Sunday, November 08, 2015

A few notes . . . part 2

This is the second in a series of posts about the opening of the Paradiso. 
Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

The somewhat detailed look into Paradiso 2 in the most recent post served to interrupt the effort to trace a pattern begun a few days earlier, but it was quite helpful. How so should become clear if we go slightly ahead.

Let's look again that scene in Paradiso 3 where Dante says he made an error opposite to that of Narcissus, thinking the faces appearing to him in the moon were specchiati sembianti - mirrored semblances. Turning around to see the source of the images, he says, e nulla vidi - and I saw nothing.

The error here is not simply the opposite of that of the boy who fell in love with his own image; it is also the exact reversal of what happens in at sunrise in Purgatorio 2: Dante, expecting to see Virgil's shadow next to his own, and seeing nothing, turns to where Virgil should be, and in fact still is. Virgil reproves him for mistrusting -- he doesn't cast a shadow because he is one. 
Io mi volsi dallato con paura
d'essere abbandonato, quand' io vidi
solo dinanzi a me la terra oscura;
e 'l mio conforto: “Perché pur diffidi?”
a dir mi cominciò tutto rivolto;
“non credi tu me teco e ch'io ti guidi?
Unto one side I turned me, with the fear
Of being left alone, when I beheld
Only in front of me the ground obscured. 
"Why dost thou still mistrust?" my Comforter
Began to say to me turned wholly round;
"Dost thou not think me with thee, and that I guide thee?
These scenes in the third canto of each canticle set up mini-paradigms that resonate with the nature of each world the pilgrim is experiencing. For Dante in Purgatorio, it is a matter of trust -- submitting to an authority that is not immediately visible but which, from past experience, one knows to be reliable. (This is also why the Muses in Purgatorio are led by Calliope -- they are on a mission to rhetorically demolish false guides.)

Here in Paradiso 3, the mode is no longer the shadowy realm of expectation, belief, or trust, but of increasingly brilliant surprise. The seemingly mirrored semblances are not images or shadows, but in fact the very beings they appear to be.* The substance of things hoped for is given before it can be hoped for, and this is "revealed" as becomes clear in the nothingness (nulla) the poet turns to see.

This surprise reversal has the structure of hysteron proteron, as used by the poet in the image of the arrow that strikes the target in canto 2:
e forse in tanto in quanto un quadrel posa
e vola e da la noce si dischiava,

And in such space perchance as strikes a bolt
And flies, and from the notch unlocks itself
This figure that reverses cause and effect, completion and beginning, is the challenging narrative trope of Paradiso -- "challenging" because it violates the sequential order of ordinary quest narrative. It also reverses the prefigurative mode in which the Christian Middle Ages read the Bible. The Old Testament was read, as in the superb title of a book on Milton, as "shadowy types" that prefigured the truth (logos) of the New Testament. Once revealed, the Word obviated quest.

If one looks at the three cantos 3 from the perspective of poetics, we can add to the order of the three canticles we began once before:

Inf: hope forever lost                                    -- the letter: "abandon all hope"
Purg: hope actively propelling one ahead       -- shadowy types: guide to truth
Par.: hope substantiated                                -- truth

One could go on ticking off attributes of each canticle that fall into something of this order, but the last thing I want is to overschematize the Commedia. The poem complicates itself as it goes along, and that's more interesting.

How does canto 2 help with the effort to discern a pattern? Consider what we found: When Dante the pilgrim enters the moon, he bogs down his journey by asking Beatrice about the man in the moon, a fabled figure dreamed of by men who can't see him face to face.

But even as Dante is asking Beatrice about this shadowy type, he is himself a man in the moon incarnate. In Par. 3.43-45, the poet explicitly relates the co-joined human and moon to the Incarnation, which will be self evident when we finally get to see it.
Lì si vedrà ciò che tenem per fede,
non dimostrato, ma fia per sé noto
a guisa del ver primo che l'uom crede.

There will be seen what we receive by faith,
Not demonstrated, but self-evident
In guise of the first truth that man believes.
The "spirit" of this scene, its wit, playfully gives us a lunatical misdirection of a quester who asks about distant spots and signs when he in fact is the very thing (a sort of loony λόγος) about which he is asking. This bewilderment tickles, and Beatrice's smile conveys full awareness of what fools these mortals be. Within this frame, laughter can be relaxed and even medicinal -- to see one's own error, even among the wise, will now and again occasion a cathartic spasm of self-debunking laughter.

While the poem is registering esprit on several comedic levels, it never loses sight of the reader, whom it warned about venturing too far out to sea. Dante's bark (legno) is heading for the deepest waters, and those who fail to see their own folly are most at risk of becoming the drowned man the poet of Inferno 1 nearly was.

*This point will be looked at in more detail when we discuss canto 4 in the continuation.
This is the sec in a series of posts about the opening movement of Dante's Paradiso. Here are the other parts: 
Part 1     Part 3     Part 4   

to be continued . . .

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