“Berrigan’s Reawakening of Vision”

“The Discipline of the Mountain: Dante’s Purgatorio in a Nuclear World. By Daniel Berrigan. Illustrations by Robert McGovern. Seabury Press, 1979.

“Berrigan writes that he went to the Purgatorio in search of “ways of imagining our plight.” Looking for new vision in an old work is a familiar activity; but when it means reforging that work to make a new vision, it becomes complicated for both writer and reader. Unlike translation, an “imitation” does not replace the original text. Instead it offers a new work through which the old text is still visible; to read it is to read two texts. Its author writes in the confidence, or hope, that the vision of the older text is still valid, assuming that for his readers as for himself the vision’s fundamental values remain true and compelling.

“But are we close enough to Dante to make this complicated process work? That depends on what we need from him. Berrigan needs terms in which to grasp the barrenness and violence of a way of life that constantly threatens war. Wanting Christian terms for this, terms powerful to Christian consciences, he naturally turns to Dante as the great poet of the Christian vision. And certainly Dante’s world was no less violent than ours.

“Nevertheless, on one crucial point Dante’s vision is rejected. Dante believed in two authorities, two roads–the spiritual for spiritual affairs, the secular for secular. Berrigan cannot accept half, or more than half, of this faith. For him the imperium, the secular authority, has been irredeemably compromised; and the church suffers from the same corruption, insofar as it has allied itself with the state-at-war and attempts to guide it.”   –Lionel Basney, Sojourners, 1980

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)

A.J. Hackwith, The Library of the Unwritten (2019)

A Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith tells the story of a librarian and her assistant from the ‘Unfinished Book’ wing of the library of Hell tracking down escaped characters from the books, attempting to meet their authors or change their stories. Towards the beginning of the story, as they are about to depart the library of hell for Earth so they can track down an escaped character, a figure appears and quotes most of the inscription which is written on the gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.”   –Contributor Robert Alex Lee

Here is the synopsis of the 2019 novel, from Penguin Random House: “In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

“Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

“But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.”   —Penguin Random House

Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University ’21)

Darrell Falconburg, “Overcoming Lust With Dante’s Divine Comedy

overcoming-lust-with-dantes-divine-comedy-darrell-falconburg-2020“’Midway along the journey of our life / I woke to find myself in a dark wood, / for I had wandered off from the straight path.'[1] So begins the Divine Comedy, the story of Dante’s journey into Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory, and through Heaven. In the poem, Dante finds himself in a dark forest that is tangled, wild, and miserable. Having wandered off from the straight path, he is blocked by three beasts: a leopard, a lion, and a wolf. These three beasts embody the three sins that caused Dante to become lost in the first place: The leopard represents lust, the lion pride, and the wolf avarice.

“Here I will focus on the capital sin of lust as it is presented in the poem. Dante’s journey, as many readers may already know, is the journey of the human person’s pilgrimage to God. As a result, we can take away from the Divine Comedy timeless wisdom about the human person and the devastating consequences of sin. In the Divine Comedy, Dante descends into Inferno to see the sin of lust for the ugly whirlwind that it truly is. He then struggles up the mountain of Purgatory to overcome his lust and finally ascends into the purity and joy of Heaven.” [. . .]    –Darrell Falconburg, The Imaginative Conservative, September 5, 2020.

David Meredith, Aaru: Dante’s Path (The Aaru Cycle Book 3) (2020)

aaru-dantes-path-david-meredith“The virtual paradise of Aaru is destroyed. The lords and ladies are overthrown. Most of the Vedas are captured, and Magic Man’s dark creation, Hel rules with an iron fist, exacting her horrible revenge.

“Arch Veda Rose is afraid it’s all her fault. While the defeated lords and ladies sequester themselves in the impregnable tree-fortress of Yggdrasil, Rose decides it is up to her to make things right. Together she, and her bitter rival Matteus decide to work together to secretly infiltrate Hel’s Kingdom of Dis and rescue their tormented friends.

“At the same time, Koren has struggles of her own, mourning the untimely death of her father and separation from her sister Rose even as the corrupt megachurch pastor, Benjamin Belial, inserts himself deeper and deeper into her life, affairs, and family, and public opinion turns increasingly against Elysian Industries. Though worlds apart, both sisters must traverse a proverbial Dante’s Path with no guarantee of success or survival.”    –David Meredith, Amazon, 2020.

Fr. Paul Pearson, Spiritual Direction From Dante: Ascending Mount Purgatory (2020)

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“Join Father Paul Pearson of the Oratory as he guides you on a spiritual journey through one of the great classics of Christian literature, Dante’s Purgatorio. Purgatory is the least understood of the three possible “destinations” when we die (though unlike heaven or hell it is not an eternal one) and is mysterious to many Christians and even to many Catholics today. As he did in his first volume in the Spiritual Direction from Dante trilogy, Avoiding the Inferno, Father Pearson adroitly draws out the great spiritual insights hidden in The Divine Comedy.” [. . .]    –Fr. Paul Pearson, Amazon, 2020.

