Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (1947)

the-malcolm-lowry-project-under-the-volcano-1947Chapter 3. 65.6: “In Canto XIII of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil enter a pathless wood full of withered trees. Hearing a mournful wailing but seeing no one, the poet stops and is advised by Virgil to break off a twig from one of the trees. Dante does so; the tree becomes dark with blood and begins to cry: ‘Perché mi scerpi? / non hai tu spirto di pietade alcuno?’ (‘Why do you tear me? / Have you no spirit of pity?’). The trees are the suicides, those who have wantonly destroyed their lives and poisoned their souls and are therefore fixed for eternity in barren sterility. [. . .]”

Chapter 3. 65.7: “In Mexico, figures of Christ or the Virgin Mary are common features of house or garden walls as reminders of the suffering Christ assumed on behalf of all. The words also evoke the suffering figure of Faustus: the earlier ‘Regard’ recalls his hellish fall, but the emphasis here, as with the echoes of Eliot and Dante above, is on blood and sorrow and compassion. Faustus, in distress and anguish, cannot look up to heaven for the mercy that is there; one drop of Christ’s blood would save his soul, but he cannot avoid despair. Like Faustus, the Consul is unable to ask for relief, even though it is so immediately at hand. In an early draft [UBC 29-8, 1] Lowry was more explicit: ‘You have always secretly longed, like Christ, even like your own brother, to die.'” [. . .]    — The Malcolm Lowry Project: Under The Volcano, June 2012.

See these and many more Dante-related annotations to Under the Volcano at the hypertext resource the Malcolm Lowry Project, sponsored by University of Otago (NZ).

 

Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962)

“[. . .] Rediscovering the Vision of Science Fiction. We cannot call everything with a monster in it science fiction, but if we make the presence of a hypothesis our standard, then we are free to widen the field considerably. The evolutionary line of science fiction could include not only Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. [1920] and War with the Newts [1936], but even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis [1915] and David Garnett’s Lady into Fox [1922]. We could broaden our definition endlessly, going beyond the commonly accepted idea of the ‘science fiction writer’ to include authors like Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, August Strindberg, Guillaume Apollinaire, Vladmir Mayakovsky, Jules Supervielle, Lu Xun, Sōseki Natsume, Uchida Hyakken, Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Ishikawa Jun, and so on.

“And we could go even further back, to Swift, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante, Apuleius, and Lucian. The pedigree for our literature of hypothesis would eventually trace itself all the way back to the Greeks.

“Viewed in this light, science fiction’s vision is not a narrow branch within literature but part of the mainstream, a literary current far longer and deeper than a movement like Naturalism, for example. Even if this vision does not encompass all of literature, it is a part too important to leave out. And if there is a potential for a boom in science fiction in our country, it will be a great blessing for Japanese literature, afflicted as it is with a shortage of hypotheses. [. . .]”   –Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962), trans. Christopher Bolton, Science Fiction Studies 88 (November 2002)

Review of Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013)

review-murakami-colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage-2020“But it’s classical music – another Murakami love – that gives Murakami the title of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The title comes from Franz Liszt’s three-suite work Anneés de pèlerinage, which translates as ‘Years of Pilgrimage.’

“The eighth part of the first suite – ‘Le mal du pays’ (translation: ‘Homesickness’) – bonds the five main characters (they all play and/or listen to the piece throughout the novel) as they voyage through the “years of pilgrimage” of their mid-30s.

“Murakami’s literary antecedent in writing about one’s mid-30s as a time of a despondent and confusing quest for meaning is, of course, Dante and his Divine Comedy. And the quest of Dante’s protagonist ends happily, as does the quest of Murakami’s protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki.” [. . .]    –Paul Gleason, Stereo Embers

Justin Meckes, Inferno (2020)

Inferno is a novella, a portion of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, in prose rather than the original verse. Inferno finds our protagonist enduring the very same tormenting journey through the rings of hell but in an expanded format.

“The work is retold in its original period, but it has been infused with somewhat less overt references to today’s politics. Thus, this Inferno will maintain a universal appeal and be made available in a Russian Flag edition.

“[. . .] Within this version, multiple Trump associates (e.g., Paul Manafort, Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, etc.) make appearances in the place of their Florentine counterparts.”

Read a short excerpt here.

“What Happens When a Writer Hates the Heroine of Her New Book?” Excerpt from Nisha Susan’s The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories

“In her second week at the library, she was choked. Somewhere in this building, she had been told, is an actual manuscript of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri had not sat around in the 1300s writing coy shit. Somewhere near here, Arun Kolatkar had written Jejuri and the Kala Ghoda poems. Somewhere near here, Kolatkar had died. Where in her writing was the blood, the grime, the puking on the streets and the deep stuff?”    –Nisha Susan, excerpt from The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, Huffington Post, August 10, 2020

Natsume Sōseki, The Wayfarer (Kojin) (1912)

“[I]t gradually becomes clear that marriages good and bad, arranged and romantic are constants in this narrative. Suffering from a kind of existential crisis, Ichiro’s marriage to Nao is in trouble. Ichiro even suspects that his feckless younger brother Jiro has been carrying on with Nao, and voices despairing references to Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Inferno. The third part of the book covers the period after they all return to Tokyo from their travels. As Ichiro and Nao’s marriage continues to deteriorate, Nao is tight-lipped, refusing to argue or complain, while Ichiro seems close to a nervous breakdown.”   –B. Morrison, “The Wayfarer (Kojin), by Natsume Sōseki” (March 22, 2010)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1908 novel The Miner.

