Friday, June 17, 2005

da veni, da vidi, da vinci

Yesterday I finally sat down to read "The Da Vinci Code," a book cavalier in its disregard for basic literacy. That's not even beginning on its crimes against human intelligence. On the whole, reading it was a bit like studying a State Education Board textbook - flat writing, misleading (and misled) propaganda, lacunae so wide you can bathe an elephant in them.

Some of its fundamental principles aren't quibbleworthy. I accept the thesis that religious organisations have done more harm than most in suppressing individual freedom and alternate histories. I also think it's cool that Jesus might have had a family (but then, I'm not a Christian and my view of JC is closer to the Jesus Christ Superstar reading than the more arcane Biblical ones). As for the (misguided) feminist factor, everyone knows chicks have been screwed over since the dawn of time. Welcome to the menstrual hut, Dan Brown. Don't mess with the big girls.

I'm inclined to think that humanity at large would be far stupider to endorse his pseudo-history than the Church's. Because baby, the Church, they be smarter than Dan Brown. In fact, I'm certain there are tribes in the deepest reaches of the Amazonian rainforest as yet untouched by civilisation who would do a better job of cobbling together a fiction about Christianity than Dan Brown*.

And when I think of all the brilliant writers I know, people who write both original and fanfiction, who will comb the back pages of the Internet and second-hand bookshops and the appendices of the Lord of the Rings to make sure that they've got their facts right ... !

I mean, when you make a blanket statement about rewriting biases in history, the caveat is that your own history is biased. Okay. So at the centre of the book is Leonardo Da Vinci, acknowledged as an eccentric and a prankster. I'm sure he'd think it a big laugh that someone picked up that old sketch of his, Jesus and the Apostles posing for a photo all one side of the table (the only detail Mel Gibson's The Passion bothered to correlate with reason - his apostles sat facing each other) and tried to sell it to everyone as, quite literally, gospel truth. What a paradox that is. I'm sure the rich nutters heading the Priory of Sion - whatever THAT is - are bubbling over with joy that someone decided to take their kooky old boys' club seriously. How convenient that Jesus' latest ancestor is pretty white French royalty and not some tanned, curly-headed Semite in Syria! All the femmenists who think that being female warrants being worshipped as a goddess must have their lacy undies in a bundle. Note, I have no quarrel with them. (Girlies, I have no quarrel with you, but pls to get over yourselves.)

And maybe, just maybe, in the wide gap between one fiction and another, is the possibility that the Church or the disciples or whoever, packed the Magdalene and the supposed divine daughter off to France because they thought that the best thing about Christianity was its inherent democracy, the idea that anyone could be a) head of the Church or b) a good Christian, regardless of whose blood they possessed? What is it with this royal bloodline? It's like believing Shakespeare was actually the Earl of Oxford or Queen Bess or whoever, isn't it - so hard for snobs to stomach the fact that someone brilliant and charismatic and wise came out of a commoner's family with no breeding or money to speak of? Didn't they address this already, the old can-anything-good-come-out-of-Nazareth deal? Or the loins of a glovemaker from Stratford-upon-Avon. Grrr.

Or maybe Jesus just wanted to keep his kid out of the tabloids (for Chrissakes. :p)

Still, the blame for the mass outpouring of stupid is to be shouldered by the large percentage of people who take the book for dazzling revelation instead of what it is, a cheap thriller that aims to amuse people in an airport lounge for a couple of hours, and fails miserably at that as well.

You know, I wish Shakespeare and Marlowe could have got together to write this book. Kit would have the solid ideas and philosophy, his Cambridge theological education at hand, his healthy skepticism and passionate individualism keeping the book fresh and self-aware, and Will would provide the clever plot twists, the sparkling dialogue, characterisation so sharp it would cut. And he, if anyone, could write real codes, mean mofos of puzzles that would balance readers one step ahead and one step behind of the plot simultaneously (that Hitchcockian suspense), not cheapskate tricks you learn in playschool. And in iambic pentameter that was actually iambic pentameter.


items: Note that Mister Brown is far from iconoclastic when it comes to re-inforcing old Hollywood prejudices against albinos, Brits, Frenchmen and clever, twisted cripples. Also, I want to know: if Leonardo was all about the gay secks, how did he feel about being head of the Priory and forced to perform unnatural acts of heterosex against his inclinations? Pretty queer, I'll bet.

And an open letter to a favourite actor:

Dear Sir Ian Mc Kellen, Everyone knows your penchant for pseudo-history, what with your stellar performances in such adpatations of such truly clever reworkings of the English past as Richard III and The Lord of the Rings. Now I see you are also performing in the adaptation of this book. Why? Is it Tom Hanks? Oh, sir, you know he's a charlatan, well-meaning and great-hearted though he may be. Are you going to play your character queer? That would be significantly cool (Although, imagine if PJ'd allowed you to play your wizard as Gandalf the Gay. Mmmmm. "Now come the years of the Queen.") You're going to raise the tone of this desperate Ron Howard caper single-handedly by being in it.

Having said all of that: WTF. You must really need the money.

Thank you, no love,
A concerned fan.

((* - today's dose of bitter sarcasm brought to you by Blackadder Goes Forth.))

