The Scientific Reconstruction of Dante
Scholarship is at times not unlike the stock market. – Teodolinda Barolini   Teodolinda Barolini’s Dante’s Multitudes is a must-read for any student of literary criticism who is learning to apply historicist ideology to the literary pillars of our civilization.  Barolini’s refractive work on Dante exemplifies excellently the way we should make expedient use of… The post The Scientific Reconstruction of Dante appeared first on VoegelinView.




Scholarship is at times not unlike the stock market. – Teodolinda Barolini


Teodolinda Barolini’s Dante’s Multitudes is a must-read for any student of literary criticism who is learning to apply historicist ideology to the literary pillars of our civilization.  Barolini’s refractive work on Dante exemplifies excellently the way we should make expedient use of great authors, reducing any theological-political problem to contemporary concerns about diversity, equity, race and materiality. 
To be sure, Barolini has been engaged in “de-theologizing” Dante for several decades, now.  However, with her most recent work on “multitudes,” Barolini consolidates a strong connection between Columbia University, where she serves as distinguished professor, and Notre Dame University, showing how ideological reductionism can overcome theological resistance even on an institutional plane.  Indeed, a network of efforts on the part of militant ideologues (Zygmunt Baranski is evoked as having “graciously” paved Barolini’s way) working in the interest of the global digitalizing of life is needed, today, if we are to “revive” our classics beyond any tie they might have been held to retain to eternal things.  Contextualizing is of the essence, as Frederic Jameson taught Barolini (3), assuming that traditional theology is a mind-numbing enterprise that our age is learning to rid itself of as worn-out shackles.[1]
This single point stands at the center of the enterprise Barolini embraces relentlessly: ideas, the essential forms of thought, are historically evolving entities that we are supposed to study as means to cultivate what Jameson would refer to as “a heightened sense of the mystery of diachrony,” or “fascination with the seeds of time” (The Prison-House of Language.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972; p. xi; compare Barolini 24, “linking the saturation in historical specificity […] to a non-stereotyping forma mentis”).
One glaring advantage we find in reading Dante the way Barolini does is the ease with which we are led to contextualize, historicize or even digitize the poet’s work, lest its original holistic message distract us from the multitude of ways in which we can instrumentalize Dante’s texts to our advantage, personal or otherwise. 
Barolini offers us a first example of historical contextualization as essential to ideological integration in her reading of Dante’s function as one of translator of theological Latin into a popular, universally accessible tongue (5), there where, in his Convivio and in the tradition of mythical Orpheus, however, Dante himself is fundamentally concerned with mediating theological authority and the life of plebes: by historicizing Dante, Barolini is able to use the poet to confirm the modern reduction of theology (both natural and revealed) to “philosophy and theology” as modes of ideological discourse.
But Barolini’s erring from origins is even more striking when she reads the “matter” of Dante’s Convivio in terms of food and other “material causes and conditions,” there where the poet is unequivocally pointing to “love and virtue”.[2] Whereas Dante is purging the poetic mind of material attributes, Barolini’s new, scientifically-reconstructed Dante is a “progressive” (46) social warrior combatting material “iniquities that result from the uneven distribution of access to knowledge,” or “the limitations in one’s material circumstances” (pp. 9-10 anticipating 76).  While in one case the poet cleans mind of matter, in the latter an ideologue uses the poet to tell us that we should be matter-oriented, if not simply “food-oriented” (pp. 9-11).
To be sure, Barolini’s move is a virtue in today’s neo-Machiavellian academia, where an author is not to be understood in any “essential” terms, but made use of (where meaning emerges pragmatically as a function of historical functionality).  For in keeping with radical historicist principles, authors live, not in a community of synchronic minds, but in the material use we can make of their works.  The author’s “perspective” is then to enrich, not to say fuel our own bodily life (wherein we should be seeking “self-realization,” as per Barolini), rather than guide us out of its constitutional limitations.  Accordingly, Barolini presents Inferno’s ills as converging in Count Ugolino, as a father who supposedly failed to provide his two sons with material conditions, even though Dante’s own Ugolino bears witness to the contamination of politics by a corrupt theology, or the bad theological ideas represented by the she-wolf of Inferno 1. 
