, is at once a provocative allegory and a vastly entertaining mystery". It was sufficient for me to buy this novel, 90 pages long, with 21 short chapters, with a paratextual epigraph that precedes the title page, in Latin, from a poem of Aelius Adrianus, and dealing with monks, mysterious deaths and an Abbot with a secret library.
(23) Originally published in Il superuomo di massa, 145-84. Calvino indicates that he had read Eco's article: "Se i russi avevano studiato i racconti di Sherlock Holmes, adesso e James Bond che fornisce le esemplificazioni piu calzanti agli strutturalisti", in "Cibernetica e fantasmi", Una pietra sopra, 166.
(24) Popper had also mentioned how Hitler believed in the "conspiracy myth of the Learned elders of Zion" in Conjectures and Refutations (123).
(25) Between 2011 and 2012 an Italian debate on "New realism" sees several academics and philosophers such as M. Ferraris, G. Vattimo and M. Perniola discuss realism and truth versus postmodernism and 'weak thought'; see Eco's response, "Il realismo minimo" in Repubblica (March 12, 2012), or "Di un realismo negativo" in Alfabeta2 (March 16, 2012); both versions are online. How much of these polemics originates in the new wave of critics who in Italy advocate docu-fiction and faction as something new? Regardless, some critics seem to ignore that Eco in his novels has always dealt with a fiction full of facts.
(26) Eco talks about Popper and conspiracies in "The Force of Falsity", in Serendipities. Language and Lunacy, 18. Eco notes that "The Force of Falsity" derives from a lecture given in Bologna in 1994.
(27) Maria Corti "I giochi del piano", L'Indice, 14-15; Asor Rosa "Il trattato dell'impostura', Repubblica, 32. Several excellent essays (e.g. Bouchard 1995; Hutcheon 1997; Phiddian 1997; West 2009) have underlined elements of literary theories and criticism in Eco's essay-novels.
(28) In the 2013 revised edition of Pendulum we find that "file" has been re placed with "document" or "text". Eco explains this change in the interview with Gnoli explaining that in 1988 Belbo used the software Wordstar but in 2013 he uses Microsoft Word; but, was this necessary? see note 1.
(29) And of course we also think of the biblical opening line of the Prologue in The Name of the Rose: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (11).
(30) Speaking of "120", the alleged coded message found by Ardenti mentions that the Templars are to meet every 120 years; Belbo is obsessed with the number 120 and one of his files contains 120 quotations. Is this just a coincidence or just one of Eco's many winking as he plays with us?
(31) Casaubon states: "Memories, distinct, precise, orderly. Of the past three frantic days, of the past two years, and the forty-year-old memories I found when I broke into Jacopo Belbo's electronic brain. I am remembering now (as I remembered then) in order to make sense out of the chaos of that misguided creation of ours. Now (as then, while I waited in the periscope) I shrink into one remote corner of my mind, to draw from it a story. Such as the Pendulum." (18).
(32) The story begins on June 23, the day before the death of Belbo and on the eve of the symbolic night of San Giovanni (the night of Saint John, on June 24)--a night known for rituals such as the meeting of witches and also, as we discover in the novel, when the Templars meet every 120 years.
(33) As a child Simonini used to wear father Bergamaschi's cassock; this, by his own admission, is at the root of his "distant origins of ... theatrical tastes" (69).
(34) Eco explains his love for Hugo's poetics of excess illustrated in the novel Ninenty-three; see The Infinity of Lists, 104, 271; and, "Hugo, Helas!: The Poetics of Excess", in Inventing the Enemy, 97-125. Also see Eco's Victor Hugo, a DVD rich with images, it also includes his essay on Ninenty-three. Milano: Encyclomedia 2011. I discuss Eco's aesthetic of excess in "L'iperomanzo di Calvino ed Eco: molteplicita, enciclopedia e poetica dell'eccesso" in Tra Eco e Calvino: relazioni rizomatiche, 302-24. In Pendulum, but also in his other novels where we find listings, cataloguing, enumerations, etc. we have a variety of examples of the poetic of excess. In The Prague Cemetery the pleasure of the aesthetic of excess goes hand in hand with Simonini's gluttony and the plethora of names, titles and dates. The Infinity of Lists, published a year earlier, containing numerous beautiful colored illustrations, makes us appreciate even more Eco's love for the strategy of excess.
(35) At the end of the novel it is not certain that Simonini dies from an explosion in the tunnel. His fate is wrapped in ambiguity precisely because unlike the mythical Count of St. Germain in Foucault's Pendulum, who can reappear anywhere and at any time to those who believe in him, Simonini stands for skimming scoundrels that have existed in the past and continue to be among us under different disguises such as those of billionaires and politicians.
(36) Eco's in depth video interview with Marco Belpoliti, April 10, 2011, is on the website "Doppiozero": http://www.doppiozero.com/materiali /videointerviste/intervista-video-umberto-eco
(37) L'ironie est une figure ambigue. Elle presuppose que tu connais la verite pour comprendre qu'en disant le contraire de la verite, tu fais de l'ironie [...] L'ironie est un figure ambigue parce qu'en premiere instance ella va au dela du langage [...] Le Magazine Litteraire (1989) 22 (Irony is an ambiguous trope. It presupposes that you know the truth in order to understand that by stating the opposite of truth, you are using irony[...] Irony is an ambiguous trope because first of all it goes beyond language).
(38) The Plot, v-vii. Also see Eco's reply in an interview with Mark Reynolds "Conspiracy theories can be a result of a given forgery, but not all forgeries are about conspiracy. But of all the forgeries that are centered around a conspiracy, the most tragic is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I have returned to this theme again and again--in Foucault's Pendulum and in many essays. Why? Because it's an intellectual and moral scandal. The Protocols are absolutely crazy because they are so contradictory. They are like Frankenstein's monster, made up of different pieces of human corpses." See Http://untitlebooks.com/features /interviews/umberto-eco. Retrieved on April 18, 2013.
(39) Eco has often spoken about the positive and negative aspects of the Internet. In The Infinity of Lists he states "Finally, we come to the Mother of all Lists, infinite by definition because it is in constant evolution, The World Wide Web, which is both web and labyrinth, not an ordered tree ..." (360).
(40) I am intentionally referring to M. Holquist's title The Dialogic Imagination (1981) for his edition of Bakhtin's four essays on the novel. See above all "From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse" and "Discourse in the Novel". All of Eco's novels are unquestionably full of echoes of voices and texts that intersect. The importance of the Bakhtinian concepts of 'dialogism', 'polyphony', 'heteroglossia' and 'parody', is at the center of my work in progress on Eco's narratological skills, however, this perspective is missing from this article because it would require a long and separate discussion. Nonetheless I would like to note that Foucault's Pendulum and The Prague Cemetery are also excellent illustrations of Eco's continual paying homage (admission of his anxiety of influences) to both J. L. Borges and M. Bakhtin from The Name of the Rose on.
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