Vinson Cunningham, “How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think”

“The  great poetic example of the blurriness between the everyday and the ever after is Dante’s Inferno, which begins with the narrator ‘midway upon the journey of our life,’ having wandered away from the life of God and into a ‘forest dark.’ That wood, full of untamed animals and fears set loose, leads the unwitting pilgrim to Virgil, who acts as his guide through the ensuing ordeal, and whose Aeneid, itself a recapitulation of the Odyssey, acts as a pagan forerunner to the Inferno. This first canto of the poem, regrettably absent from the Book of Hell, reads as a kind of psychological-metaphysical map, marking the strange route along which one person’s private trouble leads both outward and downward, toward the trouble of the rest of the world.

[. . .]

“Insecurity is a tomb; these are the kinds of midlife crises from which few people recover. ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’ is as applicable to certain poisonous habits of mind as to the gates of Hell. One leads, inexorably, to the other.” — Vinson Cunningham, “How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think,” Review of The Penguin Book of Hell in The New Yorker (January 21, 2019)

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

“I Found Myself in a Dark Wood”

i-found-myself-in-a-dark-wood“ ‘In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.’ So begins one of the most celebrated and difficult poems ever written, Dante’s Divine Comedy, a more than 14,000-line epic on the soul’s journey through the afterlife. The tension between the pronouns says it all: Although the ‘I’ belongs to Dante, who died in 1321, his journey is also part of ‘our life.’ We will all find ourselves in a dark wood one day, the lines suggest. That day came six years ago for me, when my pregnant wife, Katherine, died suddenly in a car accident. Forty-five minutes before her death, she delivered our daughter, Isabel, a miracle of health rescued by emergency cesarean. I had left the house that morning at 8:30 to teach a class; by noon, I was a father and a widower.”    –Joseph Luzzi, The New York Times, December 18, 2013

Contributed by Janet E. Gomez

See also the New York Times review of Luzzi’s 2014 memoir, In a Dark Wood.

Contributed by Stephanie HotzUniversity of Texas at Austin

“Nel Mezzo del Cammin…”

malloy-photo-nel-mezzo-del-cammin

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

Elisabeth Tonnard, “In This Dark Wood” (2008)

elisabeth-tonnard-in-this-dark-wood-2008
“This book is a modern gothic. It pairs images of people walking alone in nighttime city streets with 90 different English translations I collected of the first lines of Dante’s Inferno. The images, showing a crowd of solitary figures, are selected from the same archive as used for Two of Us (the extraordinary Joseph Selle collection at the Visual Studies Workshop which contains over a million negatives from a company of street photographers working in San Francisco from the 40’s to the 70’s).
The book is set up in a repetitious way, to stress a sense of similarity, endlessness and interchangeability. The images are re-expressions of each other, and so are the texts.”    —Elisabeth Tonnard

Contributed by Guy Raffa (University of Texas – Austin)

Francine Rivers, “Redeeming Love” (2007)

francine-rivers-redeeming-love-2007The beginning of Chapter 11 begins, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood.”

Contributed by Mary Scott George

Dante at a Student Apartment in Bologna

dante-at-a-student-apartment-in-bologna

“Inexpressibly happy that even in the utter chaos, Dante was able to say a few words at the party. Not what the quote wall is for, but it will do.”    –Darren Fishell (Bowdoin, ’09)

Found at Fumettotex (retrieved on February 10, 2008)