Friday, August 29, 2014
Dante's Moral Imagination
"Dante does something very, very interesting and - to the limit of my ability to judge such things - something deeply true and wise in his characterization of the deepest level of Hell.
I have in my day seen three different discotheques named "Dante's Inferno". To name a discotheque "Dante's Inferno" you are, I presume, counting on the notion of heat; transgressive sexuality; wild, hot stuff. There is a kind of glamour in evil: "bad boys" I've heard it said that the world of men is divided into husbands and lovers. The husbands are dull and good, and the lovers are bad and sexy. Rock stars for my entire lifetime have been cashing in on this motif.
Dante is having none of it. For him, evil is not glamorous. If I may be permitted such an observation, Milton gets into a fair amount of interpretative trouble because his Satan is so glamorous. No one ever said that Dante's Satan is the real hero of The Comedia. And there's good reason for that. We only see him in one canto and he can't talk. He is however very good at drooling.
This is de-glamorizing evil. And evil is de-glamorized in another way, because the deepest level of Dante's Hell is not fire. It's ice; cold, motionless, dark, near-absolute zero, frigidity; nothingness. There's nothing cool - nothing cool - about Dante's Satan...
[Just as at Babel] what thwarts human presumption is a kind of anti-intellect, anti-intelligibility. So what stands at the center of Hell is gigantic idiocy; literally gigantic, drooling idiocy. And the punishment here is cold and ice."
- Dr Timothy Schutt, Dante Scholar