Friday, December 30, 2005

A note on the real thing

Rather than read The Divine Comedy again, I'm drawn to secondary works. Not the real thing, as they say. But I always read in translation, so it's not the real thing in the first place. And no doubt the real real thing would be to travel through hell, purgatory and paradise just as Dante didn't.

For this reason, I was drawn to the LA Times review of Manuele Gragnolati's Experiencing the Afterlife Soul and Body in Dante and Medieval Culture. It is, as Merle Rubin explains, "an attempt to understand what people in Dante's time thought might happen after death but before the promised Resurrection".

I can tell them what happens after death, in the UK at least: the national newspapers don’t run reviews of books about Dante.

Apparently Gragnolati argues that purgatory is not so much a place, like heaven or hell, as a process; a ... process of suffering that, unlike the endless suffering of the damned in hell (who cling to their sins, never learning anything from them), is ultimately fruitful.

Endless suffering or, as it's also known, British literary culture. Occasionally there is relief, such as Nicholas Shakespeare’s review of Murray Bail’s Notebooks 1970-2003. “There is nothing so stimulating as a good writer's notebook” he says. Yes, the process, the process!

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