May 8, 2009

Eco-saurus rex

So the day before I finished The Island. I finally had time to read the verbiage. There is too much philosophizing and painstaking narration which can weigh down the interest, though I must say that the prose is often imaginative. There’s lots of awesome descriptions and amusing digressions (on astronomy, physics, Christianity). Eco’s agility as a storyteller is evident from his skillful juggling of too many scientific, historical, and philosophical ideas.

Eco luxuriates in lyrical language. His sentences are laden with details. The passages are also impressive, but the narrative somehow lacks a door latch that the reader can hold onto. I feel at first like a blind bat in need of the powers of echolocation. I also feel shipwrecked myself.

The book explores some of the foundations of scientific thought, and most of it is presented as a drivel by Father Caspar (speaking like Master Yoda), who doggedly adheres to the geocentric view that the Earth is the center of the universe. There are already indications of the nascent thinking of Copernicus, Einstein’s relativity postulates especially on the frame of reference, some hints of present-day debates on intelligent design and creationism.

The book in parts is, to mimic its double-edged mannerism, technically exasperating or exasperatingly technical. What is exasperating is that the science is too old-fashioned and too outdated. That, for me, is what is admirable with it. I liked the way Eco attempts to role-play arguments of mad philosophers and mad scientists (they seem to be interchangeable).

Eco seems to be documenting the naiveté in scientific thinking and approaches in 17th century, and it is religion that is often the culprit in contaminating the progress of astronomy and natural sciences. Indirectly, the absurdity of religion influences scientific methods and approaches. Religion kills the objectivity of science and yet it propels it to invention, experimentation, and discovery.

On the literary front, The Island has too many to offer. The playfulness of the free indirect style, the double (In some ways, the reader is The Other too), the (slightly) intrusive narrator who wrote this novel as an ‘interpretation’ of Roberto’s writings, the open-ended conclusion. It has something to say about time, the nature of time, direction of time, the arbitrariness of scientific theories, the subjectivity of science. For a book about “emblems and devices” it has masterfully crafted symbols, most notably the Orange Dove and the unattainable Island.

Overall the book is impressive not so much for the writing (which is often boring), but for the ambition (which is vaulting). It has moments and passages that come alive like jewels. It is, in some ways, a tropic novel of sunlight, not the dreary old-fashioned novel bathed in darkness, although it is old-fashioned, perennially old-fashioned. 

No comments:

Post a Comment