The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet

“Cyberspace may seem an unlikely gateway for the soul. But as science commentator Margaret Wertheim argues in this ‘marvelously provocative’ (Kirkus Reviews) book, cyberspace has in recent years become a repository for immense spiritual yearning. Wertheim explores the mapping of spiritual desire onto digitized space and suggests that the modem today has become a metaphysical escape-hatch from a materialism that many people find increasingly dissatisfying. Cyberspace opens up a collective space beyond the laws of physics–a space where mind rather than matter reigns. This strange refuge returns us to an almost medieval dualism between a physical space of body and an immaterial space of mind and psyche.”   —Amazon, 2000

“An Architect’s Vision of Dante’s Hell”

“Based in Campinas, Brazil, Paulo de Tarso Coutinho is a professional architect with a passion for Dante who created the following videos to visually represent the spatial issues in play in the Dantean conception of hell. Drawing on the early modern reception of the Commedia, including Antonio Manetti (1423-1497) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Coutinho incisively reads Dante’s infernal journey in architectural terms and shows how the form of the spiral is a necessary solution for the way that the space of hell is narrated in the poem. In similar fashion, his video of Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) illustration of hell puts an emphasis on the concrete, creating a cross-section of the globe to put this infernal model in real space and highlighting Botticelli’s idiosyncratic use of staircases to think through the mechanics of Dante’s descent. Coutinho’s work is an important way of showing the degree to which Dante’s poetry was infused by the real, martialing mathematical and scientific currents to narrate a space that would inspire the sort of reception by later artists and thinkers who sought to map it in precise geographical and spatiotemporal terms. As Coutinho shows, that process continues still.”   –Akash Kumar, Digital Dante, 2018

Check out the Digital Dante site to view the videos.

Dante 01 (2008) Review

“There will be three circles to this particular hell, introduced by the words ‘First Circle’ and so forth, superimposed over the darkness of space. Voiceover by the craft’s lucid and compassionate Persephone (Simona Maicanescu), one of three doctors on board, tells us that everybody on the crucifix-shaped vessel Dante 01 is doomed. Cool.

In the bravura opening, a shuttle docks to deliver two passengers. Frozen, shrink-wrapped Saint Georges (Lambert Wilson) is rudely defrosted and left to vomit and sweat with understandable acclimation problems.

Other passenger is no-nonsense doctor Elisa (Linh Dan Pham, in an impressive 180 from her role as Roman Duris’ piano teacher in ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’).  She’s there to use the prisoners as guinea pigs for a new nanotechnology-derived ‘treatment’ that’s obviously really painful, not to mention unethical and evil. Her corporate approach is odious, but mission chief Charon (Gerald Laroche) sanctions it.”    –Lisa Nesselson, Variety, January 2, 2008

Check out our original post about Dante 01 here.

“Dante’s Cosmic Inferno

“In Dante’s Inferno – the first part of The Divine Comedy – the poet describes Hell as a series of nine concentric circles, each representing an order of wickedness greater than the one that preceded it until finally arriving at the center of the Earth, where Satan is imprisoned. One might imagine his depiction of Hell as something like an infernal, subterranean solar system with locked Hellish loops acting as parallel universes of sin under the relentless pressure of poetic justice revolving around the embodiment of evil. As one might expect, the Inferno is filled with images of fire – the classical elemental symbol long associated with divine wrath and punishment – with unsettling and supernatural, near-animistic qualities. In Canto XII, for example, those who’ve committed acts of violence are condemned to eternal immersion in the river Phlegethon, described by Dante as consisting of boiling blood, but originally imagined by the Greeks as a river of fire: the name itself means ‘flaming.’ His other Hells are no less unpleasant.

“Had Dante been allowed access to, say, radio telescopes and modern technology, he might well have imagined justice being meted out to souls trapped on Hellish exoplanets: intemperate places – some worlds of fire, others of ice – where not even the faintest idea of life can persist amidst cosmic severity. ” [. . .]    –K.S. Anthony, Outer Places, July 11, 2018.

Check out the circles of Hell as planets on Outer Places.

Hilbert’s Inferno

hilbert-inferno-omni-magazine“Hell may be the most interesting part of Dante’s famous poem, but its physical existence has always been a topic of debate among philosophers and theologians. If either space or time is finite—a distinct possibility in our current theories of cosmology—how can there be room for a potentially infinite number of sinners for eternity? In what he admits is a speculative proposal, University of Edinburgh philosopher Alasdair Richmond suggests that a hell large enough for an infinite number of the damned could be contained within the boundaries of a finite space, and could provide infinitely-long punishment, even if time itself is finite—but only with the help of time travel. The quite literally devilish trick is a kind of time loop, but not an exact loop. (That would mean that the damned merely suffer through the same experience over and over, without any awareness of the eternal nature of their plight—which is not suffering enough for the traditional idea of Hell.) If the loop shifts and the gap shrinks just the tiniest bit each time around, you end up with an ever-tightening time spiral. You can fit an infinite number of spirals in a tiny amount of space the same way an infinite number of points lie between any two other points on a line. This hell, which Richmond calls ‘Hilbert’s Inferno’ (for pioneering mathematician David Hilbert), might deliver truly eternal torment to an infinite population of sufferers, while the non-suffering and temporally finite universe moves steadily onward, toward its own non-judgmental doom.” — Omni Magazine (December 12, 2017)

Richmond’s 2013 paper can be accessed in the Wiley Online Library (institutional login required).

Dante nello spazio: Samantha Cristoforetti reads Paradiso from the International Space Station

In celebration of the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti read from the first canto of Paradiso in a transmission aired from the International Space Station. The reading was aired at the Odeon Cinema in Florence on April 24, 2015.

Watch the transmission on YouTube here.

Read coverage from the Corriere fiorentino here.


Dante on the Moon

dante-crater“Only a handful of humans have ever seen the farside of the Moon. There was a time after the Moon’s formation when the entire surface was covered by an ocean of magma; the upper layer of this magma ocean crystallized to form a global layer of anorthosite. Since that time, impacts and other geological processes have broken and churned the surface, but the Dante Crater area may possess significant amounts of these original rocks.”    —NASA, April 23, 2010