Posts Tagged ‘The Inferno’
October 21, 2013 | by Alexander Aciman
I am writing this from the lobby of the Ace Hotel in New York; as I ascend from the basement with Dante under my arm, I see the following text printed on the stairs: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. This inscription offers an appropriate contrast to the opening of the third canto, which gives us the famous line written above the gates of hell, a line so famous that many know it well without knowing exactly who wrote it: ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE. And just like the inscription in hell, these words too are written in the hotel’s neo-Victorian “dark hue.” But whether or not Dante knows it, he and I are essentially reading the same sentence—as chilling as the inscription is, the words in canto 3 ultimately do not apply to the man who travels beside Virgil.
Canto 3 is our first real contact with hell. As Dante approaches, he is accosted by the sounds of sinners waiting to cross the Acheron—the river that acts as a sort of foyer to the inferno. Charon, the ferryman, refuses at first to take Dante across. Virgil insists, and offers Dante little comfort or advice as they cross over. Read More »
October 14, 2013 | by Alexander Aciman
It’s called a remix. That’s how this segment begins. It’s a living pastiche, a breathing exercise in allusion and homage. Every scholar seems to agree that the opening lines of this canto are Virgilian, but none know exactly which passage Dante is imitating. And that’s probably because Dante isn’t imitating a particular passage, but is simply borrowing his style; it’s Virgil re-invented—Virgil’s flow, but freestyle and on the fly, and in a completely different language. The simple fact that Dante can invoke Virgil so effortlessly not only points to a certain aptitude for getting into Virgil’s bones, but even suggests that Dante knows Virgil’s poetry better than Virgil probably knew it himself.
This canto is all about due diligence. Dante uses it to make sure that any leftover confusion from the first is settled. Virgil still has a lot of explaining to do, and so while nothing really happens to advance the story, it’s an important episode for the benefit of the story. We learn about Dante’s apprehensions about going through Hell (Won’t it be really, really scary? Will there be monsters?), and we are explained what the hell exactly Virgil (who died basically like a bajillion years before this story is set) is doing in the same forest as Dante. In this passage, you also get a crash course in Aeneas’s family tree, and realize that if you’ve ever read Joyce before Dante, you were very unprepared. Read More »
April 6, 2012 | by The Paris Review
“Some poems smack of a gentility one would like in some moods to smack out of them.” Even before I read that sentence—about the sainted Elizabeth Bishop!—I knew Maureen McLane was the poetry teacher for me. Her first book of criticism, My Poets, is the survey course of my dreams: a long, loving argument with and about everyone from Chaucer to Gertrude Stein. As befits her subject, McLane is both plainspoken and lyrical, falling at times, as if naturally, into verse as clear as her prose. —Lorin Stein
I remember a college professor commenting that he was never sure Stephen Crane “knew what he was doing” when he dropped all sorts of clues and oddness into his stories. I had the same thought while reading Barbara Comyns's 1959 book, The Vet's Daughter. Does all this strangeness serve a purpose? Does the bizarre ending mean something? Whether the answer is yes or no, I still enjoyed the novel more than anything I’ve read in months, and I’ve already ordered the rest of her books. —Sadie Stein
Robert Caro—never disappointing—had a particularly good piece in the April 2 edition of The New Yorker, on John F. Kennedy’s assassination but from LBJ’s perspective. It’s a bizarre and fascinating tale of how history is formed both by monumental events and by intimate details. And that famous photograph of his swearing in—as he stands grim-faced and flanked by Lady Bird and Jackie—will never look the same to me again. —Nicole Rudick
It wasn’t the intimidating length or experimental style that had me wondering, Wait, what?, when reading Finnegans Wake. It was my damned curiosity about the “careful teacakes” that Joyce introduces. My foodie heart salivated at the thought—where do I get one of those? Luckily, I stumbled upon A Trifle, a Coddle, a Fry: An Irish Literary Cookbook last weekend and was thrilled to find a recipe for these mysterious treats alongside sixty-six other recipes gathered from food references in the writing of twelve Irish authors, including Beckett and Shaw. Crack it open for a satisfying literary and gastronomic adventure, and let the sating begin. —Elizabeth Nelson
Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin has kept me up the last three nights. —L.S.
This week I attended a reading of Dante’s Inferno inside Saint John the Divine cathedral, a massive Gothic-revival church near Columbia University. If you missed it, mark the date. It happens annually on Maundy Thursday (which, for those needing to brush up on their Christian calendar, commemorates the day of the Last Supper). It was awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. A wooden pew is really the only place one should learn about Hell. —Allison Bulger