In effect, the intimate relationship between Dante and Ugolino is remarkable, introduced as it is by Inferno 33.10’s unmistakable echoing of Canto 1.10.  Both men have their two sons punished unjustly and both struggle against a she-wolf.  Yet, Dante alone remains untainted by the beast, just as his Muse is untainted by the flames of mortality in Inferno 2, suggesting that the proper response to corrupt views about divine things is not anti-theological ire (exemplified by Ugolino), but a poetry restoring the proper or original relationship between the human and the divine.  Yet this, Barolini’s de-theologized Dante cannot possibly appreciate. 
Not surprisingly, Barolini’s Dante confronts classical antiquity as compelling the Florentine to overcome theological authority with a “desire to transgress” (18-21), while nothing is said or even faintly suggested about Dante’s capacity to revive a classical “poetic art” at the heart of Christian theology as its hermeneutical master-key and guide.
The upshot of Barolini’s historicizing is a Dante standing as precursor of today’s multiculturalism and contemporary ideologues’ appeal to unqualified “dissemination” of material resources (15).  Why, Barolini’s Dante is a prophet of “radical historicity” and defender of “diversity” against divine “sameness” (here the author refers critically to St. Augustine; 22-23).  While identity finds itself within the purview of narrow-minded, if not altogether bigoted and sexist dogmatic moralists, diversity is what Dante’s “negotiation of desire” is all about (24-28)—as if traditional morality were fundamentally incompatible with its poetic interpretation.[3] Accordingly, the “fiction” of traditional morality (targeted by Barolini’s “detheologizing”) is used as a pretext to promote the historicizing of life, whether or not Dante was aware of what he was doing (29).  Barolini’s “history,” then, replaces any properly philosophical poetry as the consummate stage of interpretation.[4] To hearken back to the terms of Dante’s Limbo, Dante’s Elysian Fields are replaced by the forma mentis of today’s dominant academic ideology, which assimilates both identity and alterity under the totalistic category of diversity.[5] Thus is the finite (including characters such as the Francesca of Inferno 5) no longer a poetic pointer to permanent questions, but a means to advance a despotic ideology, even as the latter is cloaked in the garb of universal emancipation.[6]
Given its ideological backbone, Barolini’s offensive against the traditional moral institutions of the State (the late senator Giulio Andreotti is not spared) and (Catholic) Church alike, is unsurprisingly relentless.  Those institutions are blamed for not having appreciated the unorthodox subtleties of Dante’s writing.  Consider for instance Dante’s treatment of sodomy, which Barolini reads as lending a free pass to “limited and moderated homosexuality” given the presence of certain sodomites among the lustful of Purgatory (34); as if Purgatory were to override altogether Dante’s overarching placing of sodomites in Inferno; as if thought and moral order were fundamentally incompatible; as if Dante could not altogether reject sodomy on poetic grounds (as Boccaccio would), not as a mortal sin, to be sure, but Socratically as an error of the mind.[7] An erring that is not good in moderation, as Barolini insinuates, but bad in any degree, given that sodomy is constitutionally devious, or against nature.
Barolini’s silence, here, is understandable given historicism’s prejudicial rejection of any natural hierarchy of ends.  Where “otherness” is instrumental to the rise of a multicultural society, it cannot serve as mirror for a rational path leading out of and ordering “multicultural” relativism or perspectivism (consider Barolini’s frequent appeals to perspectives, points of view, or even personal feelings, including her own) under the light of pure intelligibility.  Thus will Barolini see the “otherness” conceived by historicism even in the concluding verse of Paradiso, without noting that the “altre stelle” (“other heavenly lights”) invoked there echo the “altro vïaggio” (“other journey”) that in Inferno 1.91 signals Virgil’s mythical/poetic one, the one for which alterity marks the character of an unerring mind (Inferno 2.6) irreducible to any of its dreams.  For Dante’s Other par excellence is the poetic hero who dares rise out of mortality to revisit the stars of poetry addressed in the last verse of Inferno, but evoked already in the sweetest ones of Inferno 1.37-40.
