Dante & the Unorthodox
The Aesthetics of Transgression
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$85.00 Hardcover, 576 pp.
During his lifetime, Dante was condemned as corrupt and banned from Florence on pain of death. But in 1329, eight years after his death, he was again viciously condemned—this time as a heretic and false prophet—by Friar Guido Vernani. From Vernani’s inquisitorial viewpoint, the author of the Commedia “seduced” his readers by offering them “a vessel of demonic poison” mixed with poetic fantasies designed to destroy the “healthful truth” of Catholicism. Thanks to such pious vituperations, a sulphurous fume of unorthodoxy has persistently clung to the mantle of Dante’s poetic fame.
The primary critical purpose of Dante & the Unorthodox is to examine the aesthetic impulses behind the theological and political reasons for Dante’s allegory of mid-life divergence from the papally prescribed “way of salvation.” Marking the septicentennial of his exile, the book’s eighteen critical essays, three excerpts from an allegorical drama, and a portfolio of fourteen contemporary artworks address the issue of the poet’s conflicted relation to orthodoxy.
By bringing the unorthodox out of the realm of “secret things,” by uncensoring them at every turn, Dante dared to oppose the censorious regime of Latin Christianity with a transgressive zeal more threatening to papal authority than the demonic hostility feared by Friar Vernani.
James Miller teaches a cycle of courses on Dante for the Comparative Literature and Culture program at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. His other books include Measures of Wisdom: The Cosmic Dance in Classical and Christian Antiquity and Fluid Exchanges: Artists and Critics in the AIDS Crisis. He has also translated Andrew Pawlowski’s play Dante on the Steps of Immortality. James Miller looks forward to a hot afterlife on the Seventh Terrace of Purgatory.
“The essays collected by James Miller in Dante and the Unorthodox: The Aesthetics of Transgression are intent on taking a walk on the wild side—off the ‘straight ways’ of traditional Dante studies and toward quite another notion of the poet as outrageous and transgressive, freewheeling and revolutionary.... Miller ... has not only written the lengthy introduction but also three additional essays. All of them are marked by freshness and exuberance.... He is never less than provocative and engaging. This or that of his observations may be ‘pushing it,’ at least in the lights of the Dante guild, but so what? The man is (to use his word for the Creator) ‘ablaze’; he also never writes a dull sentence.... That an entire book full of essays ... should determine not to succumb to old formulations or received wisdom—should refuse to allow their poet to be tamed—is all to the good.”
— Peter Hawkins, Christianity and Literature
“Always original, often exciting, and sometimes genuinely outrageous, this smart and substantial collection of essays flamboyantly slaps the received wisdom of Dante studies in the face. Better yet, it shows a great medieval poet still speaking clearly and sharply to anyone in the twenty-first century with ears to listen.”
— Steven Botterill, University of California, Berkeley
“Paired essays offer opposing views on contentious issues in Dante studies. They include two great counterpoint arguments debating Virgil’s fate and explore homoerotic imagery, Dante in art and cinema, and Ezra Pound’s relationship to Dante....The wonderful piece by Carolynn Lund-Mead about women in Dante is a standout....Highly recommended. Upper division undergraduates through faculty.”