Mr Dentith has gone to the trouble of reading the latest Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol. We should all be grateful to him. Now we do not have to read this book and, since it apparently is much the same as the last one, we are saved reading that as well. Not that we were intending to read either, were we?
Well, no, but I couldn't resist having a look at the new one, since I was in a bookshop which had a display of its many unsold copies. The last word in the book, I can reveal to you, is "hope." In fact, I can reveal to you the closing paragraphs, since another Dan at Canongate (in a piece smartly named The Crazy World of Dan Brown) has gone to the trouble of writing it down:
As the sun rose over Washington, Langdon looked to the heavens, where the last of the nighttime stars were fading out. He thought about science, faith, about man. He thought about how every culture, in every country, in every time, had always shared one thing. We all had the Creator. We used different names, different faces, and different prayers, but God was the universal constant for man. God was the symbol we all shared . . . the symbol of all the mysteries of life that we could not understand. The ancients had praised God as a symbol of our limitless human potential, but that ancient symbol had been lost over time. Until now.Atop... streaming down... upwelling, especially upwelling: this is classic dud prose, of a kind one rarely finds these days. It was not a dark and stormy night, but a bright new morn; but it makes no difference. Incidentally, this is not the first time that Robert Langdon had an upwelling: in The Da Vinci Code he had a sudden upwelling of anger, preceded (only moments earlier) by a sudden surge of uneasiness. Incidentally still, upwelling is:
In that moment , standing atop the Capitol, with the warmth of the sun streaming down all around him, Robert Langdon felt a powerful upwelling deep within himself. It was an emotion he had never felt this profoundly in his entire life.
In ocean dynamics, the upward motion of sub-surface water toward the surface of the ocean. This is often a source of cold, nutrient-rich water. Strong upwelling occurs along the equator where easterly winds are present. Upwelling also can occur along coastlines, and is important to fisheries and birds in California and PeruNo man is an island, but Professor Robert Langdon is an ocean.
So, you might be asking (as, according to T.S Eliot, the taxi diver asked Bertrand Russell), what's it all about, then? It's about the Freemasons, the architecture of Washington DC and Albrecht Dürer, that's what it's about. Of all people, Albrecht Dürer: the book has a chapter entitled Albrecht Dürer? So who, you might ask, is this Albrecht Dürer? Not the artist you thought he was, it seems. Apparently he was well versed in the Mysteries (with a capital M) and there are many clues in his works (this is a book about clues, you will understand). I must have missed this aspect of his work, as has every other Art Historian. For he always seemed to be the most lucid and rational of artists. But Brown has him as yet another initiate of the Mysteries, who cannot but help leave bleeding obvious clues to said Mysteries in his otherwise lucid and rational works of art.
You would have thought, would you not, that, if you were a secret society trying to keep a secret, you would not recruit to your membership artists, who would leave clues about your secret in their works. It seems an odd way to go about things. The best way to keep a secret is to tell no one; the second best way is to tell one other person; the worst way (to skip a few other ways) is to tell a Northern Renaissance artist who leaves clues about the secret in his engravings. Telling an Italian Renaissance artist who makes frescoes including the secret he has been told is just as bad.
Another bad way to keep a secret is to have clues to it built into buildings. Worse still is to build them into cities. This, apparently, is what the keepers of the secret did in Washington DC. Franklin Square is a square; a square is made from right angles; a right angle is an angle of ninety degrees; there are thirty-two degrees of Freemasonry. Go figure. No, me neither. As it turns out, Mr Brown gets Washington DC quite wrong in this book. But this will not stop hordes of idiots descending upon us Architectural Historians to demand that we tell them the secrets that we must know.
We, after all, are not Freemasons. It is the Freemasons who know the secret. Now, the only Freemason I have known (knowingly) in recent years is Ryan Sproull, who edited Craccum in 2006 and has since slipped into obscurity. I was quite surprised when Ryan became a Freemason, in the first degree because he was so candid about his membership: I had thought it was meant to be a secret, communicated only to other Brethren. In the second degree, I was surprised because Ryan professed to be (a) an Anarchist and (b) a Buddhist. Being (f) a Freemason seemed contradictory to these professions. One could hardly accuse Ryan of being a feminist, but being a member of an organisation which excludes women is not what one would expect of progressive people. Not that I am an expert, of course; it may be that the Durutti Column was also a Lodge, but I doubt it; it may be that Noam Chomsky is On The Square, but again I doubt it. It may also be that some Buddhists raise a trouser leg before meditation, but I doubt it still. But then, perhaps Ryan was putting aside any concerns of allegiance for the greater good of discovering the secret.
As I mentioned earlier, there are thirty-two degrees of Freemasonry, in the Scottish Rite at least, and one has the opportunity of becoming an Intimate Secretary (ooh-er Master) before going on to even greater things. Once one reaches the thirty-second degree, Master of the Royal Secret, presumably they tell one the secret; otherwise, it would be a complete waste of time, wouldn't it?
On the other hand it may be that there is no secret, and that the Freemasons are a bunch of petit-bourgeois misogynists who like nothing more than to scratch each others' backs while they dress up in silly clothes and recite ridiculous incantations, all the time believing that they are part of some esoteric tradition which is so much more important than the base self-interest and corruption for which they are known. But then, I would think that, wouldn't I? I have never been much of a joiner, let alone a mason.
Still, they must be rather pleased by Mr Brown's book, which not only portrays them as keeper of the secret but apparently as the good guys. Mr Brown's publishers must also be pleased, since theirs is the largest print run in publishing history. The Catholics have nothing to complain about this time. So everybody is happy, apart from the Art Historians and the Architectural Historians and the literati. But what do we know? We don't have a secret, after all.
But we do have the Interactive Dan Brown Plot Generator.