Alas both sweetness and light (may Matthew Arnold rest in peace) are lost in Barolini’s project, where even Dante’s Jew is but an example of cultural difference, in spite of Dante’s elevating the Jew above the Muslim (and possibly above the Christian himself).[8] Or, speaking of the latter, Dante’s monstrous depiction of Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali is swept aside in the name of Dante’s inclusion of Islamic heroes (Saladin, Avicenna and Averroës) in Limbo (34-43), even though the inclusion stands as a reminder that heroism transcends all dogmatic limitations, not least of them the ones The Prophet would like, though fails to impose upon Dante himself in Inferno 28.
Yet the list of Barolini’s “differences” could not be complete without addressing Dante’s “progressive” treatment of women as beings capable of receiving instruction (46-47) even though it is not at all clear that Dante’s contemporaries (including Dante’s contemporary Cecco d’Ascoli, notwithstanding Barolini’s contentious framing of the Bolognese scholar) would disagree.  What allows Dante to escape misogyny?  Apparently, his capacity to create “a virtual reality” (49) dangerously at odds with civil and religious institutions.
To be sure, Dante’s contemporaries did address the question of heterodoxy in Dante’s work, but this finding alone does not tell us much, if anything, about the problem of interpreting orthodoxy (misologues are prone to see heresy in the most innocent investigative attempt to make sense of orders, divine or otherwise).  Indeed, the 13th century political-philosophical commingling that Barolini sees as “dangerous” (53) points to the unreasonableness of our reducing philosophical discourse to literal or historical surfaces; leaving the door open to a Dante who could remain within the sphere of orthodoxy while being a philosopher at heart.  Yet, Barolini keeps that door shut, systematically coopting Dante as spokesman of the “social justice” concerns of our own age of ideology; as if inequity meant eo ipso injustice (78 passim).
Nowhere is the break from Dante’s pre-modernity more evident than in Barolini’s stringently and unabashedly historicizing chapter on the poet’s Limbo (Chapter 4, titled, “Dante’s Limbo and Equity of Access: Non-Christians, Children, and Criteria of Inclusion and Exclusion, from Inferno 4 o Paradiso 32”).  Treading in the footsteps of her teacher Giorgio Padoan, Barolini insists upon reading Dante as concerned with universal equity, having absolutely nothing to say about Dante’s care for the irreducible dignity of his poetic art and its philosophical core.  For Dante’s Limbo is at its heart no hymn to universal inclusiveness in the arena of salvation, but a poetic parenthesis offering us a glimpse into the political role and philosophical soul of poetry beyond any and all conventional limitations.[9] Dante cares, in other words, not to overcome emendable inequality of opportunity, but to testify to an inevitable inequality of worth that subsists in all societies and in all ages between the vast majority of people and an exceedingly small minority of poetic heroes (in this respect, Dante’s Comedy’s vast crowds of nameless ignavi abiding under the sway of compulsion as victims of their external context, lost in moral and intellectual mediocrity, stand in stark contrast with the selected few souls that Dante’s avatar speaks to throughout the poem).  Yet let us shun trivializing suspicions.  Dante is no racist, sexist, cultural suprematist, or any other sort of bigot, but a spiritual or intellectual aristocrat or noble-spirit whose foremost allegiance is to his poetic-philosophical brethren—as to the Fedeli d’Amore (“The Faithful of Love”) of Dante’s Vita Nuova 1.20—defined in no merely-conventional terms, without however presupposing any truth outside of the element of humanity, or outside of the “wilderness” (selva) of political life.  This is to say that Dante would reject entirely the historicist reductionism and ideological ramifications to which Barolini is so keenly bent upon tying the poet.  Dante’s own “City” is, to speak with St. Augustine, that of God, not of Man; a civitas Dei, of men whose minds hide in the abyss of divine intellection.[10]
Yet Barolini sees Dante’s “unorthodox” depiction of Limbo as incarnating a radical departure from and opposition to traditional theology.  Is there any such departure?  Two remarks should suffice to dispose with Barolini’s account.  The first is the obvious one that Dante’s Comedy presents itself as a poet’s dream and is thus formally immune to any accusation of heresyThe second is that Dante is not denying any Church doctrine, but interpreting it to introduce us to its poetic-philosophical backstage, guiding us to penetrate to the universe of political-metaphysical questions presupposed by all correlative answers.  Accordingly, in his poetic account of Limbo, Dante will add descriptions that are not conventionally addressed, without presuming in any way to replace or modify official discourse. 
