Jorge Luis Borges, “Paradiso, XXXI, 108” in Dreamtigers

jorge-luis-borges-paradiso-xxxi“Beside a road there is a stone face and an inscription that says, ‘The True Portrait of the Holy Face of the God of Jaen.’ If we truly knew what it was like, the key to the parables would be ours and we would know whether the son of the carpenter was also the Son of God.

“Paul saw it as a light that struck him to the ground; John, as the sun when it shines in all its strength; Teresa de Jesus saw it many times, bathed in tranquil light, yet she was never sure of the color of His eyes.

“We lost those features, as one may lose a magic number made up of the usual ciphers, as one loses an image in a kaleidoscope, forever. We may see them and know them not. The profile of a Jew in the subway is perhaps the profile of Christ; perhaps the hands that give us our change at a ticket window duplicate the ones some soldier nailed one day to the cross.

Perhaps a feature of the crucified face lurks in every mirror; perhaps the face died, was erased, so that God may be all of us.” [. . .]    –Jorge Luis Borges, The Floating Library, September 15, 2008.

Jorge Luis Borges, “Inferno, I, 32” in Dreamtigers

jorge-luis-borges-inferno-i-32-2020“From the twilight of day till the twilight of evening, a leopard, in the last years of the thirteenth century, would see some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who changed, a wall and perhaps a stone gutter filled with dry leaves. He did not know, could not know, that he longed for love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of tearing things to pieces and the wind carrying the scent of a deer, but something suffocated and rebelled within him and God spoke to him in a dream: ‘You live and will die in this prison so that a man I know of may see you a certain number of times and not forget you and place your figure and symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have given a word to the poem.’ God, in the dream, illumined the animal’s brutishness and the animal understood these reasons and accepted his destiny, but, when he awoke, there was in him only an obscure resignation, a valorous ignorance, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of a beast.

“Years later, Dante was dying in Ravenna, as unjustified and as lonely as any other man. In a dream, God declared to him the secret purpose of his life and work; Dante, in wonderment, knew at last who and what he was and blessed the bitterness of his life. Tradition relates that, upon waking, he felt that he had received and lost an infinite thing, something that he would not be able to recuperate or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of men.” [. . .]    — Jorge Luis Borges, The Floating Library, July 28, 2008.

Will Brewbaker on Shane McCrae’s “Sometimes I Never Suffered”

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“This act of holding together both heaven and earth pervades Shane McCrae’s Sometimes I Never Suffered, the prolific poet’s latest collection. Racial injustice, economic inequality, simple human cruelty — McCrae addresses all of these subjects, these facts of the world, head-on — while, like Dante, transposing the literal into the otherworldly.  [. . .]

“The final two poems in Sometimes I Never Suffered return explicitly to Dantean territory. Famously, the last word in each section of Dante’s Comedy is the Italian word ‘stelle,’ meaning ‘stars.’ In a sly parallel, McCrae makes this Limber’s last word, too. After describing meeting one of those souls who were ‘babies when they died […] [who] walk around in sailor hats with blank / Looks on their faces’ — another ingenious creation — Limber says:

… when I tried to talk to
Him it was like I wasn’t there
So    I peeked    in his mouth

and in his mouth was the whole sky and stars

“Not only does this final line offer a remarkably coherent cosmic scope, but it also serves as a segue into the book’s last movement — a multipage poem that returns to the hastily assembled angel’s story and finds the angel first building, then climbing the ladder to heaven.” [. . .]    —Will Brewbaker, Los Angeles Review of Books, October 13, 2020.

Read more of Brewbaker’s reviews here.

“What Happens When a Writer Hates the Heroine of Her New Book?” Excerpt from Nisha Susan’s The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories

“In her second week at the library, she was choked. Somewhere in this building, she had been told, is an actual manuscript of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri had not sat around in the 1300s writing coy shit. Somewhere near here, Arun Kolatkar had written Jejuri and the Kala Ghoda poems. Somewhere near here, Kolatkar had died. Where in her writing was the blood, the grime, the puking on the streets and the deep stuff?”    –Nisha Susan, excerpt from The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, Huffington Post, August 10, 2020

Amiri Baraka, “A Chase (Alighieri’s Dream)” (1967)

The following is an excerpt from Amiri Baraka’s 1967 prose poem “A Chase (Alighieri’s Dream),” the first piece in a collection of short stories called Tales.

