«Noi leggiavamo. . .»: Visual re-mediations of Canto 5 in the journal Arabeschi

In honor of Dantedì (March 25) 2021, the journal Arabeschi published a special issue dedicated to the visual re-mediations of the figures of Paolo and Francesca in Inferno 5. With an introduction by Gaetano Lalomia and Giovanna Rizzarelli, and featuring essays and virtual exhibits by Marcello Ciccuto, Laura Pasquini, and others, the special issue covers in depth the rich history of iconographic reception, across various visual media, of the story of Dante’s star-crossed lovers in the 20th and 21st centuries. At right is a screenshot of selected contributions to the issue.

Read the full issue (with image gallery) here.

Read the introduction by Lalomia and Rizzarelli here.

Jim Shaw, Donald and Melania Trump descending the escalator into the 9th circle of hell reserved for traitors frozen in a sea of ice (2020)

Jim Shaw’s silkscreen print Donald and Melania Trump descending the escalator into the 9th circle of hell reserved for traitors frozen in a sea of ice (2020) depicts the former US President and First Lady passing into the ninth circle, populated by members of the Trump inner circle: John Bolton, Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault, Anthony Scaramucci, Jeff Sessions, and others. The lake of Cocytus appears to have been displaced to the ground floor of a dilapidated American shopping mall.

Simon Lee Gallery describes Shaw’s collected works thus: “The practice of American artist Jim Shaw (b. 1952, Midland, Michigan) spans a wide range of artistic media and visual imagery. Since the 1970s, Shaw has mined the detritus of American culture, finding inspiration for his artworks in comic books, pulp novels, rock albums, protest posters, thrift store paintings – his ever-growing collection of found artworks has been the subject of its own exhibition on several occasions – and advertisements. At the same time, Shaw has consistently turned to his own life and, in particular, his unconscious, as a source of artistic creativity. Providing a blend of the personal, the commonplace and the uncanny, Shaw’s works frequently place in dialogue images of friends and family members with world events, pop culture and alternate realities. Often unfolding in long-term, narrative cycles, the works contains systems of cross-references and repetitions, which rework similar symbols and motifs, allowing a story-like thread to be perceived.”   –“Biography,” Simon Lee Gallery

See a discussion of Shaw’s exhibit Hope Against Hope, hosted by the Simon Lee Gallery (London) from October 20, 2020, to January 16, 2021, in The Art Newspaper.

Contributed by Deborah Parker (University of Virginia)

Maurizio Guarini, live soundtrack for 1911 Inferno film (2017)

“I started this live project in 2017. The director of the Italian Institute of Culture had the idea, and asked me if I wanted to do a live soundtrack with the occasion of the International Seminar on Critical Approaches to Dante organized by the University of Toronto. I saw this incredible movie from 1911—the first Italian feature film ever. and I took up the challenge.

“This first performance, that took place at the Innis Town Hall (University of Toronto), received a great audience response, so I decided to go ahead and do more shows.”   —Maurizio Guarini

Adoyo, Rain: A Song for All and None (2020)

Adoyo’s Rain: A Song for All and None is a genre-crossing novel published by Zamani Chronicles in 2020. Rain is at the same time the oral history of several generations of a fictional Kenyan family, centered on Maya, a Dream Walker—endowed with a clairvoyance that grants Dreamers a cross-temporal empathic vision of human history—and an incisive interrogation of the history of colonial conquest in Africa. In the “Afterword” Adoyo (a scholar and teacher of Dante) describes the relationship of the novel’s relationship to the Divine Comedy:

“And each of the multitude voices and stories flowing into Rain is a vital tributary to a dynamic polyphony that explores and illuminates the conflict between sanitized histories of colonialist aggression and the unvarnished accounts of their savagery. It will not surprise readers familiar with the voice of Dante Alighieri’s Commedia that the Great Poet’s most important animating influence in Rain is the way it emboldens this story to draw back the veil of recorded History and bear witness, with an unflinching and conscientious gaze, to the brutality of the agents of colonial dominion — figures celebrated for the Age of Discovery whose incursions wreaked unconscionable horrors on peoples around the world for Coin in the name of Church and Crown and set the precedent for presumptuous appropriations like the Scramble for Africa centuries later. The poetic voice of Dante artifex also permeates the comprehensive structure of Rain, from its general architecture to the network of internal memory manifest in the story’s narrative refrains, as well as the musical rhythm and flow of the storyteller’s language. The most dulcet tones of Dante’s voice resonate deeply in the contemplative strains of Rain devoted to singing the unspoiled beauty of Nature in the bounty of Africa’s expansive savanna grasslands, gleaming equatorial mountain glaciers, opulent Rift Valley, cascading waters and wending rivers, and shimmering Great Lakes.”   –From the “Afterword” of Adoyo’s Rain: A Song for All and None (Zamani Chronicles, 2020)

Dantedì 2020 in Tunisia

Hammadi Agrebi, Professor of Italian in the Tunisian Ministry of Education, posted a brief video of himself dressed as Dante and reciting the opening verses of the Inferno as a celebration of Dantedì 2020. He began his reading by remarking on the ways that Dante’s verses serve to unify people across cultures, and circulated them on social media with the hashtag #IoleggoDante, an initiative sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Culture to display solidarity with Italians and others worldwide who were in strict lockdowns during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The video was posted on YouTube on March 24, 2020.

