“Dante Alighieri and the World”

“There was the endeavour to untangle knots — truth and lie, sin and redemption, piety and lust. There was always the goal to risk all for truth. Take this tercet from Dante Alighieri:

‘When truth looks like a lie,
a man’s to blame
Not to sit still, if he can, and
hold his tongue,
Or he’ll only cover his
innocent head with shame.’

“Scribes and great TV anchors, who can give a spin to any development, should heed the lines. We need to take sides when truth stares you in the face. In Canto III, some angels did not take sides when Satan revolted, but timorously sat on the fence. They were placed lock, stock and barrel in Hell. The colourless mediocrities most of us are, get short shrift. He talks about the ‘sorry souls who won neither praise nor blame for the lives they led’. Of course, the first words we learnt of Dante’s Inferno, as students, were ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here’, the inscription on the gates of Hell. During the lockdown, I thought that the three translations of Dante I possess should be put to good use. One hoards books and never reads them, though 20 years back I had read Dorothy Sayers’ fine translation of Inferno my father had left me. Michael Palme’s translation is better. What Dante did was mind-boggling. The entire European civilisation was placed before the reader, from Greek legends onwards. You have a full canto on the Dis, which is his word for the underworld. The river Lethe, Acheron the boatman who herds the souls who drop: ‘So from the bank there one by one drop all… As drops the falcon to the falconer’s call.’ The eighth circle gets flatterers (half our political parties would be in trouble, praising the 8 pm lockdowns, or the two-line denunciations by Rahul G). There are also soothsayers in the same circle (good grief, our Chandraswamis with red tilaks and rudraksh malas!). Actually, you can’t honestly exclude we Indians from any inferno you can devise.”    –Keki Daruwalla, The Tribune, August 2, 2020

Marcel Möring, In a Dark Wood (2008)

“‘Forget the Purgatorio,’ says a character in Marcel Möring’s new novel, ‘leave the Paradiso unread. Hell and nothing but that. That is the world.’ In this intelligent, literate narrative, the forest that skirts the Dutch town of Assen becomes the dark wood of Dante’s Inferno, while the town itself is depicted as a desolate place of sin and suffering.

[…]

“Homer, Dante, Joyce, Greek myth, Arthurian romance – Möring’s debts are unmistakable, but there’s no sense of a sneaking or slavish dependency on these sources; his unapologetic literary borrowings are a form of celebration. His exuberance sometimes seems hyperactive, but its general effect is compelling. His approach is perhaps best understood through analogy with another art form: at one point he invokes the spirit of Miles Davis, describing the great jazzman ‘going into the studio with a handful of notes and chords and in a hallucinatory session recording Kind of Blue, carrying everyone along with him, with complete confidence in his leadership and the expectation that he will bring them to the place where they have to be.’ Threading the novel’s intricate byways, enjoying the journey for its own sake, we do indeed finish up where we have to be – perhaps registering that, as the Jew of Assen remarks, the crooked path is often the only way to the end.” —Jem Poster, The Guardian, February 13, 2009

The novel, originally published in Dutch under the title Dis, was awarded the Ferdinand Bordewijk Prize for the best Dutch novel in 2007. See the author’s page here.

The Mass, “City of Dis” (2005)

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City of Dis is the debut album from Oakland, California’s The Mass, who combine thrash, math metal, hardcore, and jazz into an artful amalgam. The lurching, jagged stop/go riffing of Dillinger Escape Plan is the order of the day, but the riffs themselves are typically more thrash based. The band is amazingly tight and performs with a great deal of precision. This is topped with the manic hardcore vocals of Matt Waters, who also plays saxophone. The sax is present in every song, but not throughout the songs. Instead, Waters picks his moments and provides accompaniment in the style a dual guitarist, or contributes wildly frenetic solos, which sound aggressive and spastic enough to put to rest any doubts regarding the testicular fortitude of the band. If Morphine played metal it would sound something like this.” [. . .]    –Matt Mooring, Last Rites, December 2012

Contributed by Jenn