The Skies of the Soul's Exile: Devotional Language and Baroque Rhetoric in Guido Casoni's Ragionamenti Interni

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Armando Maggi, in "The Soul's Exile: Devotional Literature and Renaissance Culture in Guido Casoni's Ragionamenti interni," studies how, in Casoni's devotional text, "cielo" at once signifies God's presence in the creation and man's exile from God. Paradoxically, the world and its imposing skies are the locus where God approaches us and distances Himself from us. "Cielo" is indeed a complex signifier, for it testifies both to a presence and a radical absence. In brief, this post-Tridentine author (1561-1642) evidences the extent to which the view of humankind's exile from heaven endures and informs writing.

In a perfect silence of a dark night we cannot help but walk out and climb that mountain there, which seems to elevate the earth up toward the sky. See, thousands of bright eyes stare down on us. If this night's thick shadows weaken our external sight, they also render our inner eyes more alert and penetrating. In this visible blindness our soul longs for another and more real sky, heaven, God's residence and the angels' shelter. Whereas the sky we are contemplating now is a chasm of harmonious but transient forms, the other, invisible, sky is a superb theater of divine presences. As the earth is the center of the universe upon which this nocturnal spectacle unfolds its infinite gems, so is our soul the vantage point whence we are reminded of the majestic abode of the divinity.

These are, in synthesis, the opening pages of Guido Casoni's Ragionamenti interni, a series of seven religious meditations published in the first quarter of the seventeenth century according to the guidelines of Catholic Counter-reformation. (1) As we will see later, echoes from Roberto Bellarmino's and Francois de Sales's mystical texts are detectable in the Ragionamenti, whose seven chapters have the following titles: "Delle grandezze di Dio"; "Della solitudine"; "Della mutazione delle cose" (two parts); "Delle ricchezze"; "Della virginita"; "Della bellezza umana." Casoni's Ragionamenti has a distinct circular structure, which will become apparent at the end of this essay. Whereas the first section dwells on the mystical meanings of God's creation, the last narrows its focus on the beauties of the author's beloved. In particular, the first chapter on the infinite spaces of the sky plays a pivotal role within the entire Ragionamenti and lays out the essential points of the author's devotional poetics. (2) Casoni initiates his seven-step process of self-discovery by engaging his soul in a dialogue on the meaning of a "bella notte sotto sereno cielo" (Casoni, Ragionamenti 240).

This essay studies how, in Casoni's devotional text, "cielo" at once signifies God's presence in the creation and man's exile from God. Paradoxically, the world and its imposing skies are the locus where God approaches us and distances himself from us. "Cielo" is indeed a complex signifier. It testifies both to a presence and a radical absence.

Casoni is certainly one of the least known and most original authors of Italian seventeenth-century literature. As Giovanni Pozzi stresses in La parola dipinta, Casoni still awaits an adequate critical analysis, although he has been the object of some noteworthy, albeit brief, studies. (3) Casoni is primarily known for two radically different texts, which seem the product of two distinct authors. In 1591, the young Casoni publishes Della magia d'amore, one of the last and most erudite treatises on love of the Italian Renaissance in the tradition of Ficino's De amore. (4) Some thirty years later, in his collection of devotional works (Opere: first edition 1623, second edition 1626), Casoni abjures the rhetoric of sixteenth-century Neoplatonism and becomes a spokesman of baroque devotional thought. In other words, Casoni is an author between two worlds and two idioms. Unlike any other Italian writer active at the turn of the century, Casoni testifies to the death of a glorious culture and rhetoric, the Renaissance, and the imposition of a new expression, the ideology of the Catholic Reformation. …