The Language of Symbology

Cacognosis is one of the three subject positions available to the male subject of symbolognosis. In the formal terms of the Generative Grammar, it can be stated that cacognosis is present when the subject regards the Code as having literal meaning which is literally relevant to the phenomenal world. Mal'Akh, for instance, is an archetypal cacognostic since with reference to the Code he believes that it refers to a physical symbol, and that this symbol confers temporal and physical power: "My God, he's looking for the verbum significatium...the Lost Word. Langdon let the thought take shape, recalling fragments of Peter's lecture. The Lost Word is what he's looking for! That's what he believes is buried here in Washington!" (TLS 418)

The Code is a series of mutually referring signs, the development of which drives the plot of the symbological novel, and all of which appear ultimately to indicate a single Referent. This is either construed as a real, obtainable, relevant object (by the cacognostic) a real, probably unobtainable, irrelevant object (by the mythognostic) or a metaphorical, immanent, irrelevant object (by the orthognostic). The substance of the symbological novel consists in the diachronic unfolding of the code and the oscillations between potential subject positions that this development produces in the protagonists. Classically, this action is mainly restricted to the hero, who begins as a mythognostic before entering a mytho/cacognostic dialectic which is ultimately resolved into orthognosis by the complete revelation of the code.  This development, in turn, constitutes the Cop-Out.

The Cop-Out occurs when the code is fully articulated  and its referential properties completely elucidated.  The cop-out generally constitutes the final transition from the hero (or Symbologist) from the cacognostic/mythognostic dialectic within which he has spent the plot oscillating to a position of stable orthognosis, typically through the mediation of an orthognostic helper-figure.  In more specific terms, the cop-out occurs when it transpires that the object of the code is revealed as metaphorical, immanent, and irrelevant, rather than, as the reader previously been led to believe, real, instantiated, and relevant.  A classic instance is Poimandres' claim, regarding the mythical Benben stone (whose acquisition is the goal of all the code-pursuing characters in Pyramid,) that "It is nothing; it is a symbol."

Facile Wisdom
The Code ostends a literal object of literal significance (see Cacognosis) but always turns out finally to refer to a metaphorical object of metaphorical significance (see Orthognosis). The facile wisdom is this object, the actual referent of the Code, and consists in a series of platitudinous re-statements of ideological formulations so basic to the subjectivity of the reader as to appear to be self-evident.


Flash on, to
Favorite verb of Dan Brown, describing male tardive intuition (male intuition is obstructed by discursivity and arrives long after female intuition is already immanent).

Generative Grammar, the
A simple table which produces the subject postions available to male characters in the symbological novel based on binary choices in ontology and epistemology, as follows:

                       Onto      Epi
Orthognostic      M        M
Mythognostic     L         M
Cacognostic       L         L

For ontology, one can read something like "status of the Code's referent" and for epistemology, something like "significance of ontology."  For each, there are two possibilities, metaphoricity and literality.  Orthognostic characters believe that the object of the Code is metaphorical and that its significance is symbolic; mythognostic characters believe that the object is real but agree that its signficance is symbolic, metaphorical, or in some other respect abstract; and cacognostic characters believe that the object of the code is real and that it has real, instrumental significance.
In general, father/helper figures are orthognostics (Peter Solomon in The Lost Symbol, Poimandres in  Pyramid, etc.), who point out to the protagonists that the object of their search was immanent in them all along (see Cop-Out).  Thus, for example, Peter Solomon in Brown's The Lost Symbol is ultimately resolved as an orthognostic, since he knows that the object of the code is metaphorical (the Bible in TLS is simply metonymy for the Ancient Wisdom) and that the significance of whatever is implied by the actual referent (in this case the text of the Bible) is also metaphorical.
Symbologist characters begin as mythognostics.  Langdon always starts out this way; he believes in the literal reality of the object of the code, (say, the Illuminati in Angels and Demons,) but he is forever incongruously convinced that its only significance can be metaphorical. 
Villains are always cacognostic.  Mal'akh, Teabing, Bezumov, etc. are all cacognostics since they believe in the literal reality and physical efficacy of the code's referent.  Teabing believes that the Holy Grail exists and will bring him eternal life, Bezumov believes that the Benben stone exists and will make him master of the world, etc.
It is crucial to note that the Generative Grammar only generates the positions available to male subjects of symbology; women in symbological novels are in general orthognostic, but their orthognosis is unassailable.  That is to say, while much of the drama of the symbological novel consists in the transition of male characters between subject positions, no equivalent movement is possible for femal protagonists.  They always remain profoundly ignorant of the Code's development and incapable of grasping its significance.  This has led to the shorthand "O(f)" to describe feminine orthognosis.


