Dan Brown’s recently published “Inferno” is being ridiculed over and over for its “egregious prose”. Nevertheless, the former remains one of the top best-selling authors on a planetary scale. As Chuck Leddy noted in The Boston Global: “Assessing Dan Brown from a literary perspective seems almost beside the point. No matter what the critics might say about his overwriting, his overuse of clichés, his paper-thin characterizations, and his impenetrably murky plots, Brown sells tens of millions of copies of every historical thriller-mystery he writes. Brown isn’t just a novelist; he’s a crossover pop culture sensation”. Ironically, the thing is that even criticism in regards to using weak and plain adjectives is sort of pointless because the difference between high and low styles has been erased long time ago. So debating whether one kind of the text is any better than the other has lost its relevance as well, at least from a reader’s point of view.
The major shift from a writer centric universe to a reader centric style of writing became one of the focal points of Roland Barth’s semiotic studies. In “The Death of the Author” (1977), he highlighted this kind of transition and its effect on writing in general. ‘We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favor of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.’
Dostoevsky once mentioned than his whole novel “ The Idiot” was written for the sake of a single existential scene – where Rogozhin strangles Nastasia Filipovna and spends night in a murky house in silent grief. Intense dramatism of the act enables the reader to experience cross-sensory experience in entering the Rembrandtesque canvas rather reading the text. In Dan Brown’s books, one cannot expect anything like that. His thrillers have nothing to do with the language, style, aesthetics, poetics and so forth – everything that used to belong author’s domain. Dan Brown’s mystery novels are out of this range of categories. “Violent hierarchy” (Jacques Derrida) of genres with its aesthetic gauging has been deconstructed a while ago. Once the text has been hijacked by a reader, the author’s individual style and ideology simply become immaterial.
An excellent story-teller, Dan Brown seized even the title and the text inside his book — Dante’s ‘Inferno’ – to challenge readers intellectually with an engaging “game-puzzle”, which structurally can be replaced with any other encrypted text for creating suspense. Had the Harvard Professor woken up in any other city, the source for projecting a mystery would’ve been different. If a traditional classical text was based on resonance in terms of readers’ perception, the post-modern writing is rooted in expendable replication of glibly recognizable patterns whether it’s the artfully crafted plots or the ideas the story revolves around. The origin of Christianity (Da Vinci Code), Illuminati (Angels and Demons), Masonic lodges and noetic science (The Lost Symbol) and finally a futuristic movement with its far-fetched eugenic conspiracy became all-purpose stunts for constructing the story and — more importantly—extending to the audience appealing and charming shortcuts to previously tabooed provocative issues it can chew over after the book has been consumed. Besides, presentation of all these controversies appears to be is so ostentatious that reminds Barnum era of hypes in mid 19th century in staging and selling pseudo events, like Fejee Mermaid – half-monkey and half-fish – to the public. Brilliantly using a gimmick of mystification, Dan Brown also recreated conspiracy theories per reader’s mental blueprints.
Having said that, nothing can be sweeter for the reader than self-identification with the main character. For instance, if we compare two professors – Harvard Professor of symbology and iconology, Robert Langdon, and his classic counterpart — Willa Cather’s accomplished Professor and Chair of European history, Godfrey St. Peter (Professor’s House), we’ll see the striking difference in featuring and sculpting these two main protagonist. The latter is The Professor in flesh while the former is merely a contemporary reader’s notion of this social role. But, on the other hand, a reader can relate to him much easier than to Godfrey St. Peter. All characteristics of Robert Langdon with his eidetic memory, tweedy outfit, swimming, etc. seem way too generic, not to mention his claustrophobia caused by being stuck in a well as a child. This allegedly specific detail is slightly off-color and brings to mind “planted memories” from science fiction movies about human clones. But since the adventure spirals up in unexpected twists and the book happens to be a real page turner, does it really matter?
Finally, what truly makes Robert Langdon the public’s s pet is the reader’s ability to follow the Harvard Professor step by step in solving riddles and finding clues in the hidden passageways of Florence. Suitably, a smartphone is always handy and the sights along with Dante’s quotes can be googled and re-googled by both Dan Brown’s fans and the main character almost simultaneously. That’s when the text becomes truly adorable.