Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community...but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize Winner." - Umberto Eco
The Bear received Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco as an early Father's Day present. Eco is best known for The Name of the Rose, which Hollywood made into a conventional mystery set in a medieval monastery. The first time the Bear read Foucault's Pendulum, he was baffled.
He hopes this time around he's onto Eco. It's not a conventional novel, but meant to engage the reader beyond plot and character arcs. If the Bear is right, the novel itself is the author's "metagame" that engages the reader on different levels. The Bear thinks he can illustrate this in a way he hopes that Eco wouldn't find too awful.
Imagine you receive a novel as a gift. However, the chapters are not bound, and part of the fun is using clues to puzzle out how they fit together in the right order. Furthermore, this process itself reveals meanings related to the novel. It is not, however, part of the text per se.
Maybe you never quite get all the chapters right, and so the communication is not one-hundred percent. Even so, you may have learned quite a bit, and, after all, you still get a novel to read. Please note this is much different from saying, as some academics have tried to say, that the text has no actual meaning and belongs to each reader.
Foucault's Pendulum is the story about bored editors who decide to turn theories of crackpot occult authors into a vast and secret conspiracy. However, their prank becomes dangerous when someone takes it seriously. Occultism is ripe for a send-up, although that's just one ball Eco juggles.
A Wicked Pack of Cards
Slaying the reductionist materialistic dragon is the primary goal of the artist in his culture today.
The Origin of the 22 Trumps in Christian Europe
Forget all the occult nonsense you might have heard about the Tarot. The cards are the product of Christian Europe in the 15th Century and their form was fixed in in the 17th and 18th Centuries in what is known as the Tarot de Marseille. The 22 trumps were used in a game where each was "trumped" by the higher-numbered card. Le Mat (The Fool) is the only unnumbered card, and survives as the Joker. The grim reaper (XIII) is the only unnamed card; perhaps it was considered unlucky in the plague era.
For example, the shady sleight-of-hand performer (whom silly Victorian occultists turned into an adept) is I and is trumped by La Papesse (the female pope) II. This second card represents pagan religion, perhaps in the guise of the legend of Pope Joan. Contemporary art shows a classical goddess wearing a triple crown.
It is trumped by the Empress (III), then there's the Emperor (IIII), then the Pope (V), and so on. These would have been familiar figures to people of that age. The Renaissance was a time of rediscovery of the classical world and that is reflected in ways space does not permit the Bear to go into here.
Their Use in the Novel Formerly Known as Judging Angels
Anyway, there is a Tarot reading in one chapter of the novel formerly known as Judging Angels. No previous knowledge is necessary, and if readers don't catch on, they won't miss anything essential. If they think about it, though, it does provide clues to hidden connections among characters, their true identities, and an overview of the plot. The numbers 21 and 22 appear throughout the novel, also. Suffice it to say that 21 is missing one card. Who, what or where?
The relevance to the on-going discussion is that here we have one medium (a game with picture cards possessing their own associations) on top of a different medium (words used for description and dialogue). This is not gratuitous. Like them, fear them or just think they're silly, most people at least feel there's something mysterious about them. If they seem like an intrusion into this material world of an unseen reality our culture denies--just as they intrude into the story--it supports an important theme of the novel. And, unlike a motif or symbol, they have a resonant independent existence outside of it.
The Lead-Off Quote
Eco's quote probably sounds like an Italian academic with no appreciation for American ideals of free speech. However, the reason the Bear thought it was interesting was that it recognizes social media can harm the community. Eco is talking about content, but I'm sure he would have also been aware of it as a medium independent of content. As the Bear has argued, a medium limits and shapes content, and social media constricts it in harmful ways. What is your reaction?