Now I'm going to take Anuj's advice and read Foucault's Pendulum to regain some of the perspective lost in this pointless exercise. I'd also like some steel wool to scrub the burning idiocy out of my brain.


  1. I thought it would be as bad. All gnostic stuff. What really kicks me though is the number of people it had gotten interested into reading up about all the mystic christian philosophies. Anyway Pope Benedict XVI bears a strong resemblance to Senator Palpatine.
    The meek shall inherit the earth.

  2. See, I don't think there's anything wrong with gnosticism in itself (can you tell I'm biased?) - if anything, the links to Jewish mysticism make it one of the more plausible and enlightening Christian philosophies in circulation. It got me thinking about another devotional piece of work The Passion, which is opposite to The Da Vinci Code in every way, admittedly. But both of them take off from Christian scripture without conducting a critical reading of it; both of them will appeal to people who started off by wanting to believe in what each work is selling. So, no converts, no intellectual byproducts, no new way of looking at Christianity. Just a bunch of complacent fanboys and girls.

  3. I find the furor over The Da Vinci Code highly amusing, since the same tired old lunatic fringe theories are to be found in Holy Blood, Holy Grail (the book that started the ball rolling, I believe, and more than twenty years ago at that) and the myriad of books that followed in its wake. You would think that all of this was shockingly new.

    It's a shame that matters of substance, such as gnosticism, end up playing uneasy bedfellows with the Merovingian kings.

    Foucault's Pendulum is a fabulous book, and if you weren't already inclined to twitch every time you see the word 'Templar' on the cover of a bestseller, you certainly will be by the time you've finished it.

  4. You would think that all of this was shockingly new.

    The errors must make it seem so? This sort of thing makes you wonder why people didn't read Foucault's Pendulum anyway. But then Eco is literary and Brown is massified. Which makes it an even greater pity.

  5. Every generation has its 'scandal', and perhaps because this book was a novel and a bestseller, it attracted more attention from certain quarters. I'm easily amused.

    Foucault's Pendulum wouldn't be accessible to most people, and the evangelical Christians who took offence at Brown's book wouldn't be any happier with Eco.

  6. Oh gods, I hope this isn't my generation's scandal. I'm holding out for something bigger and sleazier! Come on, where are all those British politicians hiding their sekrit harems? The attempts on the life of royalty? Ou sont les cigars d'antan?

    I remember reading something very exciting about the discovery of a grave near Calgary (?) that scientists were convinced was that of Jesus' brother, James. Of course, no one ever heard of that more than once.

  7. Since the Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus returned in 1914 and is among us still, tho' invisible, I suppose it's possible that James was found in Calgary. I assume you actually mean Calvary, because the idea of James having gone to Canada at some point (or Scotland?) is bizarre, if oddly appealing.

    'Scandal' in the religious sense of 'stumbling-block' to faith, and a very minor one at that.

    Attempts on royalty? You mean the Sandhurst fiasco? I'd have needed better ID than that to get into my university library.

  8. *headdesk* Calvary, of course. I should know better than to misspell that in the presence of a Canadian. I should just have said Golgotha - or is that different than Calvary? It's the actual place of crucifixion, yeah?

    Athough people do say that Jesus? Came to Kashmir to die. Like, REALLY die.

  9. Jesus really got around.

    Yes, Calvary and Golgotha are the same place. I don't know--I rather like the idea of James in Calgary.

  10. I've never been particularly sad not to have read this book, but I love the scathing sarcasm. Thank God for Richard Curtis and Ben Elton!

  11. I may actually read this at some point. And hoot at it.

    Foucault's Pendulum is finished with it yet?

  12. ROTFL :D

    This is another of those epic books which will separate the Lit snooties from the masses. No offence to either party, I wonder which one I belong to. Maybe I'll know after I read it.

    For all those people who recommended the book to me, I shall forward this link.

    Given that I haven't read it, I shouldn't be passing judgement but from what I've heard I am guessing it is "racy kuppe".

    P.S: kuppe=Trash(Tamil). Racy Kuppe is my graphic designer aunt's favourite term. Referring to the trash we diss but read when we wanna be mindless. Ludlum was my favourite racy kuppe growing up.

  13. Anonymous11:19 pm

    you have serious issues. i suggest visting a good clinical psychologist

  14. No offence to either party, I wonder which one I belong to.
    I think you could find out if you paid any attention to this definition by Neal Stephenson:

    Modern English has given us two terms we need to explain this phenomenon: "geeking out" and "vegging out." To geek out on something means to immerse yourself in its details to an extent that is distinctly abnormal - and to have a good time doing it. To veg out, by contrast, means to enter a passive state and allow sounds and images to wash over you without troubling yourself too much about what it all means.

  15. Thanks for the well-meant advice, 'mouse! No doubt Dr Robert Langdon practices psychology in his spare time?

  16. call me one of the scandal-hunting-gullible-modern-era types if you may, but boy, me loved the da vinci code. :P probably because as a christian, it truly was shocking to see a woman next to JC at da vinci's Last Supper, when all through our lives, we've learnt that its only been the disciples at the table. What's more, I've like seen that painting a hundred times in my life and never bothered even looking at that person next to Christ in closer examination.

    the shock at that revelation itself was 'big' enough for me to label it a good read. :)