Whoever reflects on four things, it were better he had never been born: that which is
above, that which is below, that which is before, and that which is after.
– Talmud, Hagigah 2.1
I showed up at Garamond the morning they were installing Abulafia, as Belbo and Diotallevi were lost in a ditribe about the nomes of God, and Gudrun suspiciously watched the men who were introducing this new, disturbing presence amonf the increasingly dusty piles of manuscripts.
“Sit down, Casaubon. Here are the plans for our history of meals.” We were left alone, and Belbo showed me indexes, chapter outlines, suggested layouts. I was to read the texts and find illustrations. I mentioned several Milan libraries that seemed promising sources.
“That won’t be enough,”Belbo said. ” You’ll have to visit other places, too. The science museum in Munich, for instance, has a splendid photographic archive. In Paris there’s the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. I’d go back there myself, if I had time”
“Disturbing. The triumph of the machine, housed in a Gothic church…” He hesitated, religned some papers on his desk. Them, as if afraid of giving too much importance to the statement, he said, “And there’s the Pendulum.”
“The Pendulum. Foucault’s Pendulum.”
And he described it to me, just as I saw it two days ago, Saturday. Maybe I saw it the way I saw it because Belbo had prepared me for the sight. But at that time I must not have shown much enthusiasm, because Belbo looked at me as if I were a man who, seeing the Sistine Chape, asks: Is this all?
“It may be the atmosphere – that it’s in a church – but, believe me, you feel a very strong sensation. The idea that everything else is in motion and up above is the only fixed point in the universe… For those who have no faith, it’s a way of finding God again, and without challenging their unbelief, because it is a null pole. It can be very comforting for people of my generation, who ate disappointment for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
“My generation ate even more disappointment.”
“Don’t brag. anyway, you’re wrong. For you it was just a phase.
You sang the Carmagnole, and then you all met in the Vendée. For us it was different.
First there was Fascism, and even if we were kids and saw it as an adventure story, our nation’s immortal destiny was fixed point. The next fixed point was the Rsistance, especially for people like me, who observed it from the outside and turned it into a rite of passage, the return of spring- like an equinox or a solstice; I always get them mixed up…
for some, the working class; and for many, both. Intellectuals felt good contemplating the handsome worker, healthy, strong, ready to remake the world. And now, as you’ve seen for yourself, workers exist, but not the working class. Perhaps it was killed in Hungary.
Then came your generation. For you personally, what happened was natural; it probably seemed like a holiday.But not for those my age. For us, it was a settling of scores, a time of remorse, repentance, regeneration. We had failed, and you were arriving with your enthusiasm, courage, self criticism. Bringing hope to us, who by then were thirty-five or forty, hope and humiliation, but still hope. We had to be like you, even at the price of starting over from the beginning. We stopped wearing ties, we trew away our trench coats
and bought secondhand duffle coats.
Some quit their jobs rather than serve the Establishment….”
He lit a cigarette and pretended the he had only been pretending bitterness. An apology for letting himself go.
“And then you gave it all up. We, with our penitential pilgrimages to Buchenwald, refused to write advertising copy for Coca Cola because we were antifascists. We were content to work for peanuts at Garamond, because at least books were for the people.
But you, to avenge yourselves on the bourgeoisie you hadn’t managed to overthrow, sold them videocassettes and fanzines, brain-washed them with Sen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. You’ve made us buy, at a discount, your copies of the thoughts of Chaiman Mao, and used the money to purchase fireworks for the celebration of the new crativity.
Shamelessly. While we spent our lives being ashamed. You tricked us, you didn’t represent purity; it was only adolescent acne. You mad us feel like worms because we lacked the courage to face the Bolivian militia, and you started shooting a few poor bastards in the back while they were walking down the street. Ten years ago, we had to lie to get you out of jail; you lied to send your friends to jai. That’s why I like this machine it’s stupid, it doesn’t believe, it doesn’t make me believe, it just does what I tell it.
Stupid me, stupid machine. An honest relationship.”
“You’re innocent, Casaubon. You ran away instead of trowing stones, you got your defree, you didn’t shoot anybody. yet a few years ago I felt you, too, were blackmailing me.
Nothing personal, just generational cycles. And then last year, when I saw the Pendulum, I understood everything.”
“Almost everything. You see, Casaubon, even the Pendulum is a false prophet. You look at it, you think it’s the only fixed point in the cosmos, but if you detach it form the ceiling of the Conservatoire and hang it in a brothel, it works just the same. And there are other pendulums: there’s one in New Yoirk, in the UN building,there’s one in the science museum in San Francisco, and God knows how many others. Wherever you put it, Foucault’s Pendulum swings from a motionless point while the earth rotates beneath it.
Every point of the universe is a fixed point.All you have to do is hang the Pendulum from it.”
“God is eveywhere?”
“In a sense, yes. That’s why the Pendulum disturbs me. It promises the infinite, but where to put the infinite is left to me. So it isn’t enough to worship the Pendulum; you still have to make a decision, you have to find the best point for it. And yet…”
“And yet…You’re not taking me seriously by any chance, are you, Casaubon? No, I can rest easy; we’re not the type to take things seriously… Well, as I was saying, the feeling you have is that you’ve spent a lifetime hanging the Pendulum in many places, and it’s never worked, but ther, in the Conservatoire, it works…Do you think there are special places in the universe? On the ceiling of this room, for example? No, nobody would
You need atmosphere. I don’t know, maybe we’re always looking for the right place, maybe it’s within reach, but we don’t recognize it. Maybe to recognize it, we have to believe in it. Well, let’s go see Signor Garamond.”
“To hang the Pendulum?”
“Ah, human folly! Now we have to be serious. If You’re going to be paid, the boss must see you, touch you, sniff you, and say you’ll do. Come and let the boss touch you, the boss’s touch heals scrofula.”
The Foucault pendulum or Foucault’s pendulum, named after the French physicist Léon Foucault, is a simple device conceived as an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. While it had long been known that the Earth rotates, the introduction of the Foucault pendulum in 1851 was the first simple proof of the rotation in an easy-to-see experiment. Today, Foucault pendulums are popular displays in science museums and universities.
The first public exhibition of a Foucault pendulum took place in February 1851 in the Meridian of the Paris Observatory. A few weeks later Foucault made his most famous pendulum when he suspended a 28 kg brass-coated lead bob with a 67 meter long wire from the dome of the Panthéon, Paris. The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours. The original bob used in 1851 at the Panthéon was moved in 1855 to theConservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
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