Why Decode Fiction?

I read A. Foremska’s article in the last issue about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with great interest. The author made several challenges and theological arguments against Brown’s book. In the case of such a sensational book, the question of whether we should engage in an apology of the Christian religion by use of such refined exegesis is a cause for discussion. In the end Foremska admits that the book is banal propaganda, with a simple mystery thrown in.

However, it’s also difficult for me to believe in Foremska’s assurance of the „wounded” readers, in whose consciousness the book is a „devastation” because they accepted it without questioning the criminal and feminist interpretation of Christianity introduced by the author. Instead of discussing this book from the point of view of religion and existentialism, I suggest instead that we lower our sights and look at the book as, above all, a literary and cultural phenomenon.
The Da Vinci Code, is written in a style, popular today, of postmodern literary variations on Christian themes. This style stems from a countercultural distaste of Christianity, present especially among liberal and leftist artistic circles in the West. This type of literature achieved its greatest world success in Umberto Eco’s remarkable book, The Name of the Rose. Brown’s book, however, does not stand up to a comparison: it’s much more naive, at moments boring, wordy, and redundant and built around a thin thread of a story. Even a poorly educated reader can detect without difficulty the propaganda the author uses in his narration.

The esoterism and feminism, so popular in today’s mass culture and on which the the entire thread of the story depends, is certainly part of this propaganda. However, the feminist-criminal vision of the truth of Christianity, offered in an esoteric-gnostic sauce, sounds in the book so unbelievable that it is difficult to accept. Further, it doesn’t help that the reader is treated as a collaborator in uncovering the great secrets and demasking the deception apparently committed by the Catholic Church. The entire construction of the book relies on a literary method used often in postmodern literature, the constant shock of the reader.

The author realizes that in today’s fast-paced world the narrative line applied in the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would not work for many bored readers. And so each new chapter of Brown’s book introduces a new theme and an unexpected turn in the action. By page 500, the effort to introduce shock has become almost absurd, and a shocking return to the narrative seems unbelievable and finally destroys the entire effect. The further deepening of this unbelievability relies on another fashionable postmodern method, creating variations on a theme, and the author creates the effect of a pastiche. It seems that if Brown, more or less arbitrarily, had recast only the Christian theme, then his book would be more believable. But the literary variation on the theme of two thousand years of Christianity is an area so broad that he is suspected even by the reader not favorably inclined to Christianity. This results from the simple fact that the thesis which he supports, that everything is unbelievable and rests on deception, itself sounds unbelievable and so he, too, can be suspected of deception.

Brown’s most recent book relies in general on the same themes built around a similar criminal-sensationalistic story in a Christian religious context with esoteric secrets. The book is just as thick as The Da Vinci Code; readers will have to decide for themselves whether it’s worth their attention and free time.

Ryszard  Mordarski
Translated by Sean Martin

Forum, 9/2006