Friday, June 09, 2006

One last thought on "Foucault's Pendulum"

I finished it in much longer than an afternoon, and I realized the point that literature is about the universality of experience. Most books are about what they are about. You need both in the world, but if I could only save some I'd save the ones with meaning.

There is an amazing passage in the end of FP that essentially explains the fascination of something like "The DaVinci Code" while transcending it. I've copied out a lot of it because I think it's important (and I like to copy out chunks of books that I like). The ellipses indicate that I've removed bits that are more plot specific.

"People are starved for plans. If you offer them one, they fall on it like a pack of wolves. You invent, and they'll believe. It's wrong to add to the inventions that already exist" ...

We offered a map to people who were trying to overcome a deep, private frustration. What frustration?...Threre can be no failure if there really is a Plan. Defeated you may be, but never through any fault of your own. To bow to a cosmic will is no shame. You are not a coward; you are a martyr.
You don't complain about being mortal, prey to a thousand microorganisms you can't control; you aren't responsible for the fact that your feet are not very prehensile, that you have no tail, that your hair and teeth don't grow back when you lose them, that your arteries harden with time. It's because of the Envious Angels.

The same applies to everyday life. Take stock-market crashes. They happen because each individual makes a wrong move, and all the wrong moves put together create panic. Then whoever lacks steady nerves asks himself: Who's behind this plot, who's benefiting? He has to find an enemy, a plotter, or it will be, God forbid, his fault.

If you feel guilty, you invent a plot, many plots. And to counter them, you have to organize your own plot. But the more you invent enemy plots, to exonerate your lack of understanding, the more you fall in love with them, and you pattern your own on their model...."Of course, you attribute to the others what you're doing yourself, and since what you're doing yourself is hateful, the others become hateful. But since the others, as a rule, would like to do the same hateful thing that you're doing, they collaborate with you, hinting that--yes--what you attribute to them is actually what they have always desired. God blinds those He wishes to destroy; you just have to lend Him a helping hand."

A plot, if there is to be one, must be a secret. A secret that, if we only knew it, would dispel our frustration, lead us to salvation; or else the knowing of it in itself would be salvation. Does such a luminous secret exist?

Yes, provided it is never known. Known, it will only disappoint us. ...someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words at the right time could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God, and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle? And then he led the Church fathers to ponder and proclaim that God was One and Triune and the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, but that the Son did not proceed from the Father and the Spirit. Was that some easy formula for hylics? And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp--do-it-yourself salvation--turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite. And they kept on scouring the Mediterranean in their boats, looking for a lost knowledge, of which those thirty-denarii dogmas were but the superficial veil, the parable for the poor in spirit, the allusive hieroglyph, the wink of the eye at the pneumatics. The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple: there had to be more to it.

Someone--Rubinstein, maybe--once said, when asked if he believed in God: "Oh, no, I something much bigger." And someone else--was it Chesterton?--said that when men stop believing in God, it isn't that they believe in nothing: they believe in everything.

But everything is not a bigger secret. There are no "bigger secrets," because the moment a secret is revealed, it seems little. There is only an empty secret. A secret that keeps slipping through your fingers. The secret of the orchid is that it signifies and affects the testicles. But the testicles signify a sign of the zodiac, which in turn signifies an angelic hierarchy, which then signifies a musical scale, and the scale signifies a relationship among the humors. And so on. Initiation is learning never to stop. The universe is peeled like an onion, and an onion is all peel. Let us imagine an infinite onion, which has its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere. Initiation travels an endless Mobius strip.

The true initiate is he who know that the most powerful secret is a secret without content, because no enemy will be able to take it from him...

But if existence is so empty and fragile that it can be endured only by the illusion of a search for its secret then...there's no redemption; we are all slaves, give us a master.

What he goes on to say, but not in one clear sentence, is that life itself in it's everyday, in his child, in the beauty of the sunset is the secret, but that that will never be understood.

I return to "Infinite Jest." We are all dying to give ourselves away to something--to believe. It's like looking at comic book fan boys or sci-fi geeks. They're all gathering all of the esoterica of knowledge in the hopes that it will add up to something bigger than themselves. It could be sports nuts, or activists. In Britain there really are sad guys in anoraks watching trains, counting and timing trains. It's where the term trainspotter comes from, but the term can be applied to anyone. And they're all looking for the missing pieces that will cause it to make sense, but reality always disappoints. Like asking Shatner why the Xenons of planet Xeneria did so and so (and yes, I know that's not really an episode, but I don't want to be a geek and go look one up, which I easily could do) and being disappointed that this actor neither knows nor cares. We're all looking for a God to look up to to make our own lives better. Sometimes the God is an object (when I get that new car--it will all come together), sometimes it's a person, but I've known very few people who weren't doing it. Trying to find something that as humans we are missing. I don't know what it is and I do know I'm looking.

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