Friday, April 01, 2016

Worried about the Illuminati?



No? Well, you probably should be!

There’s a wonderful scene in the film version of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons where Ewan McGregor, who’s acting as a kind of Vatican caretaker while the Cardinals are locked up in conclave to elect a new Pope, is attacked by a madman with a red-hot branding iron.

“Illuminatus!” cries Ewan, as his flesh burns. Yes, his assailant is indeed one of the Illuminati, fresh from the late eighteenth century (where we might have hoped they’d all be resting in peace).

As it turns out, there aren’t any actual Illuminati in the movie. Tom Hanks, reprising his role as Harvard Professor of “Symbology” Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code (2003 / movie 2006), manages to detect the subterfuge and discover that Ewan has actually branded himself as part of his complicated plan to subvert the Papacy.



It’s funny how those elusive Illuminati recur – mostly as villains, admittedly. My local fish ’n’ chip shop keeps a pile of tattered magazines to read while you’re waiting for your order. I think it was in the Australian Women’s Weekly that I learned that Beyoncé Knowles is one of the Illuminati. Apparently she’s been making pyramid shapes with her hands at recent concerts, which is a sure-fire sign of being an initiate (presumably this was before she took to dressing like a Black Panther instead).



The pop group Coldplay, too, has been displaying strange flower symbols on their drumkits of late. The author of the article thought there was a good chance that joining the Illuminati might well become the latest Hollywood craze, in succession to Scientology and Kabbalah. Rihanna’s “Umbrella” video, too, is apparently full of similar occult references to her dark master, the Devil.



Probably the most sophisticated treatment of this theme is in Umberto Eco’s great novel Foucault’s Pendulum. His two protagonists, Belbo and Casaubon, deliberately cook up the most outrageous mixture of Occultist conspiracy theories possible – complete with Templars, Rosicrucians, the Priory of Sion, and every other conceivable permutation on the general theme of Gnosticism – and then invent a fictitious rendezvous for the whole strange crew.

Sure enough, when the two turn up at the appointed meeting place under Léon Foucault’s famous Pendulum in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, there they all are. Belbo and Casaubon’s fertile invention has somehow succeeded in creating the very absurdities it set out to parody. Casaubon manages to escape through the sewers, but his companion is hanged from the wire of the pendulum, changing (significantly) the arc of its world-defining rotation.

Eco’s multi-layered, multiple game-playing book can be seen, in retrospect (somewhat like Cervantes’ Don Quixote), to have predated many of the worst excesses of the genre it parodies. True, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), with its theory of the descent of the French Merovingian Kings from Jesus Christ (via his common-law wife Mary Magdalene), was already a bestseller. The massive vogue of Dan Brown was yet to come, however, and public knowledge of these ideas was thus not yet universal.



Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988)


It was a bit of a shock to me to discover just how far things had gone, though, when I when I found myself reading an online article on Illuminati symbolism in Australia. They're everywhere, apparently - not just in the old world, but here in the new world, too!

The trouble, of course, with all this heavy tongue-in-cheek irony, is that people have a tendency to take it straight. For the record, then, I do not believe that latter-day Illuminati have subverted all our democratic institutions and are secretly plotting to take over the world (though for that matter, they're welcome to have a go, as far as I'm concerned - it's hard to see how they could do a worse job than the present lot ...)



What does interest me about them is that strange penumbra of omnipurpose, one-size-fits-all conspiracy theory they exhude: sometimes it's the Templars, sometimes the Cathars, sometimes the Priory of Sion, only too often (unfortunately) the Elders of Zion, but always (we're told) there's a bunch of idiots somewhere dressing up in strange robes and painting their faces with symbols and having wild parties to which none of us happen to have been invited (unless some of you reading really are members of the international Illuminatist Frater / Sorority, in which case apologies).



I suppose it's all harmless enough: I mean, is any conspiracy worthy of the name really going to centre on Beyoncé? No offence, and I suppose the name of her former girl-group Destiny's Child might be seen as a bit of a clue, really, when you think about it ... Huh? What's that? ... a scratching at the window ... that hand! ... what are they chanting? ... Ngaah, Nyarlathotep ... NOOOOOO! ... Aaaaargh ... [CRASH]

[We publish this blogpost just as it was found on the author's computer, complete with those last few meaningless lines. Of course, it can only be regarded as a coincidence that he was interrupted by some intruder or intruders unknown just at the moment he was recording the results of his own investigations into the Illuminati in New Zealand. To draw any other conclusion can only be regarded as absurd and baseless paranoia ... - Ed.]



4 comments:

Richard said...

I just pulled that edition of 'Foucault's Pendulum' off my shelf to possibly read or at least consult as Wystan Curnow mentioned he had been reading it in relation to an essay in a book of his criticism and its in 'Pleasures and Dangers' in an essay about the work of Julia Morison which involves all kinds of arcana and the kabbalah, alchemical symbols ('Vade Mecum' etc). Her work is fascinating and complex and very detailed...strange how these coincidences occur. I liked 'The Name of the Rose' and want to re-read. Bizzarre that a gesture by a pop star or stars becomes conspiracy.

