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No. 9: Foucault’s Pendulum

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 9
January, 1990
Copyright 1990, Biblical Horizons

A book note by James B. Jordan

Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was certainly one of the best literary works of the past decade, though the film version hardly measured up to it. Now Eco has given us a new novel, Foucault’s Pendulum. Like Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum reflects on the limitations of human knowledge, and on man’s desire to play God. In Foucault, however, Eco makes his own Christian commitments clear.

If you’ve kept up with the reviews, you know that Foucault’s Pendulum deals with occultism and conspiracy theory. Eco shows the destructive nature of these things, and presents Christianity as the alternative. Eco also shows us that though occultism and conspiracy theories look fascinating to start with, they soon become interminably boring. To make this point, Eco goes out of his way in the middle of the novel to bore the reader. The critics have seen this as a flaw, but I see it as a brilliant literary device. The climax of this "boring" section comes when the "wise woman of Proverbs" applies common sense and brings the central character back to earth.

The three primary male characters are a would-be Jew, a lapsed Catholic, and a lapsed Calvinist (who is the central character). The three primary female characters are the wise woman from Proverbs, the foolish woman of Proverbs, and a modern supposedly liberated woman. As we watch these characters respond to the modern world and to occultism, we find much food for thought. I highly recommend Foucault’s Pendulum.