Natsume Sōseki, The Miner (1908)

“Where Murakami’s introduction starts to go astray, however, is in his assumption that Sōseki’s chief ambition is to describe the mine as an entity in and of itself. Indeed Murakami believes Sōseki pretended to be uninterested in the young man’s personal experiences to avoid confronting ‘a major social problem head-on.’

“Murakami has the equation backward: Sōseki’s main objective was not to describe a mine but to present a modern-day vision of hell, and the mine was a convenient way of doing so. Sōseki is always interested in universal themes that transcend the here and now, and certainly the intensely personal, in order to work on a deeper level. In The Miner he digs deep down into human psychology itself.

“The descent into hell is a recurrent Sōseki theme. In his first piece of fiction, the 1905 story ‘Rondon To’ (‘The Tower of London’), his protagonist crosses the river Thames — recast as the River Styx — and passes under a portal, imagining he can find there Dante’s famous words from Inferno, as translated Henry Francis Cary, ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’ Sōseki’s first vision of hell was achieved by summoning up the ghosts of those who had been murdered or executed in the Tower of London. Sōseki explicitly links The Miner with ‘The Tower of London’ in numerous subtle ways, describing the young protagonist of The Miner as undergoing ‘degeneration’ as he descends into the mine in reference to Max Nordau’s 1892 theory of degeneration, highlighted at the beginning of ‘The Tower of London.’”   –Damian Flanagan, “Natsume Sōseki goes back to hell in The Miner,” The Japan Times (October 24, 2015)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1912 novel The Wayfarer.

Contributed by Savannah Mikus (Florida State University BA ’20, MA ’22)

Christopher R. Miller, “Purgatory Is for Real” (Review of G. Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo)

“The afterlife has also been having a cultural moment in recent fiction, but typically in the form of something other than heaven—call it, for lack of a better word, purgatory. In the popular television series The Good Place, the vaguely named realm of the title turns out to be something else entirely, and its characters find they have their ethical work cut out for them. Two recent novels have also set their action in a postmortem limbo, with similar narrative implications: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) and the Finnish author Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron (just published in an English translation by Owen F. Witesman) imagine versions of the bardo, the Tibetan Buddhist transitional state between death and rebirth.

[. . .]

“From the perspective of the petal-scented heaven that Saunders intimates, the ghosts are the myopic schlemiels, but their fear of ‘leaving behind forever the beautiful things of this world’ takes on a touchingly quixotic grandeur. Writ large, their sense of peril, uncertainty, and loss has obvious allegorical resonance, suggesting both the president’s interminable state of mourning and the nation’s passage through war and precarious rebirth. In this, Saunders’s bardo is not unlike Dante’s purgatory—a place of unfinished business, nostalgic longing, imaginative engagement with the living, and above all, therapeutic forms of work.”   — Christopher R. Miller, “Purgatory Is for Real,” Public Books, May 23, 2018

Dario Crapanzano, Il furto della Divina Commedia (2019)

“Milano 1954, Michele Esposito, preside in un liceo di Città Studi, ha una grande passione: i libri antichi, nei quali investe la maggior parte delle sue entrate. Grazie a un’eredità riesce ad acquistare, per ben quattro milioni di lire, l’incunabolo di una Divina Commedia del Quattrocento. Una copia rara e preziosa che il preside presenta solennemente al corpo docente dell’istituto. Quando, uno dei giorni seguenti, il libro sparisce dalla cassaforte della scuola, a indagare viene chiamato Fausto Lorenzi, un ispettore dagli occhi «di ghiaccio».

“Chi poteva conoscere la combinazione della cassaforte? Molti sono i sospettati: i docenti e anche la storica segretaria, che molti definiscono la vera preside. E quando viene scoperto un omicidio, Lorenzi collega subito il delitto al furto.

“Ma il mistero rimane fitto…

“Nella consueta atmosfera vintage della Milano anni Cinquanta, tra cinema fumosi e antiche librerie antiquarie, Dario Crapanzano costruisce un giallo appassionante e crea, dopo Mario Arrigoni, un nuovo personaggio investigatore, che sorprenderà i lettori e che proverà a risolvere lo strano caso del furto della Divina Commedia.”    — Mondadori

Contributed by Ludovica Valentini (Florida State University, MA ’18)

Jo Walton’s new novel, Lent (2019) is “Dante’s Groundhog Day”

“I love Hugo and Nebula-Award winner Jo Walton’s science fiction and fantasy novels (previously) and that’s why it was such a treat to inaugurate my new gig as an LA Times book reviewer with a review of her latest novel, Lent, a fictionalized retelling of the live of Savonarola, who reformed the Florentine church in the 1490s, opposing a corrupt Pope, who martyred him (except in Walton’s book, and unbeknownst to Savonarola himself, Savonarola is a demon who is sent back to Hell when he is martyred, then returned to 1492 Florence to start over again).

“The story is motivated by a mystical shift in Savonarola’s destiny that allows him to remember, from one incarnation to the next, who he truly is. He lives many different versions of his life, seeking a way to harrow Hell, restore grace, redeem himself and save Florence.

“The Groundhog Day-meets-Dante premise is incredibly weird and incredibly satisfying, a bizarrely effective way of making the characters come to life as we see how they would have reacted to the same circumstance with slight variations, building up a series of incredibly detailed and nuanced portraits. And because this is a Walton novel, there are no easy answers, and ambiguity rules overall — and because Walton has become so close with the Renaissance scholar and science fiction novelist (and librettist, singer, and all-round genius) Ada Palmer, her Renaissance Florence has the ring of the true metal, incredibly well-drawn in ever way.” […]    –Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, May 16, 2019