Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Da Vinci Crap

Like many, many, many people before me I recently found myself reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. At first glance, this book might seem like an ideal fit for me. It involves a considerable amount of speculation, something I enjoy in a book, discusses quite a bit of history, and takes a few stabs at Catholicism. As I am a rather devout Atheist, most of my associates might expect that last bit to be particularly pleasing to me. Well, at first glance, this is indeed a book I was meant to enjoy. As I began reading it I found myself rather taken with the characters as well as with the initial conflict. I was eager to see where Dan Brown was leading me.

It was, therefore, quite disappointing when I got to the answer: absolutely nowhere. This book is truly, spectacularly, bad.

To summarize, Harvard symbologist Robert "Don't ever call be Bob at any point in the entire 454 pages of this book" Langdon is in Paris for a lecture when Jacques "I can construct incredibly elaborate scavenger hunts while dying from a gut-wound" Sauniere, a curator at the Louvre, is murdered in a rather peculiar fashion. Through an accident of coincidence the French police intitally believe Langdon to be the murderer and call him to the scene of the crime for questioning. He is rescued from imminent entrapment by none other than the curator's estranged granddaughter, Sophie "Transparent love interest" Neveu, who manages to extract him from police custody. What follows is a whirlwind adventure where our heroes must stay out of the dastardly clutches of the French and locate (And I swear this is serious) the Holy Grail. Along the way they will do battle with an annoyed butler, taxi drivers, a bank manager, bushes, an albino monk with a thing for pain, and, their most deadly foe of all, a man on crutches. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this book stands as a testimony that we should respect and fear the differently-abled because they can still fuck us up.

Returning to the real kicker in the preceding paragraph, yes I meant the Holy Grail. Many will recall the Holy Grail from the arthurian legends or, failing that, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Grail is reputed to be the cup that caught the blood of Jesus Christ (It is a tad gruesome to recall the "My cup runneth over" line at this point) during his crucifiction. This chalice is rumored to have numerous properties, such as conferring eternal life, really awesome HBO reception, and it makes the ultimate godly souvenir. Dan Brown, however, twists this legend in a new way: the grail is not, in fact, a cup that caught the blood of Christ. Instead, this version of the grail story is but an allegory, transmitting in secret the real truth. Specifically, the grail is claimed to be the womb of Mary Magdalene, Christ's wife, who bore his child. Just a slight change.

I have no interest in arguing against the possibility that Jesus fathered a child. Frankly, I think the Christian churches could use the shakeup that such a discovery would provoke. A little something to stretch some minds, and all. No, my problem is with the way that Dan Brown builds his case.

Leaving aside the fact that the characters are so flat it gives unidimensional a bad name, this book seems like a crap-reasoning primer. The case for believing that the Holy Grail is, in fact, the womb of Mary Magdalene is made through supposition, vague symbol, and guesswork. Now, I'm as much of a fan as guesswork as the next guy, but one of the pivotal scenes rests on a character's realization that the figure sitting to the left of Jesus (No, no, your left, HIS right) in Da Vinci's The Last Supper is female. Specifically, this "obvious" female is supposed to represent Mary Magdalene who was Jesus' right-hand-person.

As a brief aside, let's just keep in mind how obvious Dan Brown argues this is. Specifically, when the gender of this figure is revealed on page 243 (2003 Hardback edition) it goes like this:

Sophie examined the figure to Jesus' immediate right, focusing in. As she studied the person's face and body, a wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was, without a doubt...female.

"That's a woman!" Sophie exclaimed...

Although Sophie had seen this classic image many times, she had not once noticed this glaring discrepancy.

"Everyone misses it," Teabing said, "Our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our eyes."

I do have to concede that, if you really look at this painting, that figure looks female. The catch is, so does that guy in the middle. You know... Jesus. As long as we're ignoring the fact that the apostles were often depicted in a manner we would today construe as feminine, let's take it to the next logical step: Jesus was a woman.

Actually, I think I could really get behind a revelation like that. Dan Brown: Call me, we need to talk.

