IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 1321: 'Libro de la mia memoria': Memory in Dante

Wednesday 4 July 2018, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Federica Pich, School of Languages, Cultures & Societies - Italian, University of Leeds
Paper 1321-a'Conforti la memoria mia': Suicide and the Manipulation of Memory in Dante's Commedia
(Language: English)
Emma Louise Barlow, Department of Italian Studies, University of Sydney
Index terms: Language and Literature - Italian, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1321-bAffective Memory in Dante's Works
(Language: English)
Xiaoyi Zhang, Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame, Indiana
Index terms: Language and Literature - Italian, Philosophy, Rhetoric
Paper 1321-c'The pricking of memory': Recollection as Punishment in Dante's Inferno
(Language: English)
Leonardo Chiarantini, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures, University of Michigan
Index terms: Language and Literature - Italian, Philosophy
Abstract

Paper -a:
In Dante’s Commedia, the poet depicts the notion of suicide most candidly through the figures of Cato (Purg. 1-2) and Pier della Vigna (Inf. 13). These characters voice their own attitudes towards memory, with Cato no longer moved by recollections of his past, and Piero concerned for how he will be remembered in the future. Behind their narratives lies on the one hand the collective literary memory of past figures who embody self-destruction, in particular the biblical figures of Jesus and Judas respectively, and on the other the collective political memory of a declining Roman Empire and a contemporary Italy intent on self-destruction. My paper seeks to compare the constructions of Cato’s and Piero’s suicides through memory on both a narrative and an allegorical level. My analysis will take into account Dante’s revisionist approach to his own works, with a particular focus on the diachronic development of his depiction of Cato from the Convivio to the Commedia. My aim is to consider Dante’s use of memory in his suicide discourse, and to articulate the ways in which the poet’s teleological model of revisionism relies on his manipulation of memory in a broader sense.

Paper -b:
Memory is of central importance to medieval culture which Mary Carruthers considers as ‘fundamental memorial’. Given the significance of memory in medieval culture, it is no wonder that memory plays a vital role in Dante’s oeuvre. Vita Nuova foregrounds the importance of memory by referring to the ‘book of my memory’ (‘libro de la mia memoria’) from which arises the new life (‘incipit vita nova’); the Commedia uses the pilgrim’s memory as the overarching narrative frame and inserts into it individual memories of the souls in the afterlife. Previous scholarship on Dante and memory primarily focuses on the ‘memory of text’, that is, the author’s use of retrospective elements in his text, or on ‘the art of memory’, to find out if and how Dante uses the medieval mnemonic skills. A fundamentally important aspect of medieval memory, its ability to arouse or elicit feelings, also plays an important role in Dante’s writings and so far remains largely unexplored. My paper intends to conduct a systematic study on affective memories in Dante’s text, and suggest a new reading of the Vita Nuova and the Commedia based on this study. My research will conduct a close reading of Dante’s text and draw upon studies on medieval memory, affective piety, as well as history of emotions. I shall argue that different kinds of affective memories in Dante’s text, be it of erotic love, friendship, and love of one’s homeland, all experience a process of transformation and elevation that serves the author’s ideological and narratological purposes.

Paper -c:
By expanding upon the Boethian principle whereby the unhappiest aspect of misfortune is to have known happiness, Dante’s Inferno gives voice to a notion of recollection as punishment – a reversed kind of damnatio memoriae which is not condemnation of memory, but rather condemnation to memory. Francesca’s assertion that ‘There is no greater pain than to remember the happy time in wretchedness’ claims, indeed, that recalling the lost good is a crucial part of each sinner’s pain – that memory damns, in a psychological, not a social sense. Although Dante’s notion of punishing recollection goes beyond the infernal domain and illustrates every instance of recollective memory whose object is physically irretrievable, the Dantean damned offer a compelling example, for their remembering aggravates an already vexed state, is incessant, and – unlike among the living – is not subject to elaboration, that is, it is both event memory and rote repetition. In this paper I will argue that, by showing that hell is in the memories of the damned, Dante’s cantica claims that remembrance can be the greatest sorrow and its opposite – forgetfulness – a craved respite.