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My One and Only Post about the Da Vinci Code’s Idiocy 16 June 2006

Posted by Todd in Christianity, Postmodernity and Postmodernism.

The book was horrible. I couldn't make it past the first two pages. Among the worst prose I've read in my life.

The movie was boring. Except for the hot british guy (Paul Bettany) made up like a homicidal albino standing naked in front of the mirror to beat himself…with a flog! Dirty monkies…

But I digress…

While perusing Butterflies and Wheels this morning, I happened upon a scathing critique of western culture for even giving Dan Brown the time of day, by Joseph Hoffman, head of the Center for the Scientific Study of Religion. The concluding paragraph of “Death by Da Vincititis: Of Professorial Pimps and Humanist Harlots” says it all:

I once cringed to read Robert Heinlein’s judgement, that, “The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship.” Yet what hope is there even for the fuzzy subjects if specialists market their wares with an indifference to “certainty” – imperfect as it may be in history – and a contempt for judgement? And what hope for the fuzziest of thinkers outside the academy when scholars at some of our best universities convince themselves that their badly reasoned judgements are as good as true because they conform to a social matrix in which truth is a negotiation about facts. The Da Vinci Code says nothing so loudly as that the academy, which once rewarded caution as much as originality, has arrived at Hannah Arendt’s endpoint, where the choice is between the original and the irrelevant, and where what passes for learning “is the development of a pseudo-scholarship which actually destroys its object.”



1. belaja - 16 June 2006

I don’t know that I agree here, Todd. The book is not purporting to be a scientific study. It tooks some titillating pseudo-scientific theories and made a thriller out of them based on a sort of a “what if this were true.” I do agree in the sense that should have been no kerfuffle whatsoever over any of this–in any quarter, religious or scientific. They should have just let the novel be a novel and not given it the time of day. But The DaVinci Code itself is JUST A NOVEL!!! (fer frick’s sake).

Anyhow, I had a great time reading the book, but I never expected it to be any sort of great prose. It’s a book I read in one sitting and never felt any need to go back and read again. It was sort of like eating a marshmallow–sugary and sort of amusing, but full of air and empty of calories…. And you’re hungry again, five seconds later.

Ah, well. Vive la difference!

2. J. Todd Ormsbee - 16 June 2006

Did you read the Hoffman piece? I think he wouldn’t really disagree with you. The question he’s asking is, why in the world is this so popular and why has it created such a hubub; then he uses the Da Vinci Code to make a larger point about the declining importance of “truth” in western culture. So my post was actually only tandentially about the Code either (and an excuse to talk about sado-masochistic albino monks).

By the way, when we meet, I owe you a dinner. Knowing how intelligent you are, I can only imagine the intestinal fortitude you must have to withstand that ugly, awkward horribly crafted prose. I’ll admit that when I tried to read it, and made nearly half way down page three, it was out of pure snobbery that I threw it across the room, and just begin to politely smile and clench my butt cheeks when beloved friends discussed the book in hushed, reverential tones in my presense. 🙂

3. belaja - 16 June 2006

Excellent… free dinner for being a philistine! :^)

(And yeah, I should probably have read the whole piece before popping off…)

4. Scot - 16 June 2006

Actually, Todd, I read the book and suffered no apparent pains. It wasn’t fantastic writing by any means, by I’ve consumed much worse in my life, and survived it all. I read it years ago, before it had totally saturated the media, and was entertained enough to certainly keep reading–I quite agree with Belaja’s “marshmallow” allusion.

It’s so popular because it raises questions that challenge the foundations of current power structures, and it suggests conspiracies and secret alliances control our lives–this certainly strikes a chord not just with Americans but with audiences all over the world. Sure it’s piffle–but if millions keep hungering for piffle in that flavor, there’s something going on here beyond just effective marketing.

The current Vanity Fair has a rather detailed article citing the MANY layers of plagiarism contained in Brown’s book–and hints that his wife participated in both the plagiarism and the subsequent exposing of the plagiarism. More conspiracy! More intrigue! (If only she were an albino…)

5. Randy - 17 June 2006

I kind of like Brown’s novels, though the Da Vinci Code is my least favorite of the lot. I agree that his prose isn’t the best, but his stories are fun, even if some of the details would fold like a cheap tent under any degree of scrutiny.

We read some reviews of the movie on rottentomatoes.com and decided not to go see it. It had a score of 27 on the tomatometer.

6. J. Todd Ormsbee - 17 June 2006

belaja: nah, this is just a blog. I like your comments and your point about Da Vinci being “just a book” is well taken. I think that the reason Hoffman is able to use Brown as a jump off point to criticize the state of humanities in the academy and the general cultural eschewal of truth claims is because in the culture at large, the book is not acting like a work of fiction–that is, people are not interacting with it like they would other novels. This then leads Hoffman to his critique of both the way we view truth claims globally and of how research has come to be conducted in the “fuzzy” fields. His conclusions really resonated with me, for various reasons.

Scot: I think you’re onto something as to the emotional/affective appeal of the book. The aesthetic response has obviously been overwhelming and has tappend into something around the world. I’m sure there’s something about globalization and ethnocentrism in there as well, if I thought about it long. I think Hoffman takes a different tack of asking why it has taken on the particular aura of history and how academics themselves are culpable.

Randy: You’re certainly not alone in liking Brown. Although I freely admit my snobbery in this case, I would be the last to cast aspersions. I am currently reading yet another trashy fantasy novel (my favorite genre) and have a secret addiction to teenage girl coming-of-age movies. 🙂

P.S. I love rottentomatoes.

7. risingsunofnihon - 21 June 2006

I agree with you about the quality of Dan Brown’s writing. It’s just terrible! That being said, I don’t really pick up his books expecting great literature anyway. His plots are interesting (for the most part), and he does have a knack for keeping the action flowing along.

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