There's also the small matter that Brown argues that the presence of a "V" symbol between Jesus and the supposed-Magdalene is a sign that Da Vinci was trying to include a reference to the feminine ("V" being the international pagan symbol for female, dontcha know) to scream the truth despite official church censorship. Well... I suppose. But here's the thing: there are an awful lot of "V" shapes in the world. Geese, for instance, flying south for the winter have been known, from time to time, to assume a V-shape. Is this a sort of animal-born allegory to Mary Magdalene? Do all of the occurrences of "V" represent the sacred feminine?

To Dan Brown: Yes. Yes they do. His Langdon character reflects frequently on the many ways in which the story of Mary Magdalene is told through allusion. These include, but are not limited to, church architecture, the French Troubadours (Who were, apparently, wandering monks in the service of Magdalene's successors), the construction of the Louvre itself, and Walt Disney cartoons. Sleeping beauty would seem to be an almost literal retelling of the Magdalene story... except for the fact that there's essentially no similarity at all. In fact, it would seem from Brown's book that Western civilization has no stories other than those of Christ and Magdalene.

What makes this worse is Dan Brown's delivery. Rather than lead us from revelation to revelation gradually, he lures us into a calm scene and then beats us over the head with his point. I don't mean to imply it's a subtle beating, either. He takes his hypothesis and uses it to club the reader like a baby seal. Two of his characters repeatedly confirm each other's far-fetched arguments regarding symbolism and the Grail, seemingly providing the reader with independent confirmation of the veracity of this story. Regrettably, the symbols themselves, in their infinite variety and utter ubiquity, leave the intelligent reader unconvinced, or at least unsatisfied. Moreover, if western civilization truly has been nothing but a wash of symbolic arguments over the truth of Jesus since... well... Jesus, then why does all this come as such a surprise? Are we really to believe, as Brown clearly intends, that we are so stupid as to be entirely oblivious to such messages?

So, what's my point in all this? Hell, I'm not sure. I had a point, and then I had a really long, confusing, rambling, conversation with someone who dropped by unannounced. At some point in that conversation, my point flew away. No doubt it's visiting some other blogger in some other blog who will have sat down to write about their dinner at Steak & Ale and will, instead, find some trite observations about science and pseudo-science pouring forth. "Godspeed, point," I say! May you find greener pastures!

I guess all I really have to say is this book makes a mountian out of a molehill and doesn't even provide a modicum of entertainment value in the process. What's worse, it suggests that academic work is nothing more complicated than reading hidden messages into great works of art. Certainly artists include hidden subtexts, and surely art historians have things to say about this, but there remain standards of honesty and evidence that must be followed. Just because two people leaning away from each other make a "V" shape, it does not mean the artist who painted them was conveying a subversive message in support of a goddess concept. It very likely may just mean that they were leaning away from each other. Sometimes, as it has been said abour Freudianism, a cigar is just a cigar.

I feel diminished for having read this crap and shall have to find something of greater literary value with which to dispell the aftertaste.

I imagine a T.V. Guide will serve nicely.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you Total Drek. The subject matter is weak and tenuous at best and Dan Brown's writing style is mediocre at best. I'll stick with the classics or modern works with literary merit or interesting styles.

Saturday, April 15, 2006 2:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, i have recently read your account and i agree with every word. Although i am a devoted Christian i find it very interesting what you have to say and can not help but believe it. I have not read the book myself, but many of my frineds have and i will know read it. For you have got me extremely interested. i love your logic, i think it's fantastic and that you should stick with it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read the book and agree with you up to a point, it is entertaining up to a point, it is a page turner.
But it is total crap and as you say the points raised are assuming a heck of a lot and alot of it is pure falacy. incedntly Dan brown does say it is just a book and not to be taken as literal, well hes got to say that really hasnt he as he knows its utter rubbish and the theorys dont hold up.
iv have read a couple of other books he has written (Angels and demons is really, really crapwhat a stupid ending this book deserves worst book ever award!) and its obvoius that he wants all his books to be hollywood movies!
He is like a steven segal of the book world.

Saturday, September 02, 2006 3:56:00 PM  

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