Sunday, January 8

critique, or go read illuminatus! instead

So last night I got about halfway through The Da Vinci Code. Why not, right? Next time someone asks, I can say yes, I have.

The thing is, I've read worse. The writing is bad, for several values of bad, but it's also a fast, easy read. Because I grew up on genre fiction, I think this is generally a virtue, and it suggests that Dan Brown has some skill as a writer.

On the other hand, this doesn't come close to excusing his claims to "exhaustive research" and authenticity. Code is a lecture chopped up and inserted into a plot. As such, it could be a lot more tedious to read, but it could also be a lot less full of shit.

The subject of Brown's lecture is a conspiracy theory knit together from, roughly, feminist neopaganism and that whole goddess worship thing, early Christianity, gnosticism, art history, and the Evil Roman Catholic Church. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with grand-scale conspiracy theory as entertainment. Its more skilled practitioners can recombine the elements of history & culture in a way that's downright fascinating, maybe even illuminating. The satisfaction - the whole "it all makes so much sense!" vibe - that a really well-wrought conspiracy or secret history can deliver must reflect something about the human desire for a comprehensible world system, the longing to be really in on something. (You could argue that most successful religious movements function as special universe-scale conspiracy theories.)

The problem here is that Dan Brown doesn't really know what he's talking about, and his sleight of hand isn't nearly good enough to render this irrelevant in an artistic sense - or in a moral one, if you notice the meta-fictional pose of expertise and veracity.