Fifty Gestures of Love, in honor of William Gass.

25 now, 25 to follow, with many thanks

1) In The Odyssey, there’s Penelope’s more intimate test of this stranger who claims to be her husband — after he’s gotten through the messy, public business of slaughtering all her suitors down in the castle hall.

2) Of course Penelope has enacted some significant gestures of love herself, during the course of her man’s wanderings, most especially the way she’s undone, every night, the shroud she’s been weaving every day, the funeral shroud for the former king, while meantime promising the suitors: just as soon as the shroud’s done…

3) But now this fellow claims to be the once and future king, and he’s proven pretty impressive, plus their son Telemachus accepts the story, the boy’s helped to cut all the pretenders to ribbons, and now the stranger stands in the bedroom, and so it’s time she too sprang a test on him. Continue reading


Dante 2020-6: Tower, Tree, Candle, & the Triumph of the Fragile.

The Divine Comedy has its end, after 3X9 spirals rendered in 100 evenly distributed cantos, and it’s about time my posts about the Poem wrap up too.   The big question that’s kept me on BIG OTHER: why should so complex a work, about places and beliefs that have long since ceased to matter, actually continue growing in impact, now nearly 700 years after it was completed?  Earlier posts have raised that question, then looked at Inferno, then Purgatory,  then Paradiso, and after that begun to provide an answer.  Now, (with a last salute to Southwest Review, where all this appeared in very different form) I reach final conclusions.

My Universal Field Theory for the Poem’s continuing appeal hardly springs, full-grown, from my brow alone.   Continue reading

Dante 2020-3: Cleansing as Carnival, Tree as Anchor.

Twice in recent days, I’ve posted stages in a developing idea about Dante’s Divine Comedy.  The work is coming up on its 700th birthday, yet its impact seems greater than ever, and we have to ask why.  My own answer appeared first, in different form, in Southwest Review.  Now, we climb towards salvation, led on by William Blake’s depiction of a bizarre parade from Purgatory .

The closing of this canticle offers no small assortment of the strange.  The phantasmagoric charade up in the Earthly Paradise, in Cantos XXIX, XXX, and XXXII, present Christianity as acid trip, the faith in hallucinatory allegory.  Continue reading

Dante 2020, or How Does That Guy Get Away with a Fedora?

Struggling to deliver for BIG OTHER, I’ve kept coming back to the following, on Dante and his Divine Comedy. In different form, longer, the essay first appeared in Southwest Review.  My thanks to the editor, Willard Spiegelman, for allowing me to adapt the piece, and to John M. and other OTHERs, for urging me on.  I’ll put up what I’ve got to say up in portions, one every two or three days.  For starters:

I crown and miter you lord of yourself!

— Virgil to Dante, as they exit Purgatory
(Musa translation, Canto XXVII, line 142)

Those who read this will likely participate in the eighth century of discussion concerning The Divine Comedy.  Clean copies of the finished canticles, with all their intellectual sizzle and range, their right-on humanity and intertextual strutwork, and above all their poetic command, flexible, profound, precise — with all that intact already, the completed work began to circulate in 1320, the last year of its author’s life.  Yet with 2020 less than a decade off, in every creative arena, “the Poem” (as the scholar Charles Singleton liked to call it) looms as an ever-more-common referent.

I’m not the only one to have noticed.  Joan Acocella, in The New Yorker, beefed up her ’07 review of the Hollander translation of Paradiso (with commentary, 742 pages) with a look at  20th Century Dante criticism.  She assumed that readers would go along.  Continue reading