Foucault’s Pendulum
Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

These pages: Foucault’s Pendulum

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William Weaver

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Foucault’s Pendulum

Translated from the Italian by
William Weaver

Copyright © 1988 Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri Bompiani,
Sonzogno Etas S.p.A., Milano

English translation copyright © 1989 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.


TIFERET (Beauty)

Among the Diabolicals, I moved with the ease of a psychiatrist who becomes fond of his patients, enjoying the balmy breezes that waft from the ancient park of his private clinic. After a while he begins to write pages on delirium, then pages of delirium, unaware that his sick people have seduced him. He thinks he has become an artist. And so the idea of the Plan was born.

Diotallevi went along with the game because, for him, it was a form of prayer. As for Jacopo Belbo, I thought he was having as much fun as I was.


“We mustn’t overdo it.”

“No, we must overdo it. If we admit that in the whole universe there is even a single fact that does not reveal a mystery, then we violate hermetic thought.”

“That’s true. [...] And, if you’ll allow me, I’ll add a fundamental axiom: The Templars have something to do with everything.”

“That goes without saying,” Diotallevi agreed.

66 “Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another. The connection changes the perspective; it leads you to think that every detail of the world, every voice, every word written or spoken has more than its literal meaning, that it tells us of a Secret. The rule is simple: Suspect, only suspect. You can read subtexts even in a traffic sign that says ‘No littering.’ ”

When you assume an attitude of suspicion, you overlook no clue. After our fantasy on the power train and the Tree of the Sefirot, I was prepared to see symbols in every object that I came upon.


“The telluric serpent simply stands for the occult serpent. The goddess reposes, coiled, and sleeps her eternal sleep. Kundalini throbs gently, binding heavy bodies to lighter bodies. Like a vortex or a whirlpool, like the first half of the syllable om.”

“But what secret does the serpent refer to?”

“To the telluric currents.”

“What are the telluric currents?”

“A great cosmological metaphor, which refers to the serpent.”

To hell with Agliè, I said to myself, I know more than that.

The occult knowledge of the Egyptians passed from Hermes Trismegistus to Moses, who took care not to pass it on to his band of tatterdemalions, their craws still stuffed with manna; to them he offered the Ten Commandments, which was as much as they could comprehend. The higher truth is aristocratic; Moses encoded it in the Pentateuch. The cabalists understood this.

The earth is a great magnet, and the force and direction of its currents are influenced by the celestial spheres, the cycle of the seasons, the precession of the equinoxes, the cosmic cycles. Thus the pattern of the currents changes. But it must change like hair, which, though it grows everywhere on the top and sides of the skull, nevertheless spirals out from a point toward the back, where it rebels most against the comb. When that point has been identified, when the most powerful station has been established there, it will be possible to control, direct, command all the telluric currents of the planet. The Templars realized that the secret lay not only in possessing the global map of the currents, but also in knowing the critical point, the Omphalos, the Umbilicus Telluris, the Navel of the World, the Source of Command.

All alchemistic talk—the chthonic descent of the Black Work, the electric charge of the White—is only a metaphor, a metaphor clear to the initiated, for this age-old auscultation whose final result will be the Red: global knowledge, brilliant dominion over the planetary system of currents. 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 we traded the results of our fantasies, it seemed to us—and rightly—that we had proceeded by unwarranted associations, by shortcuts so extraordinary that, if anyone had accused us of really believing them, we would have been ashamed. We consoled ourselves with the realization—unspoken, now, respecting the etiquette of irony—that we were parodying the logic of our Diabolicals. But during the long intervals in which each of us collected evidence to produce at the plenary meetings, and with the clear conscience of those who accumulate material for a medley of burlesques, our brains grew accustomed to connecting, connecting, connecting everything with everything else, until we did it automatically, out of habit. I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.

It’s an old story of spies: they infiltrate the secret service of the enemy, they develop the habit of thinking like the enemy, and if they survive, it’s because they’ve succeeded. And before long, predictably, they go over to the other side, because it has become theirs.



I was becoming addicted, Diotallevi was becoming corrupted, Belbo was becoming converted. But all of us were slowly losing that intellectual light that allows you always to tell the similar from the identical, the metaphorical from the real. We were losing that mysterious and bright and most beautiful ability to say that Signor A has grown bestial—without thinking for a moment that he now has fur and fangs.

The Jesuits knew that if you want to confound your enemies, the best technique is to create clandestine sects, wait for dangerous enthusiasms to precipitate, then arrest them all. In other words, if you fear a plot, organize one yourself; that way, all those who join it come under your control.

“When mystical neo-Templarism, whoever invented it, began producing things like The Magic Flute, Loyola’s men naturally decided to wipe it out. It’s like high finance: you buy a company, you sell off its assets, you declare bankruptcy, you close it down, and you reinvest its capital. The important thing is the overall strategy, not what happens to the janitor. Or it’s like a used car: when it stops running, you send it to the junkyard.”

