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Desire/Wax Impressions of Dante’s Realism: Canto XVIII, lines 22-39 Purgatorio

 Dante’s beautiful lines which dicate the com-plexifications of cogntive judgment come to mind over the dicussion of Realism at Perverse Egalitarianism…

Vostra apprensiva da esser verace
Your perception from some real thing
tragge intenzione, e dentro a voi la spiega,
an impression takes, and in you it unfolds,
sì che l’animo ad essa volger face;
so thus the soul to turn it brings;

e se, rivolto, inver di lei si piega,
And if, so turned, toward it she molds,
quel piegare è amor, quell’è natura
that molding love, that nature ‘tis
che per piacer di novo in voi si lega.
which by pleasure fresh in you it binds.

Poi, come ‘l foco movesi in altura
Then how fire upward glides
per la sua forma ch’è nata a salire
by its form being born to climb
là dove più in sua matera dura,
t’where most within its matter it abides,

cosi l’animo preso entra in disire,
thus the soul so pressed enters in desire,
ch’è moto spiritale, e mai non posa
a spirit motion, that wilt not rest
fin che la cosa amata il fa gioire.
‘til the thing beloved makes it ‘joice.

Or ti puote apparer quant’è nascosa
Now should appear to thee how clouded
la veritate alla gente ch’avvera
be the truth with men who deem
ciascun amore in sè laudabil cosa,
every love itself a lauded thing,

però che forse appar la sua matera
perhaps because its matter seems
sempre esser buona; ma non ciascun segno
always to be good, but yet not every stamp
è buono, ancor che buona sia la cera.’
is good, even if be good the wax.’

It is really amazing, again and again, how Dante brings together still lasting philosophical issues, and then condensing in clarity them puts them into verse. (We tend to think that this makes the task all the so much harder, but has anyone thought that perhaps it makes it easier.)  If we trace the effect of the “impression” we have crystalization of a complex of inter-relations which perhaps helps us gain a foot-hold in Realism discussion.

1). Some real thing impresses itself upon us (the wax), but an impression that is in some sense “taken” by the material organization itself.

2). The impression “unfolds,” an unfolding that turns the soul (seen as passive).

3). And IF turned, she then herself does the molding, an activity which is a fresh and binding pleasure.

4). And this pleasure directs the action of the soul towards an extra-human course, towards a real coherence of things beyond/above it.

5). The movement is unresting until a state of Glorification is achieved (a passive completion, a flattening out).

6). But love itself, its very matter (which we could say is composed of the very relations between the thing loved and its turned-to pursuit), is not always “good”.

7). This intra-relation of bodily combination is ultimately judged by a discernment between which real, impressive things are ultimately good for the wax (soul) to combine with.

The result is a near Spinozist conception of knowledge and moral evil. Pleasure leads us towards self-affirmations which necessarily involve our real combinations with other real objects such that we are ever propelled toward a coherence that is extra-human. But such an epistemo-material sense of knowledge-discernment necessarily involves as well a sense in which not all combinations are in preserve of our conatus of being, something ever in transformation. In this way our appropriations of, and combination with other things (resources, techologies, beloveds) oscillate between that which will break us down (deterritorializations, as G&D call them), and that which preserve us (reterritorializations), in an expanse that is ever more incorporating and communicating. Muscially, one might say. And our value judgments, our aesthetic judgments, necessarily consist of bodily affirmations which have real ontological value, expressing real ontological relations, opening up the human domain to organizational powers beyond those of merely human Ideality.

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Masciandaro’s Splendoring

Medievalist Nicola Masciandaro’s eclectic and thought-provoking weblog, The Whim, has a recent entry on the concept of “Splendering”, or Spectacular intimacy. His entry calls to mind both my thoughts on Plotinus’s analogies of light The Cone of Plotinus: Ontologies of Profusion and Particularization, as he tells us to look-with, sunorãn, the light, and not at the things lit, and also my current attempts in establishing a Spinozist/Davidsonian epistemological modeling of a panpsychist world: the way in which we necessarily, logically, biologically, turn to others to view the world. How can one resist evocations of Dante as guide? 

SPECTACULAR INTIMACY, or, the brightness of light becoming itself. Splendor is not a quality, but the condition of the overcoming of quality. It is not something seen, but the visible approach of the place where seeing becomes the seen. “In this state of absorbed contemplation there is no longer question of holding an object: the vision is continuous so that seeing and seen are one thing; object and act of vision have become identical; of all that until then filled the eye no memory remains. . . . the vision floods the eyes with light, but it is not a light showing some other object, the light is itself the vision.” Syntactically, the line temporalizes splendor, traces the becoming substantial of the relation between seeing and seen as a time delay within their distinction. Suspended in this light-filled air, can I say what splendor is? Luckily Dante, being one who breathes love back into philology (the exhale of his taking note when love inspires), is here to help.[iii]Commenting on the descent of divine power as sight (In lei discende la virtù divina / sì come face in angelo, che ‘l vede), he explains splendor via Avicenna as not only reflected light, but the visible/visual becoming of a thing toward the virtue shining on it. Seeing is not simply splendor’s external measuring tool, but the very efficiency of its cause. To see someone’s splendor, to experience how she shines, is to witness her becoming like what she sees and thus belong by parallel process to her being. (the rest, including footnotes…)

I have just begun looking at the blog, but look forward to future posts there.

A touch more on “L’aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci”

Now that I have a bit more time. (A touch more on…)

It is the succinct way that it expresses the consequences of finitude, the internal thrashing within the limits, in a brevity that itself makes almost a moral judgment upon the kinds of finitudes are best, those brief but open condensations. The line itself is but a patch, a spot, a space, but it opens up and under.

Here is the Princeton Dante Page, if you want to see its context.

There is of course the translational heritage that reads “aiuola” as the “threshing floor”, a small round floor where the wheat and the chaff are separated (a meaning which Davidson makes elegant use of in an argument about language). Despite the arguments cited in the last post, it is possible that Dante has the threshing floor in mind as he looks down upon the disc of the earth, and it contributes to the intensity of the image.

(How the dynamics of a hydraulic image is sometimes linked to the topographical…but perhaps misleadingly so.)

What really what holds the power of the line is the sense that the aiuola, the very smallness of the topos, makes us fierce. There is a germanial intensity within the finite. This does not lead to platitudes about the Infinite, but rather to an attention to connectivity, the way that bounds that hold us, work to constitute us, also can beleaguer through excessive recursivity and self-reference.

The small space that makes us all so fierce, which threshes us out, which gives us amplitude. It is interesting that such a thought can be put in to so few words…

Paradiso 22.151: “L’aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci”

This line re-occurs and runs through my mind, as if on a circuit. Dante is staring down from Gemini, and sees the small space of Earth:

The patch which makes us all so fierce.

Notes on its translation.