Rauschenberg’s Dante in the Time of Pandemic

robert-rauschenberg-modern-inferno

“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.

 

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue S01E02

“On Season 1 Episode 2 of Rupaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue, Yvie Oddly claims that she is ‘in the seventh circle of hell’ when describing the chaos backstage of a live performance.”   –Contributor Ellie Marvin

Watch the full episode, which aired August 28, 2020, on VH1.

Contributed by Ellie Marvin (Florida State University MA ’21)

Inferno.Etude – Vartan

“… Vartan, a queer former Orthodox Jew from Chechnya whose sculptures and paintings mostly explore demonic and sexual themes. ‘My work always shows a state of human spirit,’ he tells The Creators Project. ‘Demons and angels, pain and uncontrollable desire, fear and loneliness. The naked body in sculpture represents a spiritual condition. I am not interested in ‘politically correct’ art because it’s boring. Shock, controversy, and honesty. These are the three principles of my art.'”    –Anya Tchoupakov, Vice, November 19, 2015

Shown at left is Vartan’s sculpture Inferno.Etude.

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)

“Observations on Heaven from Dante’s Paradiso That Also Apply to These Stills of Linda Hamilton”

“In a literary and historicist sense, Dante’s Divine Comedy was a multi-volume narrative poem that advanced some notable theological suppositions about the afterlife as well as some hot takes about Italian political and religious figures of the age and also working in some somewhat yikes fantasies about Dante’s crush, Beatrice, and idealized bromance with dead poet Virgil. In a looser, more abstract, in some ways more honest sense, though, Dante’s hysterically adulating depictions of Heaven and his crush Beatrice hanging out in it in Paradiso are also about what a fucking unreal silver fox Linda Hamilton is in the latest Terminator offering, Dark Fate. (Mackenzie Davis gays, you will have your day; this one is mine.)

When Dante was writing about being so overcome with emotion at the luminous landscape of Paradise that he was unable to speak, he may have been originally referencing an extremely specific medieval Catholic spiritual concept — but we have the benefit of centuries of context and wisdom that Dante did not, and can see that in another, more accurate way, they also reference the fact that Linda Hamilton remains an untouchable smokeshow, and is arguably even more of one than when she originally featured as my root in Terminator 2.”    –Rachel, Autostraddle, October 9, 2019

The Forgotten Inferno: Tinderbox and the Up Stairs Lounge Fire”

“It was 45 years ago this month that a man bought a can of Ronsonol lighter fluid at a Walgreens on Canal Street, walked to the Up Stairs Lounge, emptied its contents on the stairs and struck a match. Within minutes, the bar was engulfed in flames and choking smoke. Ceiling tiles and fabric melted and stuck like napalm to the skins of the people inside. With the entrance blocked and the windows barred, an emergency exit hidden and a fire escape with no stairs, patrons were trapped.

“Though the blaze was controlled in 17 minutes, firefighters found the room a crematorium with 28 bodies inside — ‘stacked like pancakes,’ in the words of The States-Item the next morning. Four more people died from injuries in the days afterward. (Had bartender Buddy Rasmussen not led 15 to 20 people out the hidden emergency exit, the death toll would have been higher.) The bodies were burned so badly that positive identification was impossible; New Orleans Police Department officers relied on scraps of identification. One of them, Maj. Henry Morris, cautioned, ‘We don’t even know if these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this is a queer bar.’

“‘The fire came quickly and it was snuffed out quickly,’ wrote Lanny Thomas in The States-Item. ‘But the holocaust is one of the worst this city has seen.’ The Times-Picayune’s headline compared the scene to ‘DANTE’S INFERNO, HITLER’S INCINERATORS.'” [. . .]    –Kevin Allman, The Advocate, June 11, 2018.

Inferno: A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles (2010)

Eileen-Myles-Reading-Inferno“I was completely stupefied by Inferno in the best of ways. In fact, I think I must feel kind of like Dante felt after seeing the face of God. My descriptive capacity just fails, gives way completely. But I can tell you that Eileen Myles made me understand something I didn’t before. And really, what more can you ask of a novel, or a poet’s novel, or a poem, or a memoir, or whatever the hell this shimmering document is? Just read it.” — Alison Bechdel

“From its beginning — ‘My English professor’s ass was so beautiful.’ — to its end — ‘You can actually learn to have grace. And that’s heaven.’ — poet, essayist and performer Eileen Myles’ chronicle transmits an energy and vividness that will not soon leave its readers. Her story of a young female writer, discovering both her sexuality and her own creative drive in the meditative and raucous environment that was New York City in its punk and indie heyday, is engrossing, poignant, and funny. This is a voice from the underground that redefines the meaning of the word.” — OR Books

Read an excerpt here, or listen to Myles read an excerpt here.

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