Antonio Gramsci, The Tenth Canto of Dante’s Inferno

4.78. Debate on “structure and poetics” in the Divine Comedy according to Benedetto Croce and Luigi Rosso. Reading of Vincent Morello as a “vile corpus”. Writing of Fidele Romani on Farinata. On the Saints. Question of the “indirect representation” and of the captions in the picture-show: the subtitles have an artistic value? — do they contribute to the representation of its character traits? Yes, surely — so far as they fix judgment of the actor and more pragmaticly characterize a given personality. The case of Shaw’s Don Giovanni, with the treatise of John Tanner appended: this appendix is a caption, from which a talented actor is able and obliged to extract fundamentals through interpreting them. The Pompeii-esque image of Medea, who slays the children she had with Jason: Medea is depicted as blindfolded: the painter did not know how, or wanted not, to represent this look. (Yet this is the case with Niobe, also in works of sculpture: covering her face would have signified removing the meaning from the work). Farinata and Cavalcante: Guido’s father and father in law. Cavalcante is punished by the squad. No one noticed that whether he was displeased with Cavalcante’s drama, the condemned man’s torment was not actually seen among that group: the formal structure should have led to an aesthetic judgment, most precise one of the canto, since every form of punishment gets represented in act. The work On the Saints made note of the severity comprised in the canto by the fact that Farinata’s character changes with a line: after being made, poetry becomes structure; it explains; it goes from Cicero to Dante. Farinata’s poetic representation is brought back to life in marvelous manner by Romani: Farinata is a series of sculptures. Then Farinata recites his tagline. Isidore del Lungo’s book on the Chronicle of Dino Compagni: in which is fixed the date of Guido’s death. It’s odd that the scholars did not think first of using Canto Ten to determine this date within approximation (who did it?). All the same, the check up performed by Del Lungo is useful in interpreting Cavalcante’s outward appearance and for explaining the execution of duty done, from Dante to Farinata.

What’s Cavalcante’s position, what is his form of torture? Cavalcante sees the past and sees what is to come, but does not see in the present, in a fixed space of the past and of the future into which the present moment is included. Guido was alive in the past, will be dead in the future, but as for the present? — is he dead or living? This is what tortures Cavalcante, the worry his own, one’s only over-riding thought. When he speaks, he asks about his son; when he hears “was”, the copula in past tense, he insists on response and on deferring one, doubts it not any longer: his son has died; he vanishes, into the red-hot sepulcre.

How does Dante represent this dramatic scene? He insinuates it to the reader, does not make it a representation; he gives the reader the basics so that the drama may be reconstructed, and these elements are given in the structure. Yet still there is one dramatic passage and it comes before the tagline. Three remarks: Cavalcante appears not dexterous and manly like Farinata, but humble, broken down, perhaps on his knees and he demands in uncertain way to know of his son. Dante responds, indifferent, or nearly so, and uses the word which refers to Guido in the imperfect. Cavalcante suddenly picks up on this fact and shouts hopelessly. He has a doubt, not real certainty; he demands further explanations in three questions, in which is an ensemble of states of mind. “Why did you say: he ‘was’?” — “Isn’t he still alive?” — “Does the sweet light not still strike his eyes?” In the third question, there is all the fatherly affection of Cavalcante; the typical human “life” is seen in a pragmatic state, in the enjoyment of the light, which the condemned and the dead have lost. Dante takes a while to reply and then the doubt in Cavalcante ceases. Farinata however is not shaken. Guido being his daughter’s husband, this sentiment has no real power in it at that moment. Dante emphasizes this force of his in mind. Cavalcante’s slouching down but Farinata keeps up appearances, keeps head still, moves not a muscle. Cavalcante falls on his back — Farinata does not make any despondent move; Dante has a negative analysis of Farinata in suggesting the (three) movements from Cavalcante: the twisting up of appearance, the head falling back, his back bending. Nevertheless there is something of the changed man even in Farinata. His reply is no longer such other as it had first appeared.

Dante does not make Farinata ask just “to be informed”, he questions such because he is amazed at being struck by Cavalcante’s passing. He wants the knot that prevents them from replying to Cavalcante to be loosened; he perceives that he is at fault in front of Cavalcante. The structural part is not only structure, then: it is also poetics — it is a necessary element in the drama which has taken place.

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