I think the problem of real conspiracies exists, and is complex: but I disagree with my son who is convinced that those who want a New World Order are behind...well they are trying to take over and kill us all. ISIS is a US organised thing (this is not entirely impossible, I would say though that in the case of terrorism the secret services are in some cases aiding and abetting rather than actually creating: or that various actions of various states, resentments by those from the Middle East combined with many other factors, increase as for example the US or even Russia take military action there: that is I see it all as more complex and I cant be certain of any of these things) - but my son is totally convinced that the Rothschilds (who have control he says of all banks in the Western world) and the Illuminati etc are planning a New World Order...

I have an insight into how these convictions can arise.

They are parallel to the phenomena of those, who, having been tortured or incarcerated by totalitarian nations, or whatever, get to such a state that they believe forever that the State is all powerful. This is the extreme, or one extreme.

Trump feeds on the prejudice of such people (although my son isn't keen on him, but he considers that Obama is evil and that his wife is a man and so on...)

So its very close to home. And, conspiracies do happen. The CIA etc were involved in much butchery in South America (although of course the local Governments there are frequently pretty extreme right wing....

And since 1900 the Western democracies and our wonderful civilisation has managed to kill almost an uncountable number, millions, more than millions, in various actions and wars, installation of dictators and so on.

Pop musicians are, along with film stars and others, paid far too much. If there are no actual Illuminati, well, as you imply, in a sense it is pretty chaotic: Trump at least is "visible"....and as you say it was satire. 1984 is taken by many very literally, and much else. I suppose movies are dangerous also...or they affect those who are Illuminati enthusiasts as well as the internet.

I want to Blog about these conspiracy things using my own trip to NY as a starting point (at at some time).

I suppose also it is a kind of religion for people.

Dr Jack Ross said...

I think you're right about the "religion" thing: a glimpse of the numinous for people without faith in anything else.

I think it would be fascinating if you would write about your NY trip in this regard.

I have to say that I hadn't heard that Obama's wife was a man. I'm used to people saying that the current FLOTUS is a lesbian, but not, so far, a man.

Richard said...

The Blog post would show the Trade Towers (and some other aspects of NY, I met the 'homeless' there, and even bought there newspaper etc) as I went up the South Tower, and so on. I also read poetry at the Nuyorican and a few other places. Then I want to discuss these things in the light of the epistemology as I studied it in a paper on metaphysics in 1993 or 4 I think it was. I did quite a few papers on philosophy although I didn't really read many of the primary texts: for Sartre I read his Nausea, and Camus was The Stranger: but I did read some and some of Heidegger, Foucault (a writer I like whether I agree with him or not (or understand him or not), like Barthes)...but for me the criteria I want to use a pretty good model of knowledge certification: mainly that belief is involved. I don't necessarily mean religious belief, just a state of mind whereby we accept something. So, to 'know' is never absolute. Thus those who know or think they know the towers were (done or not done) by some (outside or inside) agency or group, in my model (or one of the ones we used) may or may not know what they think they know. Similarly with other things we know or think we know. It isn't a question of truth, but knowledge, and this entails belief. If, for some reason, psychological, what I have been taught as a child) I don't believe that the earth goes around the sun, then I cannot know this if it is untrue ( as the thing known does have to be true ): but even if something is true, and I don't believe it, I still cannot know it.

This puts, in my world view, a wonderful limitation on human knowledge. I read the other day something about the pre-Socratics, and Protagoras, who was a Sophist according to Plato, and therefore critiqued, had said (or believed to have) both that 'man is the measure of all things' (can lead to relatavism if that worries anyone!...and that (something like) I cannot know anything. I know nothing. I might learn things but I cant know things. If I studied and traveled enough one day I might know all things, but I would never be able to communicate this.

So it all interesting stuff and might connect to Baudrillard's comment that the first Gulf War never happened and so on.

But none of it is provable!! But it is quite valid to NOT know things. Richard Dawkins worries too much about God and evolution. To most people in the world, the fact or reality or not of evolution is really not important: and if they don't believe in something they cannot know it. There is also the problem of say, finding 'the meaning of everything'. As with Protagoras, it would be increasingly impossible to communicate it to other people. If it cant be communicated in any meaningful way, it doesn't matter or wont matter: well whether it matters or not will not matter as it wont be understood by most people. And in fact, not such absolute knowledge of everything is possible.

Richard said...

At a more mundane level, it doesn't matter to me, these days, if evolution is true or not. I used to be fascinated by it and biology etc as a teenager and I still am but my feelings or my reaction to these things is different...

These issues do reflect others that are important, and it is knowing perhaps why we know and the limitations of knowledge that are important. The need to fail at things, the need to be unpopular and so on.

So, when I "saw 9/11", it was like watching a movie, and it was a very exciting movie, repeated all day, it seemed unreal. It still does. I was watching a movie, it wasn't really happening.

But there are a lot of possibilities here...

As to the "crazier" conspiracy theories, you can never know! That said, in my "day job" things get done.

Impossible to know why people go into this fixated stuff about the Illuminati etc but it is also that people love mystery: hence our love of Sci Fi, Eco's books, and so on...It goes back to the "cave men" or "cave people". Perhaps animals have strange conversations about the 'inner Rat group' who control the rat world and so on (I read a book about a world of termites which was strange for sure)....Kafka might be invoked at this point!

But hopefully, when I get that post motoring it will veer all over the place in ways I never expected as usual, so it wont be dry like a philosophy lecture, or if it is like one, then you know some satire is at work there...