“Place broken: their faces sat and broke each other. As suns, Sons gone tired in the heart and left the south. The North, years later she’d wept for him drunk and a man finally they must have thought. In the dark, he was even darker. Wooden fingers running. Wind so sweet it drank him.

“Faces broke. Charts of age. Worn thru, to see black years. Bones in iron faces. Steel bones. Cages of decay. Cobblestones are wet near the army stores. Beer smells, Saturday. To now, they have passed so few lovely things.”

Read more at Akashic Books.

See also Dennis Looney, Freedom Readers: The African American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 165-166.

“Assignation” by Sante Matteo

“Sante Matteo was born and raised in a small town in southern Italy. He is Professor Emeritus of Italian Studies in Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University. In retirement he is enjoying trying his hand at creative writing, some of which has recently appeared or are forthcoming in Dime Show Review, The Chaffin Journal, and Coffin Bell Journal.  This ten word story was typed on a Smith Corona Super-Silent, c. 1957.”    —Dime Show Review, March 2020

 

All That Man Is (2017) by David Szalay

David Szalay’s All That Man Is, published in 2017 by Vintage, tells the stories of nine different men at varying stages of life, and explores the issues and psych of the 21st century man. The book was a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and the winner of the 2016 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for Fiction. The fourth story of the novel cites the first three lines of the Inferno, as the story’s protagonist, a medieval scholar in crisis, drives into a pine forest.

“Pine forests on hillsides start to envelop them on the east side of the Main. And fog.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
Ché la diritta via era smarrita

“Well, here it is. Dark pine forests, hemming the motorway. Shapes of fog throw themselves at the windscreen.” [. . .]    –David Szalay, All That Man Is (p. 146).

You can purchase Szalay’s book here.

Dwight Garner, “‘Echo’s Bones,’ A Beckett Short Story Rediscovered”

Beckett-Echos-Bones-Belacqua-Dante“When the British publisher Chatto & Windus agreed in 1933 to publish Samuel Beckett’s first book of fiction, a collection of 10 interrelated stories titled ‘More Pricks Than Kicks,’ it asked him for one final story, a culminating wallop.

“There was a problem. Beckett had killed off the book’s protagonist, a Dublin intellectual named Belacqua Shuah, in an earlier story. He had to be nonchalantly resurrected. A second problem arose. Beckett’s editor at Chatto & Windus, Charles Prentice, found the new story Beckett delivered, ‘Echo’s Bones,’ to resemble less a comely infant than a troubling heap of placenta and broken forceps.

“’It is a nightmare,’ Prentice wrote to Beckett. This was the start of one of the great rejection letters in literary history. ‘It gives me the jim-jams.’ He declared: ‘People will shudder and be puzzled and confused.’

It’s not you, Prentice continued. It’s me. ‘I am sitting on the ground, and ashes are on my head.’ [. . .]

“Its pleasures border on the painful; you will have to like the sound of breaking glass. You may wish to exclaim about ‘Echo’s Bones,’ as Belacqua does about his re-emergence on earth, ‘My soul begins to be idly goaded and racked, all the old pains and aches of me soul-junk return!’

