Umberto Eco

Foucault's Pendulum

Exactly. And God loves every minute of it. He chose to be unthinkable only to prove that Anselm and Gaumilon were morons. What a sublime purpose for creation, or rather, for that act by which God willed Himself to be: to unmask cosmic moronism.

The problem with suicide is that sometimes you jump out the window and then change your mind between the eighth floor and the seventh. "Oh, if only I could go back!" Sorry, you can't, too bad. Splat.

If you do your thesis on syphilis, you end up loving even the Spirochaeta pallida.

A trial full of silences, contradictions, enigmas, and acts of stupidity. The acts of stupidity were the most obvious, and, because they were inexplicable, they generally coincided with the enigmas in those halcyon days I believed that the source of enigma was stupidity. Then the other evening in the periscope I decided that the most terrible enigmas are the ones that mask themselves as madness. 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.

You can be obsessed by remorse all your life, not because you chose the wrong thing--you can always repent, atone--but because you never had the chance to prove to yourself that you would have chosen the right thing.

A sudden illumination: I had a trade after all. I would set up a cultural investigation agency, be a kind of private eye of learning.

Instead of sticking my nose into all-night dives and cathouses, I would skulk around bookshops, libraries, corridors of university departments. Then I'd sit in my office, my feet propped up on the desk, drinking, from a Dixie cup, the whiskey I'd brought up from the cornerstore in a paper bag. The phone rings and a man says: "Listen, I'm translating this book and came across something or someone called Motakalbimud. What the hell is it?"

Give me two days, I tell him. Then I go to the library, flip through some card catalogs, give the man in the reference office a cigarette, and pick up a clue.

You don't fall in love because you fall in love; you fall in love because of the need, desperate, to fall in love.

Are you saying, I asked, that a person has a breakdown not because he is divorced but on account of the divorce, which may or may not happen, of the third party, that is, of the one who created the crisis for the couple of which he is a member?

Wagner looked at me with the puzzlement of a layman who encounters a mentally disturbed person for the first time. He asked me what I meant. To tell the truth, whatever I meant, I had expressed it badly. I tried to be more concrete. I took a spoon from the table and put it next to a fork. Here, this is me, Spoon, married to her, Fork. And here is another couple: she's Fruit Knife, married to Steak Knife, alias Mackie Messer. Now I, Spoon, believe I'm suffering because I have to leave Fork and I don't want to; I love Fruit Knife, but it's all right with me if she stays with Steak Knife. And now you're telling me, Dr. Wagner, that the real reason I'm suffering is that Fruit Knife won't leave Steak Knife, is that it?

Wagner told someone else at the table that he had said nothing of the sort.

There exists a secret society with branches throughout the world, and its plot is to spread the rumor that a universal plot exists.

Why can't I dream of college entrance exams like everybody else?

"Quantum mortalia pectora ceacae habent! And the sons of matter never realized it!" "They never saw the connection between the philosopher's stone and Firestone." "For tomorrow I shall prepare a mystical interpretation of the phone book." "Ever ambitious, our Casaubon. Mind you, there you'll have to solve the unfathomable problem of the One and the Many. Better succeed slowly. Start, instead, with the washing machines." "That's too easy. The alchemistic transformation from black to whiter than white."

"Just think," Diotallevi said. "If the Bulgarian meeting didn't take place, Europe today is the theatre of a secret ballet, with groups seeking out and not finding one another while each group knows that one small piece of information might be enough to make it master of the world. What's the name of that taxidermist you told us about, Casaubon? Maybe a plot really exists and history is simply the result of this battle to reconstruct a lost message. We don't see them, but invisible, they act all around us."

"And since he is clearly the author of the plays of Shakespeare, we should also reread the complete works of the bard, which certainly talk about nothing else but the Plan," Belbo said. "Saint John's Eve, a midsummer night's dream."

"June 23 is not midsummer."

"Poetic license. I wonder why everybody overlooked these clues, these clear indications. It's all so unbearably obvious."

"We've been led away by rationalist thought," Diotallevi said. "I keep telling you."