Noma Hiroshi, Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu (1961)

In 1961, noted Japanese postwar novelist Noma Hiroshi (1915-1991) published the semi-autobiographical novel Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu (There Stands My Pagoda) which gives an account of several days in the life of Kaizuka Sōichi, a student at Kyoto University in the 1930s. Kaizuka, who is increasingly interested in Marxism, engages in a debate with an unnamed character on the nature of hell. While his antagonist cites Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū, Kaizuka replies by citing passages from Dante’s Inferno.

On the comparison, see James Raeside’s 1997 article in Japan Forum: “Since, as I have said, Kaizuka’s opponent is a projection of his own psyche, we cannot doubt that there is some truth in his accusation of a lubricious interest in the Paolo and Francesca passage; this is directly confirmed in a later passage of the book where Kaizuka, looking over another passage from The Inferno, wonders if it is not, after all, true that he is like those who read the work as a kind of pornographic text:

“‘Aren’t I doing the same kind of thing, re-reading The Inferno just searching for the suggestive passages? The places I re-read are already fixed, they’re the only parts that are blackened and grubby.’ (Waga tō: 146)”   –Cited from James Raeside, “This is not hell, nor am I out of it: Noma Hiroshi’s Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu,” Japan Forum 9.2 (1997): 195-215; citation p. 201.

Luigi Garlando, Vai all’inferno, Dante! (2020)

“A Firenze c’è una sontuosa villa cinquecentesca, la Gagliarda, residenza dei Guidobaldi e sede dell’impresa di famiglia. È lì che vive Vasco, quattordici anni, un bullo impenitente abituato a maltrattare professori, compagni e famigliari. A scuola Vasco fa pena, in compenso è imbattibile a Fortnite, progetta di diventare un gamer professionista e ha già migliaia di follower. Perché Vasco è così, sa di essere in credito con la vita e di avere diritto a tutto. Finché un giorno, a sorpresa, viene battuto da un avversario che si fa chiamare Dante e indossa il classico copricapo del Poeta. ‘Oh Guidobaldi, becca Montaperti! Or mi conoscerai, vil ghibellino. Ben ti convien tenere gli occhi aperti’ chatta il misterioso giocatore. Ma chi è? E perché parla in versi? Appena può, Vasco torna in postazione e cerca la rivincita per umiliarlo come solo lui sa fare, senza sapere che la più esaltante e rivoluzionaria sfida della sua vita è appena cominciata.”   —Libreria Pino website

Victoria Ocampo, Autobiografía II: La rama de Salzburgo (1980)

“Victoria utilizará también una serie de referentes literarios, teniendo siempre como principal a la pareja Francesca y Paolo, dos amantes que aparecen en la Divina Comedia en el Canto V del Infierno. Dante habla con ellos y siente gran compasión por su amor, de modo que entabla un diálogo con ellos – algo que el autor no hace con casi nadie de los personajes en los tres libros. Asimismo, habla de Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Brönte, entre otros.”   –Review on El buen librero (August 8, 2014)

Ocampo also published De Francesca à Beatrice, a commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy, in 1923.

“Radio Dante,” from the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Tirana

“I versi di Dante Alighieri, tratti dalle Rime e dalla Vita Nuova, compongono i ventuno episodi del progetto Radio Dante, un podcast sperimentale ideato da Francesca Fini su commissione dell’Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Tirana e RadioMi, per celebrare i settecento anni dalla morte del poeta fiorentino. [. . .] Le voci degli attori si muovono in un paesaggio sonoro ricchissimo di suggestioni e per certi versi spiazzante, sceneggiato da Francesca Fini e sviluppato nello spazio tridimensionale dal sound-designer Boris Riccardo D’Agostino. Un paesaggio sonoro avvolgente, che sembra raccontare un road-movie ambientato nella contemporaneità, trascinando l’universo dantesco nel nostro presente.”   –Radio Dante: “Il Progetto e le Persone

Listen to the Radio Dante podcast streaming on Radiomi from February 15, 2021. You can also listen to the podcast episodes here.

Tom Stoppard’s Bookshelf

“Stoppard is a maniacal reader who collects first editions of writers he admires. Asked on the BBC radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 1984 to choose the one book he’d bring to a desert island, he replied: Dante’s Inferno in a dual Italian/English version, so he could learn a language while reading a favorite. His idea of a good death, he’s said, would be to have a bookshelf fall on him, killing him instantly, while reading.”   –Dwight Garner, “‘Tom Stoppard’ Tells of an Enormous Life Spent in Constant Motion,” New York Times review of Hermione Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life (February 15, 2021)

Contributed by Guy Raffa (University of Texas, Austin)