Langston Hughes, “Harlem’s Bitter Laughter” (October 2, 1948)

“Harlem, the world’s largest urban Negro community, can sometimes laugh at the dog-gonest things. But its laughter is often a bitter laughter — the kind of laughter that, I imagine, reverberates through Dante’s hell when the devil suddenly slips on his own hot pavements and burns his sitter-downer.”   –Langston Hughes, “Harlem’s Bitter Laughter” (October 2, 1948), cited in Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture (1942-62), ed. Christopher C. De Santis (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1995), pp. 113-114

“Dante nell’Inferno di Fukushima: Lorenzo Amato intervista Kazumasa Chiba”

On January 22, 2020, the journal Insula europea published Lorenzo Amato’s interview with Japanese visual artist Kazumasa Chiba, who, over the last twenty years, has dedicated his art to translating scenes from the Commedia into contemporary political and moral commentary. “Come su un palcoscenico teatrale,” writes Amato, “Chiba si ‘traveste’ da Dante e si muove in grandi paesaggi allegorici costruiti su elementi culturali ibridi, che derivano dal sincretismo di cultura popolare giapponese e tradizioni classiche occidentali e orientali, antiche e moderne.” In 2012 he was awarded the Toshiko Okamoto Award for his work that interprets the Fukushima earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster as an Inferno in the manner of Dante.

Here’s a brief extract from Amato’s interview with Chiba:

“Dante nomina in modo molto chiaro le persone famose che secondo lui sono colpevoli di qualcosa, anche se sono ancora vive. Diciamo che questo tipo di poesia mi ha mostrato una possibile strada per affrontare con l’arte i problemi del mondo, e quindi anche sfogare la rabbia che a volte provo nei confronti di certe persone, politici o responsabili di avvenimenti importanti, come tutte le persone coinvolte nel disastro di Fukushima. Ogni volta che succedono disastri, o che vengono fatte scelte a livello politico che poi provocano conseguenze negative, provo una forte rabbia. È raro che le persone comuni possano avere un qualche impatto su quelle scelte, e a volte mi verrebbe voglia di mostrare il mio dissenso in forma di protesta anche violenta. In questo senso l’arte è un modo per sfogare questa rabbia, ma anche per lasciare un segno, ovvero per mostrare quello che penso.” — Kazumasa Chiba, in an interview with Lorenzo Amato, Insula europea, January 22, 2020

An exhibit of Chiba’s work, called “A Modern Interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy,” was shown at the Mizuma Art Gallery in Tokyo from August 21 to September 21, 2019.

“Vagabonds”

“Lacouture, having known Belano since he was a teen-ager, gives the novel’s most detailed account of his imprisonment in Chile; in her view, his efforts against the Pinochet regime were noble but tainted him, as he returned to Mexico a preening radical who looked down on his old friends ‘as if he were Dante and he’d just returned from hell.'”    –Daniel Zalewski, The New Yorker, March 19, 2007

The Nine Circles of Libertarian Hell

Distributed-republic-blog-banner-nine-circles-libertarian-hellFirst Circle—The Virtuous Heathens: Those who care strongly about liberty in one particular sphere (e.g. freedom of speech, freedom of religious practice, the drug war, etc.) but don’t care much about it other spheres. These people are infuriating for their lack of general theory underlying their politics, but at least they’ve sorta got the right idea and can make themselves somewhat useful. This circle contains members of the NRA, ACLU & other such single-issue organizations, and is guarded by John Stuart Mill.

“Second Circle—The Lustful: Those who fall madly in love with a dim vision they have of a more egalitarian society and then hastily rush off to elope with it, without giving much thought about just how much promise there really is in the relationship. These people’s hearts are often in the right place but they show a frightening lack of concern for whether or not the policies they endorse are actually likely to accomplish the goals they desire. This circle is filled with innumerable bleeding-hearts and is guarded by Thomas Sowell. [. . .]    –Matt McIntosh, The Distributed Republic, June 30, 2007.

Read the full list of the “Libertarian circles of Hell” on the Distributed Republic.

Stephen Colbert on Trump and heresy

Anderson Cooper: And the punishment for heretics is…?
Stephen Colbert: I think it’s red hot iron coffins in Dante’s Inferno.
(0:25 on)    –CNN, Politics of the Day Video, August 15, 2019

Contributed by Nicolino Applauso

“Dante, Trump and the moral cowardice of the G.O.P.”