Making no allowance whatsoever for Dante’s mystical character, Barolini does not merely detheologize the poet; she dehumanizes him, if only in the name of a new postmodern, if not transmodern mercenary “humanism” beyond the First and Second Adam alike.[11]
This is not to say that Barolini or her Dante stand for any opposition between the human and the divine.  The question here pertains to the forms that guide our lives, shaping our relationship with divine perfection.  No sooner has Barolini conceived those forms in terms of a personal agenda to promote, than she blinds herself to any divinity outside of the “spiraling process” of “relentless forward motion and enfolded backward glance” that she attributes to Dante (85).  Eros is no longer poetic, but physical, so the cliché of a dichotomy between pure “Platonic love” and its carnal counterpart yields to the alleged challenge “to fashion for ourselves a divinity […] that makes eros one with [final salvation]” (96-98).[12] Not a word is uttered about the classical alternative of poetry as proper, civilizing mediator (a fictive synthesis, if of synthesis we must speak—beyond 86-98) between the human and the divine.  In the absence of the Orphic hero, the carnal must make its way to the heavens.  A new Babel must rise.
Barolini’s Chapter 6 applies her agenda to the problem of friendship (amicitia) in Dante.  Growing out of a conventional, literalist notion of “friend” (amico) as mask of one-upmanship (99-105), Barolini’s Dante takes a seemingly linguistic turn allowing him to gradually find love and intimacy on poetic/linguistic grounds (106-20).  What is supposed to take place is an evolution in the “idea of friendship” (109) involving the “transition” of the physical into linguistic formulas raised to the status of ontology (112 and 119): Dante’s poetry is not supposed to aim at simply mediating human-political strife, but at resolving strife within itself by transferring “irreducible and separate individual selves” in the “great sea of being” understood, again, in linguistic (Structuralist?) terms (108-09).
Chapter 7 unpacks the problem of ontology by drawing a distinction between the “realism” of weak, ordinary people (122) and the reality that Dante (most notably in his Paradiso) is primarily concerned with.  Dante’s poetry is seen as being so “realistic” as to distract us from the reality it points to, inducing the ordinary, uncritical/unscientific reader to mistake the “virtual reality” depicted for the message pointed to (ibid.). 
Now, surely Dante, no less than Plato, would agree that poets walk on thin ice when balancing the interests of credibility and those of truth.  However, while distinguishing reality from appearances, classical ars poetica commendably helps us discern the real inherence of reality in fiction.  That inherence—one that, as the sacrament of the Eucharist reminds us, sits at the heart of Christianity—is rejected by Barolini as she sets out to forge a new linguistic ontology and, as seen, new Gods.
In keeping with his progressive agenda, Barolini’s Dante cannot but see Aristotelian logic as functional to social equity via the fostering of tolerance and kindness (149-57).  The key to good logic is the capacity to diffuse conflict by relativizing positions, or showing that “both” parties in any dispute are, if not right, at least not wrong.  Yet, in translating Dante’s insieme (“together”) as “both,” Barolini eclipses Dante’s effort to keep contradictories together on an ascent to truth that proceeds through doubt.  This—by no means the establishment of a society of relativistic kindness—is what happens in Paradiso.
While Barolini does remain open to a truth beyond social interests, that truth is the one she has already invited in appealing to the likes of Hawking and Einstein.  What counts now is our capacity to hold the pursuit of absolute truth and interest in relative, even “multiple” truth together (158).  How does Barolini’s Dante “square the circle”?  He does so the way Barolini herself approaches modern physics, namely by conveying it in colorful, socially tolerant ways, in the interest of a society in which equity of opportunity and the reduction of identity to difference (notably, one of viewpoints—155) stand de facto as dominant concerns.  But is this what Dante himself was up to?  Would Dante embrace a historicist (and thus implicitly Machiavellian-Hobbesian) solution to logical conflict—a solution that involves the transportation of reality (the one addressed directly by the “expert in theology, in logic, in physics, or in geometry”—159) within the sphere of socio-political life, where what counts above all else would seem to be coexistence, or the averting of “social crisis” (153)?