If only I had stopped there, if I had only written a white book, a good grimoire, for all the adepts of Isis Unveiled, explaining to them that the secretum secretorum no longer needed to be sought, that the book of life contained no hidden meaning, it was all there in the bellies of all the Lias of the world, in the hospital rooms, on straw pallets, on riverbanks, and that the stones in exile and the Holy Grail were nothing but screaming monkeys with their umbilical cord still dangling and the doctor giving them a slap on the ass. And that the Unknown Superiors, in the eyes of the Thing, were only me and Lia, and the Thing would immediately recognize us without having to go ask that old fool de Maistre.

But no, We, the sardonic, insisted on playing games with the Diabolicals, on showing them that if there had to be a cosmic plot, we could invent the most cosmic of all.

The secret, the real secret, of alchemy and Templars is the search for the Wellspring of that internal rhythm, as sweet, awesome, and regular as the throbbing of the serpent Kundalini, still unknown in many of its aspects, yet surely as precise as a clock, for it is the rhythm of the one true Stone that fell in exile from heaven, the Great Mother Earth.

When Lia asks for two days to think about something, she's determined to show me I'm stupid. I always accuse her of this, and she answers: "If I know you're stupid, that means I love you even if you're stupid. You should feel reassured."

I was unable to tell how much was Diotallevi's and how much was Belbo's, because in both cases it was the murmuring of one who speaks the truth because he knows the time has passed for playing with illusion.

I believe Belbo went to Paris to say to them there was no secret, that the real secret was to let the cells proceed according to their own instinctive wisdom, that seeking mysteries between the surface reduced the world to a foul cancer, and that of all the people in the world, the most foul, the most stupid person was Belbo himself, who knew nothing and had invented everything. Such a step must have cost him dear, but he had accepted for too long the premise that he was a coward and De Angelis had certainly shown him that heroes were few.

My God, armies slaughtered one another across the plains of Europe, popes hurled anathemas, emperors met, hemophiliac and incestuous, a sumptuous facade for the work of these wireless operators who in the House of Solomon were listening for pale echoes from the Umbilicus Mundi.

What does the coil do? Who is listening to the coil? The label says, "Currents induced from the terrestrial field." Shameless! There to be read even by children on their afternoon visits! Mankind believed it was going in a different direction, believed everything was possible, believed in the supremacy of experiment, of mechanics. The masters of the world have deceived us for centuries. Enfolded, swallowed, seduced by the Plan, we wrote poems in praise of the locomotive.

We had awakened their lust, offering them a secret that couldn't have been emptier, because not only did we not know it ourselves, but even better, we knew that it was false.

It wasn't that he refused to bow to the lust for power; he refused to bow to nonmeaning. He somehow knew that, fragile as our existence may be, however ineffectual our interrogation of the world, there is nevertheless something that has more meaning than the rest.

You spend a life seeking the Opportunity, without realizing that the decisive moment, the moment that justifies birth and death, has already passed.

Where have I read that at the end, when life, surface upon surface, has become completely encrusted with experience, you know everything, the secret, the power, the glory, why you were born, why you are dying, and how it all could have been different? You are wise. But the greatest wisdom, at that moment, is knowing that your wisdom is too late. You understand everything when there is no longer anything to understand.

Now I know what the Law of the Kingdom is, off, poor, desperate, tattered Malkhut, where Wisdom has gone into exile, groping to recover its former lucidity. The truth of Malkhut, the only truth that shines in the light of the Sefirot, is that Wisdom is revealed naked in Malkhut, and its mystery lies not in existence but in the leaving of existence. Afterward, the Others begin again.

And with the others, the Diabolicals, seeking abysses where the secret of their madness lies hidden.

And yet, like Belbo when he played the trumpet, when I bit into the peach I understood the Kingdom and was one with it. The rest is only cleverness. Invent; invent the Plan, Casaubon. That's what everyone has done, to explain the dinosaurs and the peaches.

