Blog Post

Foucault's Pendulum: Eco and Aczel

Foucault's Pendulum: Eco and Aczel

because a point… the central point, I mean, the one right in the middle of all the points you see… it’s a geometric point; you can’t see it because it has no dimension, and if something has no dimension, it can’t move, not right or left, not up or down. So it doesn’t rotate with the earth. You understand? It can’t even rotate around itself. There is no ‘itself.’
--Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

The perceived rotation of the plane in which the pendulum (built by Leon Foucault in 1851) oscillates depends (non-linearly) on its orientation on the ground with respect to either of the poles and equator (Aczel 5, 103). Speed, therefore, as a reliable constant that emerges from the perceived “rotation” of the pendulum within a uniform system, does not exist, but rather undergoes continuous slippage as the ground upon which the pendulum stands “shifts.”  This compromised solidity of ground is analogous to the semantic instability posited by proponents of deconstruction, in which meaning continually evades the grip of the sign. Having historically vindicated reader-response theory with his ideas on the openness of the text, declaring any form of reading “a dialectic between the rights of texts and the rights of their interpreters,” Umberto Eco has since developed a more conservative stance in an attempt to curb the unbridled meaning-making inspired by deconstructionist approaches to interpretation (“Reading” 820). While he continues to advocate the capacity of a text to support an infinitude of meanings, he remains adamant that the “text is a place where the irreducible polysemy of symbols is in fact reduced because in a text symbols are anchored to their contexts” (Limits of Interpretation 21).

I've decided to start a soliloquy (perhaps even a colloquy, if someone would join in!) on Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum because I didn't really understand it the first time I read it and I could use the blog as motivation to read it again. I think this forum dedicated to humanities and science just might be the place to do it. Maybe some insightful input will come along and broaden my understanding of the novel. Because what Annie Dillard said of Jorge Luis Borges is also true of Umberto Eco: he is a library. To catch the references in this text, I'll need all the help I can get.

One of my resources will be Amir Aczel's book Pendulum on Leon Foucault, the guy who designed the pendulum.

Next post: Chapter 1 of both texts.


No comments