Soul-junk isn’t a bad term for Beckett’s prose here. ‘Echo’s Bones,’ as Mr. Nixon’s annotations make clear, is a magpie’s assortment of references, allusions and quotations, with nods to Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Mozart, biographies, folklore, movies, popular songs. Set amid all this are cosmic stage directions of the sort we later became familiar with in Beckett. Here’s one: ‘Doyle ate dirt.'”    –Dwight Garner, “A Castoff Joins a Master’s Canon: ‘Echo’s Bones,’ A Beckett Short Story Rediscovered,” New York Times

“Dante’s Tenth Circle” by Deborah Tennen

dantes-tenth-circle-timothy-mcsweeneys-internet-tendency

In Ravenna, Italy, archivists recently discovered a lost canto of Dante’s Inferno — what appears to be the tenth circle of Hell. The ninth circle was previously understood to be the lowest point of Hell reached by Dante and his guide Virgil before ascending on their journey toward Paradise. A portion of the 14th-century manuscript, translated into English prose, is reproduced below.
‘Virgil,’ I cried, ‘Those shades–burning, immersed in human excrement, trapped in icy waters. I thought I had witnessed the basest of all sinners. So who are these figures I now see? Do my eyes betray me, or are their heads fully absorbed in the derrières of others? And who are these individuals whose bottoms are swollen due to the immense size of the heads there immersed?’ [. . .]    –Deborah Tennen, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, October 25, 2012

Contributed by Steve Bartus (Bowdoin, ’07)

ABC’s Radio Poolside Story: “Star for Sale” (2009)

patrick-holland-star-for-sale-abc-radio-poolside-story-2009I followed the crowd down Fernberg Road onto Boys St where men in suits and shining shoes were selling stars. At first I did not know that was what they were doing. One suited man stood on a soapbox. The others sat behind a row of telescopes and their index fingers directed eyes about the firmament. I thought they were an astronomy club. But people were writing cheques; and a great celestial map clipped to an escritoire had pins and pen-marks all over it. Then I realised the man on the soapbox was conducting an auction.
I saw the weakest star of the Cross go for $100 000; someone whispered to the effect that he had bought the four major ones and was not greatly attached to this last only he needed it to complete the piece.
‘What would the Cross be without it?’ said the auctioneer to encourage the man through the bidding. The man intended the famed constellation for a light-feature in his garden. I felt a little sad for the ghosts of Cook and Magellan, lost upon dark waters below a bewildering sky.
In the background a ruckus was being subdued by the agency. Two men and an agent were fighting. It seemed the first star Dante saw when he emerged from the Inferno had been sold in a previous lot and there was a dispute over its authenticity. The agent was trying to reassure the man that though Florence was indeed in the Northern hemisphere, Dante had walked down through the Earth and emerged on the other side. The man’s companion was showing the agent Canto XXXIV and the line where Dante mysteriously turns back in space and for a while believes he is going deeper into the pit.
. . .so the night proceeded and all the stars were sold. One by one.
The final lot was a small fleck of a star, barely visible and only now toward three o’clock in winter. By this time there was little money or interest left in the auction. The auctioneer began the lot sheepishly at a thousand dollars. I put up my hand amidst the scattering, disinterested crowd and said ‘Ten’. The auctioneer laughed. He looked around the dispersing crowd and laughed again, but his confidence was gone.
‘It’s a star, you realize?’
‘I know,’ I said, stepping closer to the soapbox. ‘It’s worth much more, but ten is all I have.’
The auctioneer scowled:
‘I’d buy it myself if I had anywhere to put it.’
Reluctantly he re-started the auction. He called ‘Ten dollars’ three drawn out times and disgustedly brought the hammer down.
‘I expect you can arrange finance.’
I handed him the ten-dollar note.
‘Now, where do you want it delivered?’
‘I don’t. Leave it where it is.’
‘But it’s your star. You’ve bought it!’ He held a contract up to my face as proof.
‘I know. Only, leave it where it is. I like it there.’
I signed the contract and the auctioneer walked away shaking his head.
An energetic few had already set about taking down their new possessions. The Cross was gone to the rich man’s garden. The man who bought Dante’s star had it on the pavement, looking at it suspiciously where it burned as hot as a con. He was threatening to default on the deposit.
I always liked the smallest stars, anyway, I told myself: the ones that show the reality of the dark as well as the possibility of light. Perhaps tomorrow I would stay up late again and see my star rise alone in the east.”    –Patrick Holland, ABC Pool, 2009