The Name of the Rose

There are magic moments, involving great physical fatigue and intense motor excitement, that produce visions of people known in the past ("en me retraçant ces détails, j'en suis àme demander s'ils sont réels, ou bien si je les ai rêvés"). As I learned later from the delightful little book of the Abbé de Bucquoy, there are also visions of books as yet unwritten.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was beginning with God and the duty of every faithful monk would be to repeat every day with chanting humility the one never-changing event whose incontrovertible truth can be asserted. But we see now through a glass darkly, and the truth, before it is revealed to all, face to face, we see in fragments (alas, how illegible) in the error of the world, so we must spell out its faithful signals even when they seem obscure to us and as if amalgamated with a will wholly bent on evil.

In the pages to follow I shall not indulge in descriptions of a person--except when a facial expression, or a gesture, appears as a sign of a mute but eloquent language--because, as Boethius says, nothing is more fleeting than external form, which withers and alters like the flowers of the field at the appearance of autumn; and what would be the point of saying today that the abbot Abo had a stern eye and pale cheeks, when by now he and those around him are dust and their bodies have the mortal grayness of dust (only their souls, God grant, shining with a light that will never be extinguished)? But I would like to describe William at least once, because his singular features struck me, and it is characteristic of the young to become bound to an older and wiser man not only by the spell of his words and the sharpness of his mind, but also by the superficial form of his body, which proves very dear, like the figure of a father, whose gestures we study and whose frowns, whose smile we observe--without a shadow of lust to pollute this form (perhaps the only that is truly pure) of corporal love.

In the past men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world. The young no longer want to study anything, learning is in decline, the whole world walks on its head, blind men lead others equally blind and cause them to plunge into the abyss, birds leave the nest before they can fly, the jackass plays the lyre, oxen dance. Mary no longer loves the contemplative life, and Martha no longer loves the active life, Leah is sterile, Rachel has a carnal eye, Cato visits brothels, Lucretius becomes a women. Everything is on the wrong path. In those days, thank God, I acquired from my master the desire to learn and a sense of the straight way, which remains even when the path is tortuous.

Machines, he said, are an effect of art, which is nature's ape, and they reproduce not its forms but the operation itself.

William: Roger Bacon, whom I venerate as my master, teaches that the divine plan will one day encompass the science of machines, which is natural and healthy magic.

It is also true that in those dark times a wise man had to believe things that were in contradiction among themselves.

There, perhaps the only real proof of the presence of the Devil was the intensity with which everyone at that moment desired to know he was at work....

Yes, there is a lust for pain, as there is a lust for adoration, and even a lust for humility. If it took so little to make the rebellious angels direct their ardor away from worship and humility towards pride and revolt, what can we expect of a human being? There, now you know; this was the thought that struck me in the course of my inquisitions. And this s why I gave up that activity. I lacked the courage to investigate the weaknesses of the wicked, because I discovered they are the same as the saintly.

He is, or has been, in many ways, a great man. But for this very reason he is odd. It is only petty men who seem normal.

I had always believed logic was a universal weapon, and now I realized how its validity depended on the way it was employed. Further, since I had been with my master I had become aware, and was to become even more aware in the days that followed, that logic could be especially useful when you entered it but then left it.

How beautiful was the spectacle of nature not yet touched by the often perverse wisdom of man!

"At times this can be so. Often books speak of other books. Often a harmless book is like a seed that will blossom into a dangerous book, or it is the other way around: it is the sweet fruit of a bitter stem. In reading Albert, couldn't I learn what Thomas might have said: Or in reading Thomas, know what Averroes said?"

"True," I said, amazed. Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine ,that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old, murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.

"One thing you must learn," William said to him, "is never to trust his oaths, which he always maintains to the letter, violating their substance."

"And you, "I said with childish impertinence, "never commit errors?"

"Often," he answered. "But instead of conceiving only one, I imagine many, so that I become the slave of none."

"The men of my islands are all a bit mad," William said proudly.

"...because true learning must not be content with ideas, which are, in fact, signs, but must discover things in their individual truth."

The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.

The Antichrist can be born from piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth, as the heretic is born from the saint and the possessed from the seer. Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, and at times instead of them.

The only truths that are useful are instruments to be thrown away.

Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.