So while Barolini is to be praised for her unusual intuition that Dante’s Monarchia and Paradiso are written in one and the same spirit, that spirit remains an open question that is irreducible to a historicist agenda (143).  For Dante’s circle is not squared by any society, no matter how progressive, but by the poetic hero insofar as he is discovered at the very heart of divine intellection.  This is the message that is “painted” in the final Canto of Paradiso in full conformity with Convivio’s evocation of philosophy’s proper seat in God.[13]
Having cut Dante off from his tie to his God, moving from a primitive logic of punishment to a freedom severed hedonistically from any divine authority, in Chapter 9 Barolini is ready to inscribe the medieval poet within the progressive logic of anti-patriarchal ideology allowing Dante to rise from an alleged early (and “frankly repellant”—170) misogyny to a quasi-celebration of difference or diversity marked by the “radical historicity” of a beautiful “multi-gendered and multi-genred” speech (171 and 179).[14] Thus is Dante made use of to support the vision of mankind moving gradually from closed societies rooted in violent bigotry and intolerance to an open or free society governed by science and the beauty to do as we “individually” please (74ff).[15]
We now enter into a section of Barolini’s volume dedicated to “wealth and society” (Part 3 of 5 of the whole work), where the author sees Dante as effectively using the Aristotelian ethics of moderation to promote a shift from a dogmatic society dominated by the dichotomy between good and evil, to a society or historical era anticipated by the courtly poetry of Troubadours and characterized by gradations of desire (beyond the moral dichotomies of Christianity—208), where all behavior (sodomy included, as we have read—but see further 192) would seem to be good, when in moderation (189ff).  Most significantly, what we have here is a “mixing” or “hybridization” by which Dante (after Guittone d’Arezzo) enriches and transforms society rendering it more rational by allowing it to free itself from the theological prejudices of traditional morality (192-95).  Philosophy has been de facto turned into ideology and, on the way, the poet Guido Cavalcanti’s objections to the worldly project of controlling our passions are acknowledged only by way of obliquely dismissing them as irrational (196-97; see further 238 and 277, where Cavalcanti’s work is slighted as metaphorical and narcissistic”).  Dante may be tormented by anxiety and even depression in the face of his social standing and mortality, but he can still work, even obsessively, towards a “social self-promotion,” that includes ethical “wealth management” (allegedly, “a pressing issue” in Dante—203) being thus entirely compatible with the interests of a moderate society cut off from a traditional theological grounding (184, 200-02).  But then, was Dante a libertarian avant la lettre?  Is Barolini justified in insisting on the social-financial reality underpinning Dante’s appeal to virtue, moderation or liberality?  Does Dante’s intellectual eclecticism, or his “imbrication of value systems” constitute a rhetorical “framework” constructed in anticipation of real socio-cultural change (210, 214-16)? Is Dante ultimately confused, even in the grip of “social anxiety” (anticipating 296), due to his conflicting allegiances (Christian honor on the one hand and Aristotelianism on the other), socially stranded between an old aristocracy and the mercantile or mercenary nouveaux riches polluting his beloved Florence (219-21)?  Faced with the latter hoard of hypocrites (reminiscent of present-day New York’s own—216), Barolini’s Dante appears to prefer an older, lesser evil.  Yet, he remains incapable of transcending the drama of “wealth management and wealth acquisition” (219); for while he does not reject wealth, wherever he turns, the rich appear to have rejected all moderation.  
Having left her Dante lost in a world utterly inimical to his virtue, Barolini now turns to the consolation offered to the poet by the necrophiliac love of a lady in the flesh even after her death (225-42).  The death of our poet’s Beatrice is pivotal to the poet’s novel commitment to love his “historical” beloved one beyond her death, albeit not beyond his own (239-40, 271).  What sets apart Dante, here, from Cavalcanti’s purported narcissism, is that while the latter poet addresses his own death, the former addresses that of “a different embodied being” (238).  With Dante, death is an ethical problem.  Now, this would be a fine intuition for us, if only we took it seriously to mean, not that the poet “imagines” the dead alive (as Barolini concludes—242), but that we are truly or “substantively” (241) alive only in poetry—and that thus the truth about Dante’s beloved is neither a woman in the flesh (as Barolini insists in the name of eros), nor a mere conceptual abstraction (this conventional dichotomy being one that Barolini fails to transcend, notwithstanding her appeal to a fervent, even obsessed, not to say schizophrenic imagination), but a “substantive” Muse in which classical poets have always projected themselves, just as Dante’s avatar projects himself in his donne in Inferno 2.[16]
The question of death is labored further as Barolini returns to the poetic/chivalric  correspondence, or tenzone, between Dante and Cecco d’Ascoli (243-65).  Barolini concludes that, having appealed to the heavens/stars as positive compulsion affecting human love and freedom, Cecco accuses the young Dante of the Vita Nuova of having seen the stars as disrupting our love and aspirations (263-64).  Dismissing Dante’s formally philosophical Convivio as expressive of a rather “muddled middling position” denying astral influence on the dead, Barolini argues that Dante moved gradually and through various “inconsistencies” from accepting death as the fateful limit of love (an end forcing the lover to replace one beloved with another, thereby trading constancy with errancy) to admitting that love can overcome death through the transformation of the object of love.  Must we then conclude that love is free, or that it remains under the empire of “naturalistic” compulsions?