“One of John F. Kennedy’s favorite quotes was something he thought came from Dante: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’

“As it turns out, the quote is apocryphal. But what Dante did write was far better, and it came vividly to mind last week as Republicans failed to take a stand after President Trump’s racist tweets and chants of ‘Send her back,’ directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who immigrated here from Somalia, at a Trump rally in North Carolina.

“In Dante’s Inferno, the moral cowards are not granted admission to Hell; they are consigned to the vestibule, where they are doomed to follow a rushing banner that is blown about by the wind. When Dante asks his guide, Virgil, who they are, he explains:

‘This miserable way is taken by sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.’

“They are destined to be forgotten. ‘The world will let no fame of theirs endure,’ Virgil explains. ‘Let us not talk of them, but look and pass.’ Dante describes the vast horde who chase after the elusive banner that ‘raced on so quick that any respite seemed unsuited to it.’ Behind the banner, he writes, ‘trailed so long a file/ of people—I should never have believed/ that death could have unmade so many souls.’

“And to those ranks we can now add all the politicians, pundits and camp followers who refused to take a stand when they were confronted with this stark moral choice posed by Mr. Trump’s racist attacks on four minority freshmen Democratic women.” [. . .]    –Charles Sykes, America, the Jesuit Review, July 21, 2019.

Contributed by Martin Kavka, Florida State University

Jaipal Reddy — Congressman who quoted Dante, Kant & called politicians ‘wild animals’

“New Delhi: Think of a minister who can publicly say politicians are ‘wild animals’ who need to be kept in check. Probably none today, not after former union minister S. Jaipal Reddy passed away Sunday morning.

“Many of his colleagues remember his witty remarks — often blended with quotes ranging from Italian poet Dante and German philosopher Immanuel Kant to English playwright William Shakespeare and many more. But the cerebral politician was equally known for his convictions.” […]    –D.K. Singh, The Print, July 28, 2019

Indiana voters sort out “Dante’s Inferno” GOP Senate primary

Republican voters in Indiana will pick a nominee Tuesday to challenge one of the nation’s most vulnerable Democratic senators, wrapping up a GOP primary so dominated by animosity and personal attacks that one top state party official described it as ‘Dante’s Inferno.’

“‘This race has slowly but surely descended into Dante’s Inferno,’ John Hammond III, who represents Indiana on the Republican National Committee, previously told The Associated Press.

“All three candidates have been the subject of unflattering news stories that have dredged up out-of-state living arrangements, questionable uses of tax dollars, drunken-driving convictions, voting histories and ethical transgressions.” […]    —WLWT5, May 8, 2018

President Obama Compares Election to Dante’s Inferno

“At his final state dinner Tuesday, President Barack Obama compared the current presidential election to a trip through hell.

“Obama, who was hosting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, used a classic work of Italian literature to draw the comparison. ‘Some days our presidential campaign can seem like Dante’s Inferno,’ President Obama said in reference to the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, according to the Washington Post. The rest of the speech celebrated the relationship between the U.S. and Italy.” […]    –Daniel White, TIME, October 19, 2016

The 9 Rings of Donald Trump’s Administrative Hell

“In Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy, the titular character is guided through the nine circles of hell. The darker your crimes, the lower the levels of hell you descend to until you meet up with Satan himself, trapped at the center of it all.

“At the top are crimes such as heresy and failure to believe; at the bottom, closer to the devil himself, are the rings of treachery and violence. Reflecting on a campaign season during which Donald Trump literally called Hillary Clinton the devil and threatened to put her in chains, you have to wonder whether he wasn’t subconsciously projecting, given the hellish landscape he has turned his early administration into. However, it’s not the nether regions that should concern most Americans but those condemned to the outer rings for lesser crimes.

“Trump may not actually be the vision of Satan portrayed in Inferno, even if he staffs his new administration like the rings of hell. Inferno describes Satan as a ghastly creature trapped by his own vanity with three faces: one red, one yellow and one black. The fact that Trump is now in a position that he has lusted after for years but is equally overwhelmed and unprepared for is strangely apropos.

“While Trump does not have leather wings, he is banishing those who dared not believe in him to limbo, and surrounding himself with white nationalists, terror sympathizers and warmongers. Anyone thinking that perhaps Trump’s own erratic tendencies would be balanced out by some sort of smart team of rivals should take note of the entryway to hell: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” […]    –Jason Johnson, The Root, November 26, 2016