Dante and Modernism

Dante’s presence in the work of various twentieth-century writers is widely acknowledged. Yet the extent to which his poetry can help us theorise a poetics of modernism remains to be explored. In this course we will try to understand why numerous modernist writers were fascinated with Dante’s Commedia. We will touch on modernist uses of Dante as a mythic model or as an intertextual source; modernist representations of the descent into the underworld; modernist revaluations of Dante’s moral universe; changing interpretations of the ethical value of emotions (Love, Joy, Pity, Terror); phantasmagoria and the image in modernism; ineffability and immemoriality.

Primary Sources:

  • Samuel Beckett, “Dante and the Lobster.”
  • Dante, The Divine Comedy (trans. Hollander or Durling & Martinez)
  • T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” The Waste Land, and “Little Gidding.”
  • T.S. Eliot, Dante (the 1929 essay)
  • James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist, Giacomo Joyce and Finnegans Wake II.4
  • Primo Levi, Se questo e` un uomo.
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway.

Course outline:

  1. Aims and Expectations; defining the project of modernism.
  2. Eliot’s 1929 Essay
  3. The Double Allegory of Dante’s Journey (Cantos I, II)
  4. Allegory as a Hermeneutic Principle
  5. Topography and moral interpretation of Dante’s Hell (Canto III, IV, XI)
  6. Dante and Joyce: Love as a philosophical apprenticeship.
  7. Dante in A Portrait: the difficulties of bookish love
  8. Giacomo Joyce: Adultery and courtly love
  9. Giacomo Joyce: phantasmagoria and the theme of love-sickness.
  10. Dante’s poetry in Mrs Dalloway: the ethics of suicide and the rhetoric of despair
  11. Pier delle Vigne: Canto XIII
  12. Primo Levi: the uses of Dante in If this is a Man (resistance and problems of translation)
  13. Primo Levi: "Il Canto d'Ulisse"
  14. Dante in Prufrock: Eliot’s Hell as an Abyss of Irony
  15. Dante in The Waste Land: Hell and the Modern Urban Landscape
  16. Eliot’s Purgatorial Poetry: from the Waste Land to ‘Little Gidding’ (Purg. XXVI)
  17. “Dante and the Lobster”: Using Dante as an intertextual source.
  18. Pity and Beckettian Pathos
  19. Beckett and Dante: the Remains of the Human in Beckett’s “Purgatory” (Belacqua)
  20. Beatrice Dominatrix: (Purg. XXIX-XXXI)
  21. Medieval Love in Finnegans Wake (Focus on chapter II.4)