In her fourteenth chapter, Barolini explores the problem of human freedom versus compulsion with continuous reference to Dante’s poetic exchanges, concluding that, while superficially content with accepting that existential conflict compels us to bow or consent to it and thereby convert to ever-new pursuits in life (as opposed to remaining constant in our pursuit of a single, finite object of love), “variable” Dante will alternatively defend an opposite view breathing life into his Aristotelian naturalism (269, 284), as into the conflict between some new “spirit” (spirto) and soul/life (anima—274).  On Dante’s undercurrent-view, our freedom can remain steadfast throughout our life thanks to the power of the imagination to reinvent the dead as living, thereby allowing for our return to our first “incarnate and historicized” object of love (following a “disconversion” that had occurred after her death) via a repudiation of all subsequent ones (277, 283, 295).
Barolini has then called us to grapple with the tension between Old and New (including old and new wealth), suggesting that we have a “moral imperative” (278) not to forget the old for the new, even as the stars (history?) may ultimately compel us to embrace the new.
But is this what old Dante, the “first” one, teaches?  Is his fight/flight against death, his very love, as foolish (folle) as that of his Ulysses, or of the Shakespearean prince for whom the most pressing question is, “to be or not to be”?[17] Or is a neo-Romantic, radically historicized ideological imagination supposed to allow us to transcend death without making fools of ourselves?
Barolini’s historicism has crippled old Dante, nailing him to historicists’ own anxieties and depression (our author’s own terms); to their own confusion and self-contradicting minds.  Most importantly, the Columbia University ideological scholar has distracted the reader from the true nature of Dante’s “first love” (primo amore—Paradiso 12.74, 26.38, 32.94, 142; Inferno 1.39 and 83, 3.6), as well as from the poet’s constant effort to educate us, so that we may rise from what is only apparently first to us, or to what is first in the order of reflection, to what is first in itself or absolutely.[18] This is what the doubt-mediated ascent in Paradiso entails: not a multilateral journey from one finite object of love to another (not to speak of a contrite symbolic return to a juvenile love), but an ascent from one guise of the object of love to another, on the way to a final coincidence of the lover (the poet) and the beloved (the poet’s divine perfection reflected propedeutically in his poetic personae), a coincidence that is intimated in the very first two Canti of Inferno, where Dante’s avatar projects himself into his ethereal guides.
Barolini’s all-too-modern split between morality and science resurfaces mutatis mutandis as the one between interpretation and “critical philology” (Chapter 15: 287-97).  The latter’s authority over “material reality” or value-free “facts” should not be guided by any hermeneutical “agenda” (288).  This is not to say that Barolini denies commitment to an agenda of her own; yet, in appealing to “critical philology” she “demonstrates greater critical self-awareness” of what she is up to (289).  As a critical philologist critiquing the uncritical naiveté of other Dante scholars (notably, Luigi Pietrobono, Maria Corti and Bruno Nardi), Barolini sees how important it is to find an empirical basis for advancing one’s own ideological agenda (ibid.) while questioning the authority of authors (292-93, advancing Michele Barbi’s “advanced […] resistance to Dante’s authority”).
