da Vinci Talking Points

Here are some of the points I expect to make in tonight’s (and Wednesday’s) presentations on The da Vinci Code:

To begin with the obvious: ”symbology”? At Harvard? (I mean, maybe out in Boulder they have a symbology professor, but not at an Ivy League institution.)

How does the movie define “identity”? Who are the characters, and what do they stand for? For instance: the movie shows us no Protestant, Orthodox, (or Anglican) believers; only Roman Catholics, and only Roman Catholics of an extreme sort. Only one Roman Catholic character seems to have a shred of conscience, and that after he has already defied church teaching (relative to the sanctity of the confessional) and has disrupted police procedure, supoposedly at the behest of the church. The movie suggests that our identity is bound up with heredity (in a nostalgic, romantic-noble way). Evidently the Merovingian dynasty was all about helping the poor and oppressed (poor and oppressed people who never appear in the movie). The movie (and book) presuppose “origins” and “original [things]” are somehow truer than their contemporary manifestations.

The church’s teachings run in a very different direction. Counterexamples to the contrary notwithstanding (and reality, unlike the movie, admits of counterexamples), the church has from the apostolic time acknowledged that no “blood line” ennobles anyone, but that we are all God’s children by adoption, that God is not partial to one person over another, and that in Christ all particularities are harmonized into a concordant equality.

Who are the intelligent characters (on the movie’s terms)? The ones who believe in a conspiracy theory grounded in dubious evidence and false claims.

How do we discover/encounter truth? In what do we have faith? (Documents hidden in a basement?) Thomas: people we trust. In the movie/book, Clio (the muse of History) is, in effect, the One God; it’s singular, it’s not perspectival, and we have access to the truth. As Margaret points out, the movie communicates its “truth” with the grainy documentary film-clip effect; since we see scenes from the lead characters’ (true) pasts in grainy flashbacks, the movie suggests that the scenes from Christianity’s past are true in the same way. The rhetorical style of the book and movie’s characters conveys the impression that Christianity must be either a plot or a laughable delusion.

What’s the basis for believing in things? The movie suggests that the publicly-available, historic church is fraud, whereas a secret, private, unknown conspiracy represents the truth.

What is a “document,” and how does it testify to truth? If you find a basement full of Top Secret documents, does that make them instantly reliable?

The problem of “liking” theological texts: “Liking” limits interpretation by suggesting that we may concentrate on texts we like, it excuses us from talking about texts we don’t like, and undercuts reasoning about what’s good, true, sound.

What does it mean to kneel at the remains of Mary Magdalene? How does Tom Hanks kneeling at the [supposed] memorial of Mary Magdalene differ from Christians making a pilgrimage to a tomb or memorial? What does any of that behavior mean, on the movie’s terms?

It’s all about genealogical family — but the focus of the family is on the individual. Jesus’ alleged blood line did not expand and extend, but it narrowed down to one person (the notion that Sophie is the only descendant never gets examined in the movie; somehow Tom Hanks just knows that she’s alone).

Stuff like this.

5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Of course! The more “top secret” stamps, the truer it must be!

    Thanks for this, you’ve given me a starting place for the hordes who started showing up last week. And every one starts the discussion with, “So, I went to see The da Vincic Code and…”

  2. I’d note also the nun early in the book whom Silas kills – while her superiors are clearly aligned with the Priory, she doesn’t seem to know why she has the phone numbers or what’s guarded there. She herself seems pretty closely aligned with the Official Roman Catholic Church.

  3. Crappy book, probably a crappy movie… I’ll see it when it’s on the tube, regardless – just as I read it although I’d been disappointed by Brown’s lack of narrative skill before.

    I don’t think it’s particularly useful to criticize the work in other than a pop cultural context. Any criticism will have about the same standing and value as a serious contextual analysis of the scientific standing of intelligent design. I’d rather read an exploration of X-men antecedents in the work of R. Crumb. The latter, in fact, might have some literary value, whereas it is clear that work on either of the former topics is at best a waste of time and at worst an embarrassment – intellectually, metaphysically, psychologically, socially, and of course spiritually.

    I know it’s your rice bowl, but I really wish you didn’t have to go there.

    Have you seen this site?

    http://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/davinci/robertlangdon/

    It’s one of the top two hits for “Symbology” on Google. The top hit is even more fun:
    http://log24.com/log04/0220.htm (and of course it provides a link to Random House).

    I like your questions about truth, faith, the basis for belief, and the definition of “document.” I don’t think these questions relate at all to the poorly contrived maunderings of one well marketed but ultimately forgettable novel and its movie.

    OTOH I didn’t see any particular value in Mel Gibson’s kinky S&M send-up either.

  4. Interesting thoughts for ways to look at da Vinci. I liked the book myself – a summer reading version of Faucalt’s Pendulum. And I just finished the Angels and Demons predecesor (which has exactly the same weaknesses – anti-catholic political machine stance ignoring the existence of other types of Christianity, shallow characters, etc.).

    Personally I’d like to spend some time looking at/hearing about interesting bits of early Christinity that Da Vinci touches on in a historical manner as a jumping off point for modern sprituality. I know about as much about that stuff as Brown (which is to say I know a lot of people know a lot more about it than I do) and find it fascinating and potentially illuminating.

    The masonic/illuminati stuff is interesting as a historical reaction to Catholic anti-rationalism. Talking about that and dismissing the Priory of Scion stuff as thriller plot fodder (which died largely because the enlightenment made it unnecessary). Hell, you could even contrast the anti-rationalism of the modern evangelical movement to the Catholic church’s support of science. A positive that Brown touches on.

    Similarly the organized destruction of pre-Yahweh judaic female godess worship which is faintly echoed in the Sophia and other places resulted in the softer/gentler new covenant in Christ, and/or Marianism in the Catholic faith. Plenty of interesting grist for the mill there.

  5. Well, I finally decided to download the the book from audible.com because I noticed it has caused literally dozens of books to show up on Barnes & Noble shelves about the Knights Templar. Or Masonite or some damn thing. I promised myself long ago I wasn’t going to go down that particular Illuminated road, but I read recently in some scholarly treatment of antisemitism (of which I’ve been reading many) that the Templars were (underhandedly) equated with Jews and thus both could be more conveniently villified. Same thing happened in late Imperial Russia: Jews = Bolsheviks. And so on. Anyway, that was what got me interested. I read Angels & Demons several years ago, and thought it was just crummy writing. But I have been enjoying the opening bars of Da Vinci. I fell asleep listening to it this afternoon and dreamed I was being arrested for some capital crime. But there was also a very hot babe in the dream (and a great kisser!) so that made it worthwhile right there. Maybe it was Elaine Pagels.

    I also winced at “symbology.” Ewww. Of course, we don’t wince at “semiotics,” though we probably should. Umberto notwithstanding.

    Hey, for your next outing (real or imagined) why not have a look at this gagfest: Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Kumbaya, my Lord. If I had a hammer, why I’d…

    Anyway, thanks for the Boulder link — yeah, we are simply crawling with symbologists over here.

    ~RB, RN, PhD, MD, DDS

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