Sunday, August 29, 2004

I watched an interesting program in which professors from the BYU Museum of Modern Art ripped to shreads Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code on KBYU. Dan Brown's book, of course, is a work of fiction. It centers on an intriguing premise that there had been an age old conspiracy to suppress the "sacred feminine." To make the book more interesting, the characters in the Da Vinci Code babble on authoratively about the sacred feminine, the holy grail and the likes. Science fiction allows us the ability to make "authoritative" alternative histories.

I admit, when I read the work, my first thought was that millions of readers might be imbibing this piece of fiction as if it were real. This is probably the closest that many readers have ever gotten to the study of Renaissance history.

There is an extremely long and unhealthy tradition of people claiming secret knowledge and powers in history. All of the third reich stuff was about secret trends in history. Problems occur when we accept compelling fantasies over real history.

Yet, I must admit that fantastical romps through history are also quite entertaining. Dan Brown has probably encouraged more trips to the Louvre (or local museum) than any other writer. The unabashed style of the work has obviously engaged millions in active conversation.

What intrigued me about the BYU broadcast was the overall vehemence with which the BYU scholars attacked Dan Brown's fiction. The introduction to the lectures made clear that this was the "LDS Perspective" on the book, and that the "LDS perspective" was not a happy puppy. (NOTE: you definititely do not want this book on display when the bishop performs his routine inspection of your library! If you want shelves of approved fiction that plays fast and loose with history, might I suggest Gerald Lund.)

Being a gentile in Zion, my perspective of BYU scholars defending the faith against Dan Brown was a battle of dualing fictions. The compelling divine secret knowledge of Da Vinci Code is competing with the divine secret knowledge of the seer, relevator and prophet...the epic battle for control of the mind.

After watching the BYU refutation, I decided to move the Da Vinci Code from the category of fun quick read to the recommended reading list. Historical science fiction can provide us with dualing interpretations of history that can help us clarify in our minds where history is reinterpretted by powerful organizations for their gain.

As the Da Vinci Code has spawned a great deal of interest in Renaissance art. I think it is extremely healthy that the academic community runs with the popularity of the book and actively engages the public with real history.

I guess I should end this rambling with a book I truly enjoyed. Aristotle's Children by Richard Rubenstein explores the preservation of Aristotle's work during the Dark Ages and the revival of the works in the scholastic period. Talking about truly powerful hidden knowledge...logic and natural science really are something worth noting. IMHO, the revival of the Aristotelian logic is the true beginning of modern western culture...nothing frees us from conspiratorial interpretations of history as logic and an committment to sound historical inquiry.

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