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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1992
  • Online publication date: February 2010

4 - The pragmatist's progress


When I read Professor Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum, I decided that Eco must be satirizing the way in which scientists, scholars, critics and philosophers think of themselves as cracking codes, peeling away accidents to reveal essence, stripping away veils of appearance to reveal reality. I read the novel as anti-essentialist polemic, as a spoof of the metaphor of depth – of the notion that there are deep meanings hidden from the vulgar, meanings which only those lucky enough to have cracked a very difficult code can know. I took it as pointing up the similarities between Robert Fludd and Aristotle – or, more generally, between the books you find in the ‘Occult’ sections of bookstores and the ones you find in the ‘Philosophy’ sections.

More specifically, I interpreted the novel as a send-up of structuralism – of the very idea of structures which stand to texts or cultures as skeletons to bodies, programs to computers, or keys to locks. Having previously read Eco's A Theory of Semiotics – a book which sometimes reads like an attempt to crack the code of codes, to reveal the universal structure of structures – 1 concluded that Foucault's Pendulum stood to that earlier book as Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations to his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I decided that Eco had managed to shrug off the diagrams and taxonomies of his earlier work, just as the older Wittgenstein shrugged off his youthful fantasies of ineffable objects and rigid connections.