What is at stake here is the status of contradiction in authoritative writings such as Dante’s own.  Barolini sees fracture as a rule, in Dante’s production: fracture between philosophy and poetry; fracture between meaning and beauty; fracture at the very heart of identity itself.  Fracture is not an exception to a normal condition, but the norm itself.  A guiding one that, ironically, Barolini takes uncritically for granted.[19]
If “uncritical” scholars have sought to level out differences and contradictions in Dante, should we now uphold contradictions in a post-modern manner, as defining at once the very fiber of reality and the terminus ad quem of hermeneutics?  Is philology to be guided by “pure facts,”  textual information, or data?  If so, a method would be needed, a method fully compatible with the existence of “pure facts,” or with the modern value-fact distinction.  Should the study of Dante be guided, then, by a “scientific method” so that we may show that human life and production constitute the place in which the mechanisms defining reality come to full fruition by converting into acts of self-critical creativity?  Is the more or less implicit principle of ideology—a discourse trying to convince you in the act of letting you know that it is lying—an imperative standing at the summit of History, as its unquestionable crown?
In her final chapter, while reviewing various cases in which Dante has been read uncritically or irresponsibly, Barolini sets the record straight concerning her own agenda, which tells us not, properly speaking, to understand Dante as he understood himself, but to “reconstruct[…] how Dante became Dante” (311).  “The history” of Dante “has always […] been [Barolini’s] guiding light as a critic” (312).  That principle, which Barolini presents variably as philosophical and ideological, constitutes the foundation of our critic’s moral code, one that brings her to see Dante himself as a poetic ideologue in his own right (311). 
Barolini’s own avowed trademark as critical or “scientific” reader is at once vigilance and transparency (299-300 and 319):[20] being certain about the ineluctably hermeneutical import of all discovered order, Barolini distinguishes herself from other less self-aware scholars by virtue of her practice of exposing (in a “rigorously empirical and scientific” manner—299) human subjectivity to the way it evolves out of material objectivity.  This is to say that Barolini assumes that we have access to a reconstructable logic by which consciousness itself is produced out of unconsciousness (hence the subtitle of Barolini’s book, where “History, Philosophy, Method” constitute an indissoluble trinity).  She, better than Dante, can retell us precisely how Dante became Dante, or by what path indefinite being turns into a definite or certain being journeying into the former’s dream.[21]


Dante’s Multitudes: History, Philosophy, Method
By Teodolinda Barolini
South Bend : Notre Dame University Press, 2022.


[1] Apparently, Barolini sees no irony in the project of tying Dante to his historical context only by way of “rebinding” him to our own.
[2] See my “Poetic Soteriology,” Italian Journal of Philosophy, 6 (2023).
[3] For an “antidote” to Barolini’s progressive hermeneutics, see my “The Problem of Interpretation,” Voegelin View (September 14, 2022).
[4] Not accidentally, Barolini never names Plato and but once ventures into mentioning a cognate of historicism’s loftiest stumbling stone and nemesis (on p. 254 we read of “a deterministic Platonic ‘poison’).
[5] Barolini’s Ch. 2 is titled “Dante’s Sympathy for the Other, or he Non-Stereotyping Imagination: Sexual and Racialized Others in the Commedia”.  The title is misleading insofar as Barolini de facto reduces the category of alterity to that of diversity.  It is historicism itself that demands such a reduction in the act of uprooting the Other from any rational “covenant” with eternity.  No longer is the Other a mirror of permanent forms of intelligibility, but a means to “problematize” identity, which is to say, to bind identity to tribal warfare (as in today’s “identity politics”).  See my pertinent discussion, “The Rise of Total War Today,” at <>.
[6] On Francesco, see my “Fleeing Evil: Francesca, Ulysses, Mohammed and Other Riddles in Dante’s Comedy,” Dogma: Revue de Philosophie et de Sciences Humaines, 19 (Spring 2022): 136-59.
[7] That erring happens factually in our fallen world is made evident throughout Dante’s own Commedia, no less than in Boccaccio’s Decameron.  Yet, this is not to say that Dante is reducing sin to ignorance.  The error of the mind is our fallenness into a condition in which knowledge is no longer enough to rise above evil.  Hence Dante’s denial that he can “well retell” how (by what “point”) he fell into his nightmarish dream in Inferno 1.10-12.
[8] See my “The Incarnation, Jews and Philosophy: A Lesson from Paradiso VII,” Dogma: Revue de Philosophie et de Sciences Humaines, 18 (Winter 2022): 78-82.
