Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum

Casaubon, Belbo and Diotellevi become bore with reading occultist manuscripts, and decided to connect various documents to create the Plan, a Knights Templar conspiracy to take over the world. According to the Plan, the Templars have found the Telluric Current’s source, the center of earth’s energy, and they partitioned a map of its location into six pieces. When placed under Foucault’s Pendulum in Paris’s Conservatory at a specific time, the intersection of the pendulum’s arc and a light beam would reveal the location.

When Belbo disappears and then calls Casaubon for help, the latter realizes the Diabolicals believed in the Plan and kidnapped his friend to find the map. As he searches for his friend, he learns about Belbo was obsessed with a magical moment during his childhood and wanted to relive it helping to create the Plan.

Foucault's Pendulum in Paris

In Foucault’s Pendulum, “the thinking man’s DaVinci Code,” the three friends remake history by manipulating texts and Eco satirizes the search for knowledge through historical documents. In his manipulating and interpreting historical texts, we can see Jorge Luis Borges’s influence, particularly his short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." In this novel, Eco sows the seeds for his later novel The Prague Cemetery, where Simonini forges “historical documents,” particularly the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. To read Foucault’s Pendulum is to journey into the occultist society and to understand the how unreliable historical texts may be.

Foucault’s Pendulum is an Indiana Jones adventure without the snake pits, rolling stones, or Nazi treasure hunters, but with plenty of secret societies and conspiracies. I recommend this novel for the intellectual thrill and for the reflection on how we understand the past through historical documents.

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We

We came before Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, and Yevgeny Zamyatin proved himself a master of the dystopian novel so popular today. The novel tells of the protagonist D-503 coming-of-age, becoming more and more aware of his desires, imagination and individuality, until the Operation returns him to the collective.

In We, the One-State removes its citizens’ individuality by assigning alphanumerical designations to them and so it dehumanizes them more than the governments of 1984 and Brave New World their citizens. The mathematical-speak throughout the narrative adds to the sense of alienation. For example, the spaceship is called the Integral. “Integrating the grand equation of the universe: yes. Taming a wild zigzag along a tangent, toward the asymptote, into a straight line: yes.” This is poetic science.

D-503 dreads the square root of –1 because the imaginary number doesn’t relate to any quantity in real life and it symbolizes the imagination, as opposed to facts and analyses that one can grasp and control.

Throughout the journal, D-503 mentions Frederick W Taylor and his Scientific Taylorism in which he applies mathematics to production (ex. linear programming to achieve operation efficiency) and Behaviorism to management (X style of management). The One-State guarantees its citizens’ “happiness” by removing their desires and imaginations but turning them into means of production and cogs in the bureaucratic machine, no longer humans but robots that follow the Table of Hours and repeat the tasks day after day.

Yevgeny Zamyatin reveals to us a possible future where efficiency and precision trump creativity and emotions, a future that haunts us to this day.

Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore

To read Kafka on the Shore is to weave through the malleable boundary between reality and fantasy, to meet philosophical prostitute, talking cats, and characters like Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders, to dream of the dialectics of Hegal and the continuous time of Bergson converging with the Oedipal complex, to journey into Haruki Murakami’s imagination.

I want to know whether Kafka killed his father, whether the librarian was his mother, and whether he was dreaming when he met his mother. I want to know whether Nakata was just fantasizing that he could talk to cats. But as in Murakami’s other two novels, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, reality and dream synthesize into a world that transcends truth or illusion. And Murakami takes us along his wonderland and shows what we too could imagine if we free our minds from the biases, the limits, and the cannots we have accepted as truth.

Reality almost seems sterile when we immerse ourselves in Murakami’s surrealism. And I invite you to dream along with Murakami on a shore far into the sea of imagination where a song’s lyrics echo back into reality.

Book Review of Michael Tanner's Schopenhauer

Michael Tanner in Schopenhauer introduces the philosopher’s idea for readers who may want to read The World as Will and Representation.

Like Kant, Schopenhauer believes that through our senses we can only experience the representation of the world, in Kant’s words, the phenomenal world. But he departs from Kant in his concept of will and willing. For him, willing is the root of all suffering. We seek to satisfy our needs, but once they are met, we become disillusioned and seek to satisfy greater needs and the process never stops. The most common example is that we eat to satisfy our hunger, but having eaten we would feel hungry again. For Schopenhauer this never ending striving and the swing between hope and disillusionment create suffering. His ideas has influenced thinkers like Thomas Mann whose novel The Magic Mountain reflects that search and striving and the resulting suffering and disillusionment.
The World as Will and Representation

For Schopenhauer, the Will, as the summation of individual wills, is a unified cosmic principle under all representations, a mindless urging toward no definite end. And such an idea had influenced thinkers like Hartshorne and Whitehead.

Arthur Schopenhauer

But Schopenhauer not only influenced thinkers, but even more so, artists and perhaps musicians. The ideas of ceaseless striving and the cycle of hope and despair appears to lend expressions to the various arts.

However, as Michaal Tanner points out, Schopenhauer’s thought process is not as rigorous as philosophers like Kant and at times, the philosopher makes claims without leading the reader through the logical links.

 I recommend this book for readers interested in surveying Schopenhauer’s ideas before diving into The World as Will and Representation.