DANTE & HIS AFTERLIVES: "To see the stars again..."

Adapting the Comedy

Spanning languages and geographical bounds, the four twentieth-century works of literature on display here all adapt elements of the Comedy.

Across the Acheron

Across the Acheron

Monique Wittig, Virgile, Non [Across the Acheron] (1985).
Published in France in 1985, Virgile, Non (Across the Acheron) is Monique Wittig’s final novel – an unapologetically irreverent parody of Dante’s Comedy. Wittig (1935-2003), a committed feminist and lesbian writer, reinterprets Dante’s journey through the three realms of the afterlife as an erratic, profane pilgrimage where a woman named “Wittig” chaotically makes her way through a windy, surreal and mostly unnamed San Francisco. If “Wittig” takes the place of Dante, another woman, called Manastabal, replaces Virgil as the guide charged with escorting the narrator on her journey. Divided into forty-two chants, echoing Dante’s Vita Nuova, the structure of Across the Acheron nonetheless dismantles the divine, perfectly ordered architecture of Dante’s afterlife so that the various places in Hell, Purgatory and Paradise are randomly visited, ultimately testifying to Wittig’s refusal not only of established categories, but of all systematic order. A relentless reflection on the nature and possibilities of language, the journey of Wittig’s “Wittig” ends with a tasty vision of Angels’ Kitchen, a heavenly community of genderless angels ecstatically serving each other meals.

The complete works of Primo Levi Vol. 1

The complete works of Primo Levi Vol. 1

Primo Levi, Se questo è un uomo [If This Is a Man/Survival in Auschwitz] (1947).
Primo Levi, an Italian Jew and member of the anti-fascist resistance in Italy, wrote If This Is a Man as a testament to the horrors he witnessed in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. In “The Canto of Ulysses,” Levi tries to teach his friend Italian by reciting the twenty-sixth canto of Dante’s Inferno, which tells how Ulysses was punished by God for attempting to surpass the limits of human knowledge. Levi creates an uncomfortable parallel between the God who strikes down Ulysses and the God who allows the inmates to perish in the miserable conditions of the camp. Dante’s text, however, also serves as a touchstone for Levi: it is a reminder of the humanity he shares with others, even in the darkest of times. Levi’s works have been influential in both Italian and English; they are on display here in translation with an introduction by Toni Morrison and a note by Ann Goldstein, one of today’s foremost translators of Italian to English.

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