[9] See my see “Unmasking Limbo: Reading Inferno IV as Key to Dante’s Comedy,” Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, 40.2 (Fall 2013): 199-220.
[10] “Philosophy […] whose reason hides in the deepest recesses of the divine mind!” (Filosofia…la cui propria ragione è nel secretissimo della divina mente!)Dante, Convivio, 4.30.5-6.
[11] See my “The Third Adam and the Modern ‘Higher’ Self,” VoegelinView (January 16, 2023); and “Transhumanism: Genesis of a Horror Scene” (September 14, 2022), at <>.
[12] See my “Dante’s Vita Nuova and Petrarchismo: A Critical Review of Contemporary Scholarship,” in The Routledge Research Companion to Anglo-Italian Renaissance Literature and Culture.  Edited by Michele Marrapodi.  New York : Routledge, 2019: 55-74.
[13] In supporting her agenda, Barolini refers to the contradiction between Picarda and Beatrice in Paradiso 4, rendering the volere intero (“whole will”) that in Paradiso is attributed to Costanza, as “full will” (151).  The distinction might appear of little importance, but “full” distracts from a reading of intero as integro, where the problem with Costanza is not at all her own, but one pertaining to her context, be this the earthly one she had first fallen into or the heavenly one she would be “eternally” raised into (the passage from the temporal to the eternal can hardly be temporal).  Indeed, the problem of context subsists even in Paradiso and doubt (dubbio) alone leads the way to overcoming opposition to it, if only via the poet’s heroic act of self-immolation.  Again, see “Unmasking Limbo: Reading Inferno IV as Key to Dante’s Comedy,” op. cit.
[14] For a corrective to Barolini’s feminist reading of Eve, see my “Poetic Transcendence and the Way of Woman,” Voegelin View (April 13, 2022).
[15] Among Barolini’s numerable disputable readings, a curious one stands out relating to Giambattista Vico, who is held (after Bruno Nardi) to still hold onto Dante’s early “‘ancient prejudice’ that maintained that Hebrew was a divine creation, co-created by God along with Adam” (171).  In reality, Vico upholds the eternity of Hebrew in the poetic sense signaled by Dante’s “infernal” door of law in Inferno 3.7-9.  For the philosophical poets to suggest that Hebrew is eternal and co-created by God with Adam is for them to defend eo ipso the true and enlightening notion that man is by nature rational (and political) and that, reflecting the eternity of divine being, language (paradigmatically, Hebrew as the language of biblical revelation) is irreducible to a tool in the hands of hedonists.  There is absolutely no prejudice involved, here, but a rational judgement (a jus-dicere) in favor of truth and humanity.
[16] See my “Christianity and Philosophy in Dante,” in Mediaevalia, 42 (2021); 143-86; and, again, “Poetic Soteriology,” op. cit
[17] Barolini (273) does not notice the link between Dante’s folle amore and the Greek’s folle volo in Inferno 26.
[18] On returning to an ever-renewing first, original good, or object of love/desire, compare Dante’s echoing of Virgil in Purgatorio 22.70-72 and 25.70-72; on “the first impetus” saving us forcefully from false pleasures, see Paradiso 1.134-35; on Beatrice as poetic muse in whom Dante can see her “first lover,” see ibid., 4.118-26; on “the first love” as “sensed” by pagans, see ibid. 6.11; on “Love” as Father in whom “the first and ineffable Valor” (i.e., the Holy Ghost) “breathes” or spira, ibid. 10.1-3.
[19] Barolini’s appeal to personal compelling feelings, as in 296 and 299, does not help her cause.
[20] See my “The Ideology of Transparency: Creating the New Sodom and Gomorrah,” Voegelin View (September 23, 2022).
[21] See Inferno 1.10-12; compare 66-67.  On the question of dreams, see Barolini 298 and 318-19.  In Dante, the path  through which the indefinite falls into finitude appears to fallen-man as an obscured “point” (punto), as opposed to a luminous “center” or mezzo (no mere “middle” between extremes, as Barolini argues).  Our own fallenness entails an erring in appearances or surfaces.  See my “What Lies Beyond the Surface of Things,” Voegelin View (January 9, 2023).

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