Dantedì and the Italian Migrant Crisis

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“Among supporters for the Dante day is Italy’s minister for foreign affairs Enzo Moavero Milanesi, who recently expressed his enthusiasm for the project in an article penned for Corriere. ‘Dante is fully and pervasively part of the genetic code of what it is to be Italian,’ Moavero Milanesi wrote. Given that Dante’s poem is heavily Catholic, and shows Prophet Mohammed split in half by a demon for ‘sowing schism,’ conflating Dante with modern Italian culture reflects ideas that are outdated – and nationalistic.

“This uncritical celebration of the past diverts attention from the dark conditions on Italy’s shores. While Dante’s pilgrim makes an arduous but enlightening journey towards paradise in order to escape the inferno, Moavero Milanesi and Salvini would prefer that the migrants remain in limbo. Rather than supporting their assimilation, Moavero Milanesi has laid out a plan that advises migrants against attempting the crossing. [. . .]   –Emma Leech, “A campaign to commemorate Dante distracts from a crisis on Italy’s coastline,” The New Statesman (July 30, 2019)

Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007)

“Dinaw Mengestu belongs to that special group of American voices produced by global upheavals and intentional, if sometimes forced, migrations. These are the writer-immigrants coming here from Africa, East India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Their struggles for identity mark a new turn within the ranks of American writers I like to call ‘the in-betweeners.’ The most interesting work in American literature has often been done by such writers, their liminality and luminosity in American culture produced by changing national definitions (Twain, Kerouac, Ginsberg), by being the children of immigrants themselves (Bellow, Singer), by voluntary exile (Baldwin, Hemingway) and by trauma (Bambara, Morrison).

[. . .]

“Judith, a white woman who moves into the predominantly black Logan Circle, becomes Sepha’s Beatrice, and, as with Dante, she leads him from his exile to purgatory and, eventually, to redemption. They meet over the counter in Sepha’s store, which is where all the community eventually comes together – to buy, to hang out, to shoplift, to receive and pass along gossip. Sepha’s relationship with Judith is facilitated by the wonderful connection he has to Judith’s precocious daughter, Naomi. And like Dante and Beatrice, they have a love that remains fraught and unconsummated but powerful and transformative nonetheless. Part of the difficulty is that Judith represents the new wave of gentrification and Sepha’s decision to date her is seen as an act of betrayal by the other residents. Neighborhood tensions build because of Judith (since she symbolizes the oppressor), and her home is firebombed by local thugs. Sepha’s own redemption and the choice he makes in this matter are what shape his new self.”   –Chris Abani, “Dante, Beatrice in a narrative of immigration,” The Baltimore Sun (March 11, 2007)

Contributed by Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)

Arthur Chu on Hell

“Hell has a gate with an inscription on it and everything, it’s famous” […]    –Arthur Chu, Twitter, October 25, 2018

“Congo faces ‘Dante’s Inferno‘ but shuns U.N. aid effort”

“Jean-Philippe Chauzy, head of the U.N. migration agency IOM in Congo described a microcosm of the dreadful plight of many ordinary Congolese – 1,000 families camped in a schoolyard that he visited in Kalemie, capital of Tanganyika province.

“It reminded me of when I first read Dante’s Inferno – it was absolutely awful, living conditions were absolutely atrocious,” he told Reuters. “No proper water, people defecating wherever they could, shelters made of pieces of plastic or of rags on sticks.” [. . .]    –Tom Miles, Reuters, April 13, 2018

Go, Went, Gone (2015 novel by Jenny Erpenbeck)

“Would you like to read something while I’m getting lunch ready? Rufu says: Si, volontieri. The only book in Italian that Richard owns is Dante’s Divine Comedy. For years he’d been planning to read it in the original, but at some point the plan slipped his mind. For years, the Italian dictionary has stood beside it on his shelf. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscura/ché la diritta via era smarrita. He can still recite the opening lines in Italian from memory. Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, the right road lost. Maybe not such a bad choice after all, he thinks, and hands the refugee — who’s gone a half a world astray — the burgundy-linen bound first volume.” — Jenny Erpenbeck, Go, Went, Gone (2015). Trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions, 2017).

See Adam Kirsch’s review of the novel, a fiction about the impact of the refugee crisis on European and global politics, here.

Contributed by Pete Maiers

Immigrant Conditions Likened to Dante’s Inferno

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“‘. . . The problem with Turkey must be made an international issue,’ Spyros Vougias, the deputy minister for public order, said in an e-mailed statement. Last month, Mr. Vougias ordered the closure of the Pagani center — a converted warehouse that had been housing 1,300 migrants — saying it was ‘worse than Dante’s inferno.'” [. . .]    –Niki Kitsantonis, The New York Times, November 18, 2009