All along it had been right in front of us, the whole thing, and we had failed to see it. Over six centuries, six groups fight to achieve the Plan of Provins, and each group takes the text of that Plan, simply changes the subject, and attributes it to its adversaries.

96 Nevertheless, our story was plausible, rational, because it was backed by facts, it was true—as Belbo said, true as the Bible.

“And then what happened?”

“See here, Casaubon, why are you so interested in my life?”

“Because you make it sound like a folktale, and folktales are part of the collective imagination.”

“Good point.”


“Yesterday we sketched a splendid dime novel,” I said to him. “But maybe, if we want to make a convincing Plan, we should stick closer to reality.”

“What reality?” he asked me. “Maybe only cheap fiction gives us the true measure of reality. Maybe they’ve deceived us.”


“Making us believe that on one hand there is Great Art, which portrays typical characters in typical situations, and on the other hand you have the thriller, the romance, which portrays atypical characters in atypical situations. No true dandy, I thought, would have made love to Scarlett O’Hara or even to Constance Bonacieux or Princess Daisy. I played with the dime novel, in order to take a stroll outside of life. It comforted me, offering the unattainable. But I was wrong.”


“Wrong. Proust was right: life is represented better by bad music than by a Missa solemnis. Great Art makes fun of us as it comforts us, because it shows us the world as the artists would like the world to be. The dime novel, however, pretends to joke, but then it shows us the world as it actually is—or at least the world as it will become. Women are a lot more like Milady than they are like Little Nell, Fu Manchu is more real than Nathan the Wise, and History is closer to what Sue narrates than to what Hegel projects. Shakespeare, Melville, Balzac, and Dostoyevski all wrote sensational fiction. What has taken place in the real world was predicted in penny dreadfuls.”

“The fact is, it’s easier for reality to imitate the dime novel than to imitate art. Being a Mona Lisa is hard work; becoming Milady follows our natural tendency to choose the easy way.”




If belief is absolutely necessary, let it be in a religion that doesn’t make you feel guilty. A religion out of joint, fuming, subterranean, without an end. Like a novel, not like a theology.



But if there is no cosmic Plan? What a mockery, to live in exile when no one sent you there. Exile from a place, moreover, that does not exist.

And what if there is a Plan, but it has eluded you—and will elude you for all eternity?

When religion fails, art provides. You invent the Plan, metaphor of the Unknowable One. Even a human plot can fill the void.


“Listen, what do you know about your unconscious?”

“Nothing. I’m not even sure I have one.”

“There. Imagine that a Viennese prankster, to amuse his friends, invented the whole busines of the id and Oedipus, and made up dreams he had never dreamed and little Hanses he had never met. . . . And what happened? Millions of people were out there, all ready and waiting to become neurotic in earnest. And thousands more ready to make money treating them.”



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.”



“Your plan isn’t poetic; it’s grotesque. People don’t get the idea of going back to burn Troy just because they read Homer. With Homer, the burning of Troy became something that it never was and never will be, and yet the Iliad endures, full of meaning, because it’s all clear, limpid. Your Rosicrucian manifestoes are neither clear nor limpid; they’re mud, hot air, and promises. This is why so many people have tried to make them come true, each finding in them what he wants to find. In Homer there’s no secret, but your plan is full of secrets, full of contradictions. For that reason you could find thousands of insecure people ready to identify with it. Throw the whole thing out. Homer wasn’t faking, but you three have been faking. Beware of faking: people will believe you. People believe those who sell lotions that make lost hair grow back. They sense instinctively that the salesman is putting together truths that don’t go together, that he’s not being logical, that he’s not speaking in good faith. But they’ve been told that God is mysterious, unfathomable, so to them incoherence is the closest thing to God. The farfetched is the closest thing to a miracle. You’ve invented hair oil. I don’t like it. It’s a nasty joke.”

I had experienced the creation of the Plan like the moment of Tiferet, the heart of the sefirotic body, the harmony of Rule and Freedom. Diotallevi had told me that Moses Cordovero warned: “He who because of his Torah becomes proud over the ignorant, that is, over the whole people of Yahweh, leads Tiferet to grow proud over Malkhut.” But what Malkhut is, the kingdom of this earth, in its dazzling simplicity, is something I understand only now— in time to grasp the truth; perhaps too late to survive the truth.
NEZAH (Victory)

I believe he really believed this; such is the power of frustrated desire. The file ended—it could not have been otherwise—with the quotation required of all those whom life has defeated: Bin ich ein Gott?


“The Torah allows a word to come out of its coffer; the word appears for a moment, then hides immediately. It is revealed only for a moment and only to its lover. It’s a beautiful woman who hides in a remote chamber of her palace. She waits for one whose existence nobody knows of. If another tries to take her, to put his dirty hands on her, she dismisses him. She knows her beloved; she opens the door just a little, shows herself, and immediately hides again. The word of the Torah reveals itself only to him who loves it. But we approached books without love, in mockery. . . .”

Belbo again moistened his friend’s lips with the cloth. “And so?”

“So we attempted to do what was not allowed us, what we were not prepared for. Manipulating the words of the Book, we attempted to construct a golem.”

