The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante

The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante

The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante

The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante

Synopsis

Accepting Dante's prophetic truth claims on their own terms, Teodolinda Barolini proposes a detheologized reading as a global new approach to the Divine Comedy. Not aimed at excising theological concerns from Dante, this approach instead attempts to break out of the hermeneutic guidelines that Dante structured into his poem and that have resulted in theologized readings whose outcomes have been overdetermined by the poet. By detheologizing, the reader can emerge from this poet's hall of mirrors and discover the narrative techniques that enabled Dante to forge a true fiction. Foregrounding the formal exigencies that Dante masked as ideology, Barolini moves from the problems of beginning to those of closure, focusing always on the narrative journey. Her investigation--which treats such topics as the visionary and the poet, the One and the many, narrative and time--reveals some of the transgressive paths trodden by a master of mimesis, some of the ways in which Dante's poetic adventuring is indeed, according to his own lights, Ulyssean.

Excerpt

One thinks of strange things reading the Commedia: that Dante's spires of poetic life—terza rima—bear a resemblance to modern science's spires of biological life, DNA; that his long obsession with the new is echoed in current research on the brain, which shows that the new things that we live actually become who we are. Dante is no naturalist, but he is the ultimate realist, preoccupied with rendering reality—even surreality—in language, “sì che dal fatto il dir non sia diverso.” It is to Erich Auerbach that we owe the profound insight that Dante's content was finally ruptured by its form, his theology imperiled by his mimetic genius. I have endeavored in what follows to show some of the paths trodden by a master of mimesis, some of the ways in which Dante's poetic adventuring is indeed, according to his own lights, Ulyssean—a journey “di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.”

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