Constructing Human History through Intertextuality from Nothingness: The Falsehoods of Metanarrative in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum

© Émile Signol, Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15th July 1099, oil on canvas, 1847

The lack of concrete evidence on the history of the Knights Templar makes them one of the most mysterious and controversial political and religious power in European history. Because of the blurred boundaries between historical facts and legends, the Knights Templar have become a very popular subject for postmodern mysteries. Borrowing from this idea, Eco uses the Templars to compose a satire that parodies the metanarrative relationships between forgery and fictional writing in Foucault’s Pendulum (1988). In this novel, Eco explores the postmodern notion of history as an accumulated product of multiple falsehoods.


© Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd

The major feature that illustrates this metanarrative move is the Templar plan for the universe carried out by the Templar, which is forged by the three protagonists. Highlighting the idea of creating from nothingness, the allusion to the tree of life of the ten Sefirot of each section hints at the paradoxical nature of creation. Because “the idea is not to discover the Templar’s secret, but to construct it”, the whole conspiracy comes out of nowhere just as in the scientific view the universe emerge from nothingness in the Big Bang, or in the religious view the ten Sefirot are the infinite and formless state of the universe that is created from nothingness. Intertwined with Belbo’s fictional writing inspired by ‘real’ events, Eco suggests the deceptive nature of a world composed of intertextuality, which we call history. Such idea is elaborated by Lia’s dismissal of Casaubon’s constructed hallucination reality as she states that he is just looking at himself when he and his Diabolicals are looking for an empty message. Their contrasting embodiment of the natural reality of the mother and of the hallucination reality of the father indicates archetypes are all constructed ‘truth’ while the creation of the universe is naturally born from nothingness. To give meanings to religions and history, the three protagonists use their computer to create random texts and then forge connections between the lines. Absurd as this seems, as long as they compile the truth and use the magic keys of repetitions, they can construct a coherent reality.


Eco’s novel offers its ultimate parody of the paradoxical falsehoods of reality at the end of his work when the followers of the Temple gathered to carry out the ‘Plan’ – all, as the reader knows, for an empty secret. Such sense of irony mocks the attempt to seek for any truth in the universe; the true initiate knows the most powerful secret is the one without content as embodied in the dead Belbo’s lie. Eco exposes mankind as trapped in a Möbius strip of the infinite falsehoods of history, as a self-deceiving serpent eating its own tail. If Casaubon listens to the mother of his child, who tells him that the whole ‘Plan’ is a jest, the whole deceptive game will be put to an end, but perhaps with such ending it is implied that it is inevitable for human to create their “history” with intertextuality and to deceive themselves.

By Chan Tsz Yan Audrey

Categories: Books, Modernism and Postmodernism

Tags: , , , ,

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