“I don’t understand. . . .”

“You can’t understand. You’re the prisoner of what you created. But your story in the outside world is still unfolding.”

HOD (Splendour)

Until that moment, Belbo had trembled. But now I saw him relax. He looked at the audience, I will not say with confidence, but with curiosity. I believe that, hearing the argument between the two adversaries, seeing before him the contorted bodies of the mediums, the dervishes still jerking and moaning to the side, the rumpled vestments of the dignitaries, Belbo recovered his most genuine gift: his sense of the ridiculous.

I believe that at that moment he decided not to allow himself to be frightened anymore.

YESOD (Foundation)

We invented a nonexistent Plan, and They not only believed it was real but convinced themselves that They had been part of it for ages, or, rather, They identified the fragments of their muddled mythology as moments of our Plan, moments joined in a logical, irrefutable web of analogy, semblance, suspicion.

But if you invent a plan and others carry it out, it’s as if the Plan exists. At that point it does exist.

We offered a map to people who were trying to overcome a deep, private frustration. What frustration? Belbo’s last file suggested it to me: There can be no failure if there really is a Plan. Defeated you may be, but never through any fault of your own. To bow to a cosmic will is no shame. You are not a coward; you are a martyr.

You don’t complain about being mortal, prey to a thousand microorganisms you can’t control; you aren’t responsible for the fact that your feet are not very prehensile, that you have no tail, that your hair and teeth don’t grow back when you lose them, that your arteries harden with time. It’s because of the Envious Angels.

The same applies to everyday life. Take stock-market crashes. They happen because each individual makes a wrong move, and all the wrong moves put together create panic. Then whoever lacks steady nerves asks himself: Who’s behind this plot, who’s benefiting? He has to find an enemy, a plotter, or it will be, God forbid, his fault.

If you feel guilty, you invent a plot, many plots. And to counter them, you have to organize your own plot. But the more you invent enemy plots, to exonerate your lack of understanding, the more you fall in love with them, and you pattern your own on their model.

Someone—Rubinstein, maybe—once said, when asked if he believed in God: “Oh, no, I believe . . . in something much bigger.” And someone else—was it Chesterton?—said that when men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.

But everything is not a bigger secret. There are no “bigger secrets,” because the moment a secret is revealed, it seems little. There is only an empty secret. A secret that keeps slipping through your fingers. [...]

The true initiate is he who knows that the most powerful secret is a secret without content, because no enemy will be able to make him confess it, no rival devotee will be able to take it from him.

Note (Hal’s):
The quote attributed to Artur Rubinstein appears to be genuine, though he may have been quoting Oscar Wilde. The one attributed to Chesterton appears not to be directly from him, though a variant traces back to The Laughing Prophet: The Seven Virtues and G.K. Chesterton by Emile Cammaerts.

– end note



II9 It was said that on the evening of the battle the Badogliani had flung themselves at the enemy, shouting “Forward, Savoy!” Well, but that was out of habit, some said. What else could you shout when you attacked? It didn’t necessarily mean they were monarchists; they, too, knew that the king had grave things to answer for.


Battle Cries

Jacopo waited for the speech, because his whole childhood, like that of others his age, had been marked by the great historic speeches of Il Duce, whose most significant passages were memorized in school. Actually, the students memorized whole speeches, because every sentence was a significant declaration.

You spend a life seeking the Opportunity, without realizing that the decisive moment, the moment that justifes birth and death, has already passed. It will not return, but it was—full, dazzling, generous as every revelation.

That day, Jacopo Belbo stared into the eyes of Truth. The only truth that was to be granted him. Because—he would learn—truth is brief (afterward, it is all commentary). So he tried to arrest the rush of time.

He didn’t understand. Not as a child. Not as an adolescent when he was writing about tit. Not as a man who decided to give up writing about it.

I understood it this evening: the author has to die in order for the reader to become aware of his truth.

The Pendulum, which haunted Jacopo Belbo all his adult life, had been—like the lost addresses of his dream—the symbol of that other moment, recorded and then repressed, when he truly touched the ceiling of the world. But that moment, in which he froze space and time, shooting his Zeno’s arrow, had been no symbol, no sign, symptom, allusion, metaphor, or enigma: it was what it was. It did not stand for anything else. At that moment there was no longer any deferment, and the score was settled.

Jacopo Belbo didn’t understand that he had had his moment and that it would have to be enough for him, for all his life.

MALKHUT (Kingship)

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, and 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.



I would have liked to write down everything I thought today. But if They were to read it, They would only derive another dark theory and spend another eternity trying to decipher the secret message hidden behind my words. It’s impossible, They would say; he can’t only have been making fun of us. No. Perhaps, without his realizing it, Being was sending us a message through its oblivion.

It makes no difference whether I write or not. They will look for other meanings, even in my silence. That’s how They are. Blind to revelation. Malkhut is Malkhut, and that’s that.

But try telling Them. They of little faith.

text checked (see note) Dec 2020

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