Dante and Reality/Dante and Realism (Paradiso)


The invitation to contribute to this issue of “SpazioFilosofico” begins with a distinction, one that turns out moreover to be quite hermeneutically useful when applied to Dante: “Il numero non si occupa di ‘realismo’, ma di realtà”. What made the invitation even more enticing is that the description of realism that follows seems to have been tailor-made as a definition of who Dante is as a poet: “Il realismo, in un senso molto ampio, è l’atteggiamento di chi non è disposto a tradire la realtà, o a voltare le spalle all’essere”. The heuristic intersection of Dante and reality with Dante and realism is the starting point for this investigation.

In thinking of Dante and reality my thoughts went immediately to the Paradiso, but also to the resistance that many readers express with respect to the third cantica, a resistance rooted in its perceived lack of realism. Indeed, through writing this piece I came to the realization that the response of many readers to the Paradiso, the widely held belief that it is the least “realistic” of the three cantiche of the Commedia, is intimately connected to the fact that the Paradiso is the part of the poem that most emphatically and continuously meditates upon reality. This observation – the part of the Commedia that deals consistently with the question of reality is perceived by readers as the least realistic – would seem to expose a human weakness: that most of us prefer realism to reality.

I have dedicated many years to the study of Dante’s realism, to the analysis of the precise modalities or techniques devised by Dante as a means of securing his faithfulness to reality. As I have shown, these modalities are so successful that the centuries-old reception of the Commedia is compromised by an excessive credulity with respect to the fictio of the poem. I will take the liberty of directing the reader interested in a reading of the poem from this perspective to my book The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante, in Italian La ‘Commedia’ senza Dio: Dante e la creazione di una realtà virtuale. The Italian subtitle, Dante e la creazione di una realtà virtuale, is an accurate description of the book’s contents. Through “detheologizing”, which I define as “a way of reading that attempts to break out of the hermeneutic guidelines that Dante has structured into his poem”, I attempt to grasp “a textual metaphysics so enveloping that it prevents us from analyzing the conditions that give rise to the illusion that such a metaphysics is possible”.

Dante and Reality/Dante and Realism (Paradiso)

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