Alison Cornish and Dana E. Stewart, eds. Sparks and Seeds: Medieval Literature and its Afterlife: Essays in Honor of John Freccero.
This volume, a tribute to the eminent Dantist John Freccero, is a collection of sixteen essays by scholars operating in the U.S. Its title is indeed reflective of the sparks ignited by Freccero in his teaching career, since the authors are disciples of his. The essays range from a profound reflection on Bonaventure's Itinerarium mentis in Deum to a consideration of the contemporary Italian novel and postwar Italian film. Giuseppe Mazzotta in his intellectually suggestive and masterly introduction--in which he traces and places, among other things, Freccero's scholarship within the framework and tradition of American Dantism and especially his Augustinian approach--speaks of this book as being organized in "conceptual clusters" (13). The essays on Bonaventure, Cavalcanti, and Dante (six of them), however, perhaps form the largest cluster. The smaller clusters begin with Tasso and comprise four additional essays from the discovery of the telescope to gender and psychoanalytic discussions. As Mazzotta points out, these contributions reflect Freccero's critical interests, his scholarship, and his guiding light. The essays are profound and stimulating, many offering a fresh reading and approach, thus providing an additional dimension to the relationship of magister-alumnus, which is indeed the theme of John Kleiner's work, and, in part, of Peter Hawkins' essay. Mazzotta's introductory remarks compel the reader to consider larger questions, and his intriguing, power of synthesis and allusion, spiced with some veiled irony, strongly augment the desire of reading of the book.
The volume opens with Dennis Costa's essay, "Conversion to the Text's Terms: Processes of Signification in Bonaventure's Itimezazium entis in Deum" a remarkable piece on Bonaventure's semiotics as a process, which, through mystica theologia, becomes the end of the mystical ascent. The reader can easily parallel this to Dante's own ascent, as suggested by the author. Dana E. Stewart's thoughtful essay, "Spirit of Love: Subjectivity, Gender and Optics in the Lyrics of Guido Cavalcanti," probes Guido's theory of vision and the importance of Averroes in medieval optical theory. Guido, as an Averroist, might have been influenced by these theories. Stewart's conclusion is that Guido, being a poet and not a philosopher, does not attach himself to any particular philosophical or scientific tradition.
Belonging to this group is John Kleiner's "On Failing One's Teachers: Dante, Virgil, and the Ironies of Instruction." This is a very significant piece that adds much spice and substance to the perilous teacher-pupil relationship and the most central role that self-irony, self-criticism, and ambiguity play in it. Jeffrey's Schnapp's "Lectura Dantis: Inferno 30," which fits well with the previous piece, is an illuminating meditation on the theatrical Dante, also considering the "spectacle of sin" (77) in the form of drama, comedy, farce. The author brilliantly brings into play Tertullian, Augustine, and the dismantling of ancient theater, asserting that in Purgatorio 29-32 theater "returns reborn as the spectacle of the Holy Book" (83). James Nohrnberg's essay "The Love that Moves the Sun and other Stars in Dante's Hell" is a most compelling reading. It uses key characters, cross-references and rich sources in presenting a cosmic view of the Commedia. Clever is the discussion on the correspondence Venedico Caccianemico-Jason and on the shadow of Argo in the Paradiso. Very apropos is the closing quotation from Boethius. Rachel Jacoff's "Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Body in the Commedia" represents a scholarly pearl in this volume. She deals with the idea of the body starting from the fact that medievalists have had a clear ambivalence toward this theme whose main theological formulations by St. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Abelard were well known to Dante. Jacoff surveys these sources with depth, originality, and talent, and pinpoints Dante's theoretical daring on the issue of body-soul, and its potentiality as a means of poetic representation. Alison Cornish's "Telling Time in Purgatory," previously published in the volume Reading Dante's Stars, is a fascinating piece which sets the four cardinal points of reference, the fourth being "the present state where the poet writes," and goes on to prove the seminal importance of the lunar aurora in Purgatory 9. This is a well-written, well-documented essay, rich in content and fresh intuitions.
Ginsberg's "Dante's Aesthetics of Being" is a very illuminating essay on Dante's meeting with Bonagiunta da Lucca in Purgatorio 24 as a consideration of Dante's aesthetics of the dolce stil novo, one based on identity and being. It points to Dante's rewriting of literary history in the style of the aesthetic of existence (162). This is an interesting, thought-provoking essay which also unknots the "nodo" vis a vis Forese Donati and vituperative poetry. Peter Hawkin's essay, "Are you here? Surprise in the Commedia," is an outstanding piece as it probes a "recurrent moment of astonishment," and brings forth many elements of surprise which Hawkin justly considers "obligatory," (176) given God's inscrutability. Similarly pleasant, suggestive, and scholarly is Marguerite Chiarenza's essay entitled "Solomon's Song in the Divine Comedy" which justly connects allegorical love poetry to the idea of the resurrection of the body, from sensuality to contemplation. Solomon, the quintessential love poet, is assuredly a central figure in the Commedia. The next two essays deal with Tasso. The first one, "Tasso as Ulysses," by Walter Stephens, details Tasso's Ulysses role both in life and poetry. We are dealing with the Homeric Ulysses here, not the Dantean. This is a fascinating, stimulating, and well-written piece. David Quint's essay "The Debate between Arms and Letters in the Gerusalemme Liberata" originates from an episode in canto 8 of the poem which Tasso deleted. The episode is based on Ovid's debate between Ulysses and Ajax on the inheritance of Achilles' arms (Metamorphoses 13.1-383). In this well-presented, comprehensive and learned article David Quint makes his case that Tasso's Gerusalemme establishes the superiority of letters over arms and that this is, in effect, contrary to the values held at the court of Ferrara. Tasso did firmly believe in this new noble class.
The essay by Eileen Reeves, "Representing Invention: The Telescope as News," considers as "old news" (267) the newsletter of October 1608 announcing the telescope and probes the fact that its technical capabilities were made known three-and-a-half centuries earlier by Bacon and his followers. It also examines the idea of the newsletter, "the story of the invention of the telescope," and "the story itself" (267) and documents the importance of the telescope in the Richardot incident of 1608. This is a fascinating, lively, intelligent, and historically informative piece. The same can be said of the essay by Patricia Parker's "Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine: Manly Deeds, Womanly Words," which provides a stimulating, intelligent, and suggestive reading on the history of the Tuscan motto and the misogyny connected to it, spanning from Cicero to Montaigne. This very serious scholarly reflection originates from the discovery that the motto is stamped on every single law item passed by the State of Maryland, having been brought from England by Lord Calvert.
The last two essays bring us to the world of postwar Italian cinema and the contemporary Italian novel. Rebecca West's essay "Desire, Displacement, Digression: Rhetorical Ramifications in Giorgio Manganelli's Amore and Tutti gli errori" and Millicent Marcus' "The Italian Body Politic is a Woman: Feminized National Identity in Postwar Italian Film"--with Dante and Machiavelli implanted in the title--represent a fresh, original, and brilliant approach to these subjects by way of the most modern and sharp critical appraisal of these two genres.
This attractive volume is highly recommended to the scholar and specialized reader.
GIUSEPPE C. DI SCIP10
Hunter College and City University of New York, Graduate Center
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|Author:||Di Scipio, Giuseppe C.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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