The elementary particle of symbological knowledge. All knowledge produced by other means is merely anamnesis. Intuition is the sufficient epistemological condition of the feminine subject of symbology.

Mythognosis is another subject position available to the male subject of symbology. Mythognosis is present when the subject regards the code as referring literally to objects in the world, but regards the significance of these objects as metaphorical and therefore irrelevant. Mythognosis is the default position of the symbologist, and much of the overt drama of the novel and of its tacit interpellative function emerge from his peregrinations through potential cacognosis and finally into orthognosis.

Obnoxious Other
See Other, Obnoxious

Orthognosis is the final subject position available to the male subject of symbological knowledge, and is the default position of F. (the Father). Orthognosis present when the subject regards the Code as referring metaphorically to objects whose significance is metaphorical. This is also the position at which S. typically arrives at the end of the novel by means of the cop-out, a development which, among other things, serves to defuse/diffuse the pseudo-critique of ideology. A notable example is Rutherford's complete loss of interest in the Hall of Records after the cop-out of Pyramid. Nothing in the external world has changed which should influence his previously expressed interest in engaging the knowledge contained therein; rather, an internal shift has been effected by means of which he now understands that even if the books in question literally exist, about which he is now probably dubious, their significance can only be metaphorical and conveyant of the same banal truisms he has already received in the cop-out.


An interesting effect of S.'s ultimate attainment of orthognosis is that if sequels are produced, then his initial default is orthognosis, not mythognosis, and he must therefore appear even denser and more reactionary than usual since he must be convinced both ot the literal existence of the referents of the Code and of their relevance to the phenomenal world. This is clearly visible in Langdon's progression over the course of A&D, DVC, and TLS from the blowhard, sophistic charlatan to the terminally retarded mouthpiece of ideology.

Other, Obnoxious:

Other, Orthognostic: This prodigious but liminal figure appears in different form in many of our canonical texts: we need think only of Poimandres and his presumable Copt brethren, of the assumed but never explicitly named peoples of the utopian feminist pre-Christian Mediterranean as imagined in the Da Vinci Code, or for that matter, of Riane Eisler's Minoans and Shlain's pre-alphabetic, image-centered, matriarchal peoples of prehistoric Southern Europe. The distant, ineffable Orthognostic Other, qua sujet supposé savoir, overlaps partially with the equally significant figure of Woman, basking in her sublime indifférance (Catherine, Katherine, Nancy, etc). The important point about the Orthognostic Other is that, unlike the positions of Mythognostic and Cacognostic, it is not even a temporarily available position for reader or protagonist, whom the novel ultimately must reconstitute as the effectively re-contained subject of late capitalist hegemony. The remoteness and unattainability of this exotic form of consciousness reassures him of the appropriateness, nay the necessity, of his acquiescence to the obviousnesses of his culture, and it instead remains present in its necessary absence as a flattering spectral projection of his own inert apathy.

Strong Irrelevance:


Being in relation to the Code.


Thick Description:

Ideology, Pseudo-Critique of
The rehearsal of debased versions of established critiques of Western culture (as in Professor Kent's bowdlerization of Foucault in "Discourse on the Electric Juicer as a Tentacle of Power," or Poimandres' treatment of Marx in the "There is an organization called The Corporation" speech) which are then shown either to be always already incorporated into the facile wisdom (as in Kent's case) or subsequently rendered irrelevant or simply ignored following some piece of legerdemain in the plot (as in Poimandres').