Rauschenberg’s Dante in the Time of Pandemic

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“Dante’s three-part epic poem portrays the journey souls take after death. Essentially a socio-economic commentary on Florentine life, with strong moral undertones and focus on the human condition, its themes can be adapted to any time. Today, in the face of Covid-19, the 700-year-old Commedia resonates strongly. Now is a perfect time to reflect on the work through its visual depictions. Although countless artists have illustrated the work since its medieval publication – Sandro Botticelli, Gustave Doré, and John Flaxman, to name a few – modern artists have shown how its relevance lives on to this day. Perhaps the most progressive modern rendering of Dante’s epic to date is seen through the work of artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).

“Dante is ambiguous in his writing on the Sodomites, reflecting the reticence surrounding the subject of homosexuality in his day. Rauschenberg mirrors this ambiguity in his illustration with an empty speech bubble beneath a red outline of his own traced foot. The tracing inserts Rauschenberg into the narrative just as Dante the Poet occasionally appears in the text, separate from Dante the Pilgrim, a personal touch that is seldom seen in Commedia illustrations.” [. . .]    —Flora Igoe, The Art Story Blog, 2020

See Rauschenberg’s full Inferno series here.

 

Ocean Vuong, “Seventh Circle of Earth” (2016)

“I wrote ‘Seventh Circle of Earth’ [from Vuong’s 2016 collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds] shortly after hearing the news of two gay men being murdered by immolation in Dallas, TX. I originally wrote the poem in tercets, echoing Dante’s terza rima format. In the Inferno, the stanzas work as a network of rooms the speaker moves through as he descends through the circles of hell. In ‘Seventh Circle of Earth,’ however, this grouping felt off, even fraudulent, to me. A persona poem at its core, it takes on the voice of one of the men speaking to his partner. And in the midst of that fraught position, a poem in tercets, or, in other words, a ‘traditional’ poem, felt like a diluted, forced recasting of a horrific event. I ultimately abandoned the poem.

“It was not until three years later, while reading a critical work on violence and scholarship, did I see, more clearly, the footnotes on the bottom of the page. I found myself slipping right to the notes as I progressed, reading them first. They possessed, in that reading, an urgency that began to stitch itself into a fabric of broken utterances fused together by parataxis. It was, in a way, found poetry. That gave me the idea to re-work ‘Seventh Circle of Earth’ into a piece written entirely in the footnote. This time, the vast and utter emptiness one confronts on the page felt more faithful to the violent erasure of the two murdered men. It felt right to begin the poem with its own vanishing.” [. . .]  — Ocean Vuong on “Seventh Circle of Earth” for Poetry School

Read the rest of Vuong’s comments and the poem at poetryschool.com.

Contributed by Su Ertekin-Taner (The Bolles School ’22)

Guy Raffa on Dante and Same-Sex Love

In a response to Rod Dreher’s 2015 book How Dante Can Save Your Life, Guy Raffa (creator of the Danteworlds website) discusses the question of same-sex love in the Comedy:

Raffa-on-Dreher-Dante-Same-Sex-Love-Pop-Matters“In his otherwise fine explication and application of the Divine Comedy, Dreher badly misunderstood—or just plain missed—Dante’s view of same-sex love. […]

“The point can’t be made often or forcefully enough: getting Dante straight means getting him gay, as well. When it comes to the sex or gender of the people we love best, Dante doesn’t give a fig. This is something that Dreher and other serious readers of Dante ought to know.” — Guy Raffa, What Rod Dreher Ought to Know about Dante and Same-Sex Love,” Pop Matters

Satire from The Onion: “Hell Now a Thriving Epicenter of Gay Culture”

“THE MALEBOLGE, NETHER REGIONS OF DARKNESS—Noting the incredible rate at which the community has grown, sources confirmed Thursday that Hell, the Endless Kingdom of Misery, is now a booming haven of gay culture.

“The Great Abyss, home of the damned, is reportedly inhabited by some 600 million condemned homosexual or transgender souls, a large proportion of its total population, and has by many accounts blossomed into an oasis of gay activism and community events.

” ‘I’ve only been here for a few months, but I’ve already fallen in love with it,’ said 49-year-old Daniel Edelson,..” […]

“The gay community has really flourished here, and I have to say, they’ve been great for the place,” said Nephirem the Malevolent, a 10,000-year-old, 70-foot-tall minotaur who has resided in hell since rising from the ashes of a smokeless flame. “At the end of the day, they’re just like anyone else. Everyone has the right to express their love for whomever they want. They don’t bother me in the slightest, and if anything, we in the Dark Lord’s Army encourage any and all public displays of affection between same-sex couples.”    —The Onion, September 19, 2013

Contributed by Olivia Holmes