19 April 2006 - Wednesday

The Da Vinci Code

This semester, I'm in a course that covers the development of Arthurian romance in general and of the Grail legend in particular -- from the twelfth-century stories of Chrétien de Troyes to contemporary iterations like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The course has been pure joy for me, although I don't think it's quite what some members of the class expected.

Now we have arrived at The Da Vinci Code, which, I am told, is the reason this course was offered in the first place. (The film adaptation comes out two weeks after the semester ends.) So I am actually reading The Da Vinci Code -- assuming "read" isn't too strong a word for the process involved.

The last two contemporary novels I read were by Umberto Eco, and I am in the middle of another by Salman Rushdie. The shock of going directly from those to a Dan Brown composition sent me reeling. The only way I've been able to appreciate The Da Vinci Code so far is to accept it as high camp.

This actually makes some sense, given the subject matter. Brown's ideas about the relationship between the masculine and the feminine (emphasized, for example, in his explanation of the Mona Lisa) reminds me of a remark by Susan Sontag:

As a taste in persons, Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated. The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility. Examples: the swooning, slim, sinuous figures of pre-Raphaelite painting and poetry; the thin, flowing, sexless bodies in Art Nouveau prints and posters, presented in relief on lamps and ashtrays; the haunting androgynous vacancy behind the perfect beauty of Greta Garbo.
There. That's my fair-minded attempt to defend Brown against my own charge of bad writing. Now for the awful reality:
"So, my pupil, tell me what I must know."

Silas knew the information he had gleaned from his victims would come as a shock. "Teacher, all four confirmed the existence of the clef de voûte ... the legendary keystone."

He heard a quick intake of breath over the phone and could feel the Teacher's excitement. "The keystone. Exactly as we suspected."

That's on pages 12-13. From this exchange, I can only imagine that the Teacher wears a black hooded cloak and never clips his fingernails. I already know what Silas looks like: he's an albino who walks with a limp because he wears a spiked chain around one thigh. Really.

Here's another example (page 19) of the fine dialogue in this book:

"What is the captain's name?" Langdon asked, changing topics.

"Bezu Fache," the driver said, approaching the pyramid's main entrance. "We call him le Taureau."

Langdon glanced over at him, wondering if every Frenchman had a mysterious animal epithet. "You call your captain the Bull?"

The man arched his eyebrows. "Your French is better than you admit, Monsieur Langdon."

My French stinks, Langdon thought, but my Zodiac iconography is pretty good. Taurus was always the bull. Astrology was a symbolic constant all over the world.

First off: no, it's not. There are multiple astrologies. Second, the French word "taureau" sounds a lot more like the familiar Spanish word "toro" (as in "Toro, toro! Olé!") than the Latin word "taurus." Brown has a tendency to overanalyze these things. Third, how does a world-famous religious iconographer (Langdon) get away with not knowing French?

The first two dozen pages of the book were simply painful. Finally, I realized that I had been reading the novel the wrong way. I was demanding that it be good, which was an inappropriate expectation. Now I am reading The Da Vinci Code the same way I watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians -- and I find the book highly entertaining.

| Posted by Wilson at 14:04 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Humanities Desk