Let the cork out

John Bayley

  • Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver
    Secker, 641 pp, £14.95, October 1989, ISBN 0 436 14096 9
  • The Open Work by Umberto Eco, translated by Anna Cancogni
    Radius, 285 pp, £9.95, October 1989, ISBN 0 09 175896 3

Stendhal, or Lieutenant Henri Beyle, as he then was, irritated his shivering companions round the campfire on the retreat from Moscow by chuckling aloud over a tattered copy of Voltaire’s Diatribe of Dr Akakia. But laughing at human folly is more often a comfortable activity reserved for the study and the reading-room. At one moment in Foucault’s Pendulum someone snaps his fingers excitedly and says: ‘It’s obvious. Reich was definitely a Templar.’ ‘Everyone was, except us,’ retorts his colleague. That is indeed the point. Hermetic investigation always reveals that every secret society and mystic body of lore, from the Masons and the Illuminati to the Elders of Zion and the Order of the Golden Dawn, turns out to have a higher or perhaps a subterranean unity. Freud of course was a Mason or a Templar too. The author and his reader, in a cheerful conspiracy of two, are the only people outside all this kind of thing.

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