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Guy P. Raffa. Divine Dialectic. Dante's Incarnational Poetry.

Guy P. Raffa. Divine Dialectic. Dante's Incarnational Poetry. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2000. Pp. 254.

In his introduction to the text, Guy P. Raffa observes that the Incarnation--the descent of the divine Logos into humanity--has a logic of his own, a logic that violates the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction whereby the same subject cannot be both one thing and its opposite at the same time. The Incarnation is paradoxical in nature: a union of two natures in a single person, the same subject--Christ--is at once completely human and completely divine. Raffa calls this structure a "paradoxical 'both-and' doctrine" (5) and argues that in Dante's Comedy, it is not only limited to representations of the man-god, but it is also "the mainspring of what has come to be known as a 'dialectical' Dante" (6). Speaking of Dante's work as "dialectical" implies the recognition that the poet does not have a definitive "either-or" solution, but a "both-and" approach to theological and non-theological issues.

The first chapter of the book, "Divisive Dialectic: Incarnational Failure and Parody," is divided into two sections, each identifying an important early stage in the development of Dante's incarnational dialectic.

In the first section, "Incarnation Manque in the Vita nuova," the author argues that Dante dramatizes a failed incarnational union of human and divine love. Dante's literaryspiritual autobiography must defer resolution to a prophesied future because its decentered protagonist has not grasped the true meaning of Beatrice's Christ-like mediation between heaven and earth. Insofar as Dante figures the relationship between the two realms as a dichotomy, the dialectic of the Vita nuova remains one of contradiction underpinning the Incarnation.

The poet revisits this Incarnation manque in the prologue scene of the Inferno, as Raffa shows in the second section, "Dante's Infernal Web of Pride." The intercession of Mary, Lucy, and Beatrice puts in place an incarnational relationship: Dante and Virgil become one in their two wills, so that the fallen wayfarer can undertake his salvific journey to the other world. This infernal web is a parody of the dialectical paradox of the Incarnation. Several couples (Paolo and Francesca, Ulysses and Diomedes, Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggieri) are joined to a series of divided or half-visible individuals that includes Farinata, Pope Nicholas III, the Giants, Lucifer. These sinners, either doubled ("due in uno") or divided ("uno in due"), parody the incarnational union of two natures in one person that motivates the poet's paradotical dialectic.

The second chapter, "Incarnational Dialectic Writ Large," is divided into four sections, and examines Dante's transformation of the failed and parodic unions of the Vita nuova and the Inferno into the achieved incarnational dialectic represented in the final cantos of the Purgatorio and the opening cantos of the Paradiso.

In the first section, "Incarnational (Dis)appearances," Raffa presents the paradox of the Incarnation through the figure of the Christ-like Griffin, whose natures--leonine and aquiline--are reflected in Beatrice's eyes. This incarnational moment is linked to the return of Beatrice to Dante's literary universe, and the wayfarer's recognition and repentance of the failures of his "vita nova." However, Dante's reunion with Beatrice comes at the expense of the dissolution of his union with Virgil.

The second section, "Dialectically Marked Spirits in the Shadowed Spheres," shows how Dante extends his incarnational use of "ombra" in the Purgatorio--the word pointing to both the shadow cast by the wayfarer's mortal body and the ontological status of the blessed shades in the afterlife--to the conical umbra, the astronomical intersection of the human and divine realms.

The third section, "Incarnational Reflections and Lines," focuses on the incarnational progress of the wayfarer himself as he leaves the earth and begins his celestial voyage. The poet depicts rectitude ("dritta via") and swerving ("disviare") in terms of direct and oblique rays of light. Dante marks the stages of the mortal wayfarer's participation in divinity from oblique reflection in Purgatory, and an aborted attempt at direct vision at the beginning of the celestial voyage, to the final, direct infusion of divine light required for a vision of the Incarnation.

The fourth and final section of chapter two, "The Poet's Incarnate Word," shows how the "word made flesh" is Dante's model for his own incarnate word in the cantos treating the celestial spheres of the trivium. The third chapter, "Dante's Incarnational Dialectic of Martyrdom and Mission," refers to the poet's projection of his incarnational dialectic into history, based on hardships endured and lessons learned during life in exile.

The first section, "Lifting the Hermeneutic Veil: Circling the Cross in the Sun and Mars," shows how Dante anticipates the final incarnational vision of the human form in a Trinitarian circle by figuratively centering the cross of martian warriors in the circles of solar luminaries. By taking up his own cross in the central episode of the Paradiso, Dante forges an image of himself as both victim and victor. Thus Raffa analyzes the causes and effects of the poet's personal appropriation of incarnational dialectic. In the second section, "The Bitter-Sweet Lessons of Cacciaguida and Scipio," the author argues that Dante views his exile in terms of martyrdom and mission by identifying with Cacciaguida and Scipio Africanus the Younger.

The third section, "Dante's Divine Tetragon," explains how Dante compresses these representations of his dialectic of martyrdom and mission into a single incarnational image, that of the tetragon. Scholars have long interpreted Dante's tetragon with the Aristotelian-Thomist metaphor of the virtuous individual who faces fortune--favorable and adverse--with an even temperament. Raffa, on the other hand, offers another interpretation. Defining the Son of God, Thierry of Chartres concludes that Christ is the "first tetragon." Thus the tetragon, more than an image of the exile as he withstands the blows of fortune, confirms that for Dante, as for the crucified figure flashing forth in Mars, victory is the price of his defeat.

The fourth and final section of chapter three, "Intellectual Action and Dialectical Hermeneutics," shows that Dante transforms the traditional dichotomy of contemplation and action into a dialectical union. Dante models this intellectual action on the incarnational union of two complete natures in a single person and offers a dialectical alternative to the oppositional hermeneutics of Scriptural exegesis, routinely applied to the Comedy.

Guy P. Raffa succeeds in showing Dante's unconventional approach to traditional dichotomies as eros and spirituality, fame and humility, action and contemplation, obedience and transgression. Dante's logic works as a "both-and" attitude, not an "eitheror" one. Dante, in substance, promotes a paradoxical union of contradiction, just as the Incarnation itself does, which reunites in one person the human and the divine natures.

Diego Fasolini, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Title Annotation:Italian Bookshelf
Author:Fasolini, Diego
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Previous Article:Ignazio Baldelli. Dante e Francesca.
Next Article:Letture Classensi 29.

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