Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Foucault's Pendulum: and gnow, to gnegate gnefarious gnosticism

The character of Lia in this novel is not major in terms of her "screen time," but she is so in terms of her symbolism. She is the earthy and very-much-attained love of our narrator, Casaubon. She is contrasted with Lorenza, the unattained (and airheaded) love of the main hero, Jacopo Belbo. Lorenza says things like "Once you've freed yourself from the flesh, you're beyond good and evil." She's being fed lines like that by this really sketch guy who calls her "Sophia," after a gnostic deity.

In contrast, Lia, who doesn't have the faith but can see through gnostic esotericism, tries to talk sense into Casaubon, whose child she is joyfully (because reproduction is good) carrying. Casaubon and his two friends are drawing themselves into a world in which nothing ever means just itself, where everything is an arcane symbol of something else, some great secret. Similar symbols are found over continents and millennia, so "obviously" they have a unifying, esoteric signifance; they are guarding a secret.

For Lia, on the other hand, the world is indeed full of symbols, but they are symbols of the everyday, the ordinary, the bodily. Much of her language is raw (not inappropriately, because she's making an argument that has earthiness as its essence), but I'll try to quote around that:
"...and if we put these two together, a new thing is made, and we become three. So you don't have to be a university professor or use a computer to discover that all cultures on earth have ternary structures, trinities.

"...Or, if you like, take the anatomy of your menhir, which your authors are always talking about. Standing up during the day, lying down at night -- your thing, too. No, don't tell me what it does at night. The fact is that erect it works and prone it rests. So the vertical position is life, pointing sunwards, and obelisks stand as trees stand, while the horizontal position and night are sleep, death. All cultures worship menhirs, monoliths, pyramids, columns, but nobody bows down to balconies and railings. Did you ever hear of an archaic cult of the sacred bannister?...

"...Anyway, that's how we're put together, all of us, and that's how we work out the same symbols millions of kilometers apart, and naturally they all resemble one another. Thus you see people with a brain in their head, if they're shown an alchemist's oven, all shut up and warm inside, think of the belly of the mama making a baby, and only your Diabolicals think that the Madonna about to have the Child is a reference to the alchemist's oven. They spent thousands of years looking for a message, and it was there all the time: they just had to look at themselves in the mirror."
As narrator, Casaubon remarks:
I should have listened to Lia. She spoke with wisdom of life and birth. Venturing into the underground passages of Agarttha, into the pyramid of Isis Unveiled, we had entered Gevurah, the Sefira of fear, the moment at which wrath manifests itself in the world....
And much later, he adds:
Lia was right. We should have talked about it earlier. But I wouldn't have believed her, all the same. I had experienced the creation of the Plan like the movement of Tiferet, the heart of the sefirotic body, the harmony of Rule and Freedom. Diotallevi had told me that Moses Cordovero had warned: "He who because of his Torah becomes proud over the ignorant, that is, over the whole people of Y____h, leads Tiferet to be 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.

Lia, I don't know if I will see you again. If not, the last image I have of you is half-asleep, under the blankets, a few days ago. I kissed you that morning, and hesitated before I left.
That abrupt transition, from cabalistic speculation to hard and fast experiences of human intimacy, is a perfect symbol of Casaubon's plight. (Oh but yikes -- did I just say "symbol"??)

is not about the cabalistic sefirot, but rather uses them as a narrative template. One thing seems clear, though: it is gnostic -- and therefore dangerous and wrong -- to exalt Tiferet over Malkhut.

Next time we'll hear more from Diotallevi.