Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 1.1 (Umberto Eco)

Eco, Umberto
Foucault's Pendulum

I think this book belongs to Lori. I am sure I never bought or read it. I have a recollection of having tried to read it once, before I met Lori, but I have no idea if it was my copy or someone else's. I know it was not this one. I had a friend, J., who I think I have talked about before, who I knew in college, and who at that time was about the only undergraduate at Fordham to have read any critical theory at all, and who referred to himself as a "marxist-feminist," despite none of our knowing what that meant, and who is now a libertarian living in southern California.

Anyhow, J. used to have a copy of this book on the shelf in his west village studio apartment, and he also used to speak often of French theorist Michel Foucault, so that somehow I began to elide Michel Foucault with the name on the cover of this book, began, in fact, to think that this book, which I had never read, was actually about the famous french theorist.

And now, even though I have never read this book, I remember the trauma of having at some point discovered that this book was not, in fact, about Michel Foucault, but about another Foucault altogether, and how disappointed I was to find this out, how this discovery forever changed my perception of this book that I had never, have never, and likely will never have read.

from Foucault's Pendulum

After Beaujeu, the Order has never ceased to exist, not for a moment, and after Aumont we find an uninterrupted sequence of Grand Masters of the Order down to our own time, and if the name and seat of the true Grand Master and the true Seneschals who rule the Order and guide its sublime labors remain a mystery today, an impenetrable secret known only to the truly enlightened, it is because the hour of the Order has not struck and the time is not ripe . . .

—Manuscript of 1760, in G. A. Schiffmann, Die Entstehung der Rittergrade in der Freimauerei um die Mitte des XVIII Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, Zechel, 1882, pp. 178-190

This was our first, remote contact with the Plan. I could easily be somewhere else now if I hadn't been in Belbo's office that day. I could be—who knows?—selling sesame seeds in Samarkand, or editing a series of books in Braille, or heading the first National Bank of Franz Josef Land. Counterfactual conditionals are always true, because the premise is false. But I was there that day, so now I am where I am.

The colonel handed us the page with a flourish. I still have it here among my papers, in a little plastic folder. Printed on that thermal-paper photocopies used in those days, it is more yellowed and faded now. Actually there were two texts on the page: the first, densely written, took up half the space; the second was divided into fragments of verses . . .

The first text was a kind of demoniacal litany, a parody of a Semitic language:

Kuabris Defrabax Rexulon Ukkazaal Ukzaab Urpaefel Taculbain Habrak Hacoruin Maquafel Tebrain Hmcatuin Rokasor Himesor Argaabil Kaquaan Docrabax Reisaz Reisabrax Decaiquan Oiquaquil Zaitabor Qaxaop Dugraq Xaelobran Disaeda Magisuan Raitak Huidal Uscolda Arabaom Zipreus Mecrim Cosmae Duquifas Rocarbis.

“Not exactly clear,” Belbo remarked.

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