 

Lawrence M. Ludlow, “Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Divine Origins of the Free Market”

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“We already are familiar with the Marxian social gospel that is so popular among many current theologians and their followers. In the verses I will cite, Dante himself voices an understanding of the marketplace that shares this erroneous communitarian view of economics. In particular, he describes his adherence to what is known among libertarians as the fallacy of zero-sum economics. Those who hold the zero-sum view claim that in a free marketplace, the gains of one participant are exactly balanced by the losses of another. If the total of the gains and losses are added up, the sum will be zero. In other words, if the sum total of all wealth were embodied in a single chocolate cake, one person’s share of cake would be another’s loss. Furthermore, the addition of each new market participant requires the slicing of thinner and thinner pieces of this cake. We libertarians, of course, despise this theory. If it were correct, the seven billion inhabitants of planet Earth would now be sharing and dividing infinitesimally small pieces of the very same chocolate cake that was first made available in the mists of Mexican pre-history. If such were true, I frankly wonder if there would be so much as a single calorie available to any of us – and very stale calories at that. Furthermore, the current spectacle of American obesity appears to belie this interpretation without my assistance.

“But as soon as Dante expresses his zero-sum analysis of marketplace economics, Virgil – who acts as Dante’s divinely appointed guide throughout his journey down into the Inferno and during his wonderful ascent of the Purgatorio – immediately upbraids him and provides the correct alternative, an unabashed free-market perspective. In Dante’s poem, this perspective is a reflection of the divine perspective of God. Let’s now examine the text itself.” [. . .]    –Lawrence M. Ludlow, Strike The Root, May 14, 2013.

John Took, Why Dante Matters: An Intelligent Person’s Guide (2020)

“The year 2021 marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, a poet who, as T. S. Eliot put it, ‘divides the world with Shakespeare, there being no third.’ His, like ours, was a world of moral uncertainty and political violence, all of which made not only for the agony of exile but for an ever deeper meditation on the nature of human happiness.

“In Why Dante Matters, John Took offers by way of three in particular of Dante’s works – the Vita Nova as the great work of his youth, the Convivio as the great work of his middle years and the Commedia as the great work of his maturity – an account, not merely of Dante’s development as a poet and philosopher, but of his continuing presence to us as a guide to man’s wellbeing as man.

“Committed as he was to the welfare not only of his contemporaries but of those ‘who will deem this time ancient,’ Dante’s is in this sense a discourse overarching the centuries, a discourse confirming him in his status, not merely as a cultural icon, but as a fellow traveller.”   —Bloomsbury

See also the Virtual book launch event held at UCL’s Institute for Advanced Study, November 24, 2020.

Jorge Luis Borges, “Paradiso, XXXI, 108” in Dreamtigers

jorge-luis-borges-paradiso-xxxi“Beside a road there is a stone face and an inscription that says, ‘The True Portrait of the Holy Face of the God of Jaen.’ If we truly knew what it was like, the key to the parables would be ours and we would know whether the son of the carpenter was also the Son of God.

“Paul saw it as a light that struck him to the ground; John, as the sun when it shines in all its strength; Teresa de Jesus saw it many times, bathed in tranquil light, yet she was never sure of the color of His eyes.

“We lost those features, as one may lose a magic number made up of the usual ciphers, as one loses an image in a kaleidoscope, forever. We may see them and know them not. The profile of a Jew in the subway is perhaps the profile of Christ; perhaps the hands that give us our change at a ticket window duplicate the ones some soldier nailed one day to the cross.

Perhaps a feature of the crucified face lurks in every mirror; perhaps the face died, was erased, so that God may be all of us.” [. . .]    –Jorge Luis Borges, The Floating Library, September 15, 2008.

Jorge Luis Borges, “Inferno, I, 32” in Dreamtigers

jorge-luis-borges-inferno-i-32-2020“From the twilight of day till the twilight of evening, a leopard, in the last years of the thirteenth century, would see some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who changed, a wall and perhaps a stone gutter filled with dry leaves. He did not know, could not know, that he longed for love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of tearing things to pieces and the wind carrying the scent of a deer, but something suffocated and rebelled within him and God spoke to him in a dream: ‘You live and will die in this prison so that a man I know of may see you a certain number of times and not forget you and place your figure and symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have given a word to the poem.’ God, in the dream, illumined the animal’s brutishness and the animal understood these reasons and accepted his destiny, but, when he awoke, there was in him only an obscure resignation, a valorous ignorance, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of a beast.

“Years later, Dante was dying in Ravenna, as unjustified and as lonely as any other man. In a dream, God declared to him the secret purpose of his life and work; Dante, in wonderment, knew at last who and what he was and blessed the bitterness of his life. Tradition relates that, upon waking, he felt that he had received and lost an infinite thing, something that he would not be able to recuperate or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of men.” [. . .]    — Jorge Luis Borges, The Floating Library, July 28, 2008.