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Giuliana Carugati. Il ragionare della carne: Dall'anima mundi a Beatrice.

Giuliana Carugati. Il ragionare della carne: Dall'anima mundi a Beatrice. Piero Manni: Lecce, 2004.

Giuliana Carugati's Il ragionare della carne: Dall'anima mundi a Beatrice is a challenging book that marshals various philosophical texts that Dante may have known directly or indirectly in order to support a particular reading of Beatrice throughout Dante's works. Beginning with a survey of ancient thought about the relation of the divine to the human and then moving to the Christian philosophy of the medieval period, Carugati sees in various texts and myths of creation the idea that the divine is inextricably tied to the material of creation. Focusing on five of these texts, in her dense and allusive style, she attempts to demonstrate that in the philosophical and Biblical traditions there is a persistent idea that it is impossible to find the divine except through engagement with the flesh, through carnal desire, eros. While these texts vary in their terminology, Carugati notices consistently three ideas: that eros is divine in its origin, a gift of God, even if is mysterious and intractable; that the carnal object of eros is mainly figured as feminine; and that the mystery of eros is to some degree or other approached and engaged by reason. This discussion prepares the way for the exploration of her basic thesis--that Beatrice is a figure for Dante's understanding of his experience in love and that the journey toward the ultimate pleasure, God, which Carugati defines as man's eternal state of desire, can only be achieved through reflection on carnal, earthly love.

The first four chapters of Carugati's book treat the various ways in which Plotinus, Bernard of Silvester, Alan of Lille, and Jean de Meun treat the phenomenon of love, or eros, in the world, its connection to the divine, and its relation to reason. After noting the general agreement among Calcidius, Macrobius, Proclus, and Boethius about the idea that the divine is somehow impressed upon the universe, Carugati focuses on the myths of Aphrodite in Plotinus's Enneads. Here Carugati finds the suggestive link between eros, carnal love, and the desire and means of returning to God, as Plotinus insists that the return to the divine is possible only through love of earthly things and that union with earthly beauty reminds the soul of higher beauty. The discussion of Bernard's Cosmographia, Alan's De planctu and Anticlaudianus, and Meun's Roman de la Rose focuses on the ways in which nature, imbued with divine eros, appears to be in conflict with itself because of its intractability, for it is both part of nature and something beyond it. In each of the texts, Carugati finds in varying degrees a resolution of the disorder inherent in desire through human thought, or philosophy. The engagement of reason with eros, is what marks philosophical or poetic thinking.

The second part of the book focuses on the theme of the relation between reason and eros through Dante's poetic career, beginning with his Fiore. Carugati views the Vita nuova as a turning point in Dante's poetic life, in that there he explores the philosophical value of eros. Beatrice of the Vita nuova represents the engagement of eros with thought and marks Dante's attempt to understand his experience of love. For Carugati, Beatrice becomes the space for Dante's writing his desire: "Dante e ben consapevole che il luogo di Beatrice e quello della fabulazione filosofico-poetica, ovvero nel luogo 'erroneo' in cui pero abita la verita del poeta (e del mondo)" (105). By beginning to engage carnal desire in all its complexity Dante moves generally toward to a greater understanding the universe. Carugati insists throughout the argument that the concern for the ultimate things of philosophy requires a deep consideration of love: "Ma al pensiero profondo che guarda alie cose ultime amore e indispensabile" (137).

From the discussion of Dante's first formulation of the symbol of Beatrice in the Vita nuova, in the next four chapters Carugati treats the development and refinement of this idea in the Convivio and the Commedia. Carugati is particularly concerned with Dante's willingness to engage eros not as a well-defined ideal but as a real and present mystery in the imperfect world conditioned by time. Desire irrupts into time and the poet's life mysteriously and powerfully and threatens to throw his life into disorder. Carugati suggests that both the inscrutability of desire itself and the problem of the multiplicity of Dante's earthly loves necessitate the need for some kind of resolution, a resolution to which the poet arrives only through writing. In the Beatrice of the Commedia Dante deepens the mystery of desire, as he abandons his previous strategies of denial of Beatrice's body and emphasizes her living and moving beauty as the source of desire. Like the amorous gaze between the pilgrim and the dreamlike Matelda, the gaze between Dante and Beatrice provokes the promise of happiness and desire. Yet in contrast to Matelda, whom Dante recognizes as only an ideal, Beatrice represents the divinity of desire immersed in the fallen world. Her body is the mark that God is always entangled in "deffettibile natura" (196). Because of this divine imprint on the lady, the poet's attempts to describe her fully and the eros she embodies lead to the limits of his intellect, and Carugati defines his limit as the endpoint of the journey and God as a state of sustained and permanent desire. In Carugati's view, Dante also resolves in the figure of Beatrice of the Commedia the question of the multiplicity and variety of his earthly loves by representing her as subsuming the portrayal of the "donna gentile" of the Vita nuova and Convivio. Beatrice signals Dante's effort to provide a comprehensive and unified view of bis reflection on his experience in love.

This brief summary of the general argument cannot reveal the complexity and learnedness of the arguments within each chapter. Though in her preface Carugati is tentative about putting forth her reading as definitive, the book represents a powerful attempt to reread not only individual texts of Dante in a new way but also to recast the meaning of his poetic career. A philosophical text in itself that meditates on the relation between carnal desire, philosophy, and God in its own terms, this book often reads passages of Dante's works in untraditional, unexpected ways. Carugati is clearly a strong reader who asserts an allegory certainly of Dante's poetic career, but also various allegories that compete with those already embedded in Dante's texts or firmly fixed within the commentary tradition. Phrases like "[n]on ci inganna Dante quando insiste che qui si tratta di pensiero e non di fatti" (122) reflect Carugati's open competition with Dante himself to find meaning in the texts. The basic thesis that Dante's reflection upon desire for a real woman leads him back to the divine runs clearly against the orthodox Christian idea that Christ is the only means for man to reach God. Supporting this idea leads Carugati to minimize Beatrice's relation to Christ, as well as her relation to theology.

At times, the reading seems over-determined, and given the very broad scope of the project, fuller and more patient argumentation would be required to make this interpretation of Beatrice convincing. Camgati herself reveals that she is aware that she has sketched the development from the world soul to Beatrice "a linee sicuramente troppo grandi" (89). Still, at its best, as in the discussion of the enigmatic Matelda, Carugati's reading offers brilliant flashes of insight into many obscure passages in a broad selection of Dante's texts. Further, it challenges the reader to consider broadly the meaning of Beatrice for Dante throughout his career and to review Dante's connection to the neoplatonic tradition.


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Author:Mussio, Thomas E.
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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