|NUMBER 7||FALL 1990|
Prompted by ever receding mirages of «sponsorship», we draw up, again, a «documentation» of LD's circulation. In one column we write the bona fide subscriber «Institutions of Higher Learning»; a parallel list has the unsubscribers. «Good guys __ bad guys», we inscribe the lists. From what depths of memory has sprung the childish expression? A snowy road appears; but such as nowadays isn't seen: the snow was snowier then, the road roadier. Snow, road: through the first-grader's eyes. The trek to school in early morning darkness, three kilometers, with the satchel and the little blackboard, its piece of chalk hanging from a rope. In the last year of the war paper was a scarce commodity. In grade school, for scrap paper we reverted to the tools of an earlier generation. Road, snow: peasant carts lumber by, their oil lamps swaying under the carriage. Some drivers would take the boy on: at the friendly move of the switch you would run and jump on. Other carts would sleepily clatter by; the furred driver high on his bench, unresponsive. Soon we got to know the good guys; we memorized the bad guys whose gruff «no», a puff of mist, would long hang in the icy air. We, a stickler for lists and numbers (early sign of a predisposition for Dantology?), sitting high up on the bench by the friendly driver, made up two columns on the screechy chalkboard, with Goodguys and Badguys scrawled on top and the cart numbers below. The dim lamps under the carriages light up those numbers; the lamps sway on: College X is good, Library Y is bad, U of Z good...
LD is here to stay. Our supplement, the first complete multivoice «American» lectura of Inferno, has at long last appeared (see notice on the back cover). We apologize for its delay. While the huge volume was being happily printed during Spring, we received a peremptory call from Powerful UP (a pseudonym: similarities with existing entities are purely intentional). Omit from our collection the lecturae of three or four canti, quoth PUP, for they (PUP) intend to print those. (The lecturae in question were reproduced from actual lectures sponsored by LD.) «Pensa, lettor, se io mi sconfortai / nel suon de le parole...». We ordered the printing stopped at once: to limit the damage and to see where we'd go from here. To destroy the printed reams (438 pages); have the contested canti redone; reset the book and print anew... It meant the end of LD. It meant an expense such as you, generous lettor, could not have sustained. LD had to be scuttled __ at last. I'll tell you another time how we have avoided demise (but not a bitterness blighting the publication); for now let us only say: LD is here to stay.
In a recent article, Vittore Branca gave LD credit by including its editor in the trio of American «grossi dantisti» __ with Teodolinda Barolini and Giuseppe Mazzotta. Ahi fiera compagnia. Ma coi santi...
If you are addicted to calling a source «intertextuality» or a plot «narratological strategies» or a puff «self-referentiality» you're in trouble: the MBAs (yes, them, with their in-terms-of and bottom line) are grabbing at your skolarese. It came even to this: the ratatouille in my neighborhood eatery boasts, on the greasy menu, of a «subtle subtext of garlic» __ and even we know that that is the closure of that misprision. Before our «Dantisti americani» exhibit withdrawal symptoms, we will produce from a failing memory the Gymnasium ditties of Latin and Greek grammar rules. Intertext, you said? Preposition cum accusativo. How did the versicles go? Ante apud ad adversum / circum circa citra cis / contra erga extra infra / inter intra iuxta ob... Well, how about an apudtext (l'appotesto)? How does a citratext, a iuxtatext, a mysterious ergatext grab you? Maybe a Kafkaesque cistext? A multicultural obtext? Circumtextuality for the ambientalist Dantologue... And there is more: inter intra iuxta ob / penes pone post und praeter / prope propter per secundum / supra versus ultra trans... Let's have propetexts for the philologically minded! Und Posttexte und Praetertexte... L'ultratexte to deconstruct? Transtextuality for the so disposed? __ There is stuff here to stuff everyone's curricula.
«Ed eran due in uno e uno in due...». Dante's infernal math. «One is two and two is one: / two is one and one is none»: distant murmur of a childhood ditty, eeny meeny miney mo. «Vedi che già non sei né due né uno...». The reptilian scene conjures up another, related, world of surreal reckoning... Orinthological? «Love hath reason, reason none...». But where? Presto the Concordance. The Phoenix and the Turtle! «Single nature's double name / Neither two nor one was called...». In Dante it is hatred, in Shakespeare it is love: «Number there in love was slain...». But in both there is the same otherworldly melancholy «counting»: «Due e nessun l'imagine perversa / parea...». Orinthological? Lorca's palomas oscuras flutter in: «Por las ramas del laurel / vi dos palomas desnudas. / La una era la otra / y las dos eran ninguna».
The demise of Latin in highschools in the 60s and colleges in the 70s has produced a generation of scholars who in the 80s have resuscitated Folengo's maccheronea. In Dante studies, alas, the Bollingen commentary had encouraged extensive (and at times merely decorative) Latin quotations. Ignorance of Latin has produced a nostalgia for its «scholarly» effect. The result is often exhilarating for the editor struggling with submissions. In one (otherwise perceptive) paper we find a correct «exordium» paired off with a peroratium. The fun sours when the Author won't catch the boner in the galleys; fun turns to embarrassment when the page proofs come back with the Latinorum intact. What to do? Sic it? Elsewhere, in a referee-approved deconstructio, we found (again brought on by a legit __ albeit pretentious __ «modus operandi») the Theophilesque modus imparandi. Here we truly hoped that the Author would butt against our timid query (a discreet «?») in the proofs, and would do a bit of head-scratching __ grattatio capitis facit recordare cosellam... Vain hopes. We tacitly correct and print __ trusting to Author's proven disattention.
Risking pomposity, we must quote Mr. Gilbert Grosvenor (Pres., Nat'l Geog. Soc.) on the recent Peary v. Cook debate: «By and large, controversy is good for exploration, because it generates new effort to find the truth and stimulates young explorers to find new answers to old questions». __ Mr. Grosvenor adds: «But beyond healthy controversy lies darker and more dubious ground...». Yes: personal resentment, myths, and manias may seep into the debate. Nel nostro piccolo, LD's policy is to print opinion no matter how contrary to the editor's views; but LD won't cater to protagonism __ or wilful misconstruing.
Our message here (LD #4) to Princeton UP on the Bollingen Dante has had a surprising flux of positive reactions (Princeton remained silent). No verbal agreement or disagreement regarded our advice on using and crediting Petrocchi, but contributions to LD and (we happily observe) to other journals as well seem, ever since, quite punctilious in footnoting quotes to the Vulgata. In some such cases we note though, to our merriment, that the quotes, credited to Petrocchi, are nevertheless transcribed from «Singleton's» text. How do we know? Well, punctuation gives away the weary scholar. Even though the Bollingen claimed faith to Petrocchi's «notable edition» (Singleton), it made minute changes on every page, mainly by shifting commas and periods within the quote marks __ following the dicta of the then latest MLA «Style Sheet» (actually an often changed and, hence, or vice-versa, often price-updated booklet). Thus Dante in Singleton and his tired copyists appears selectively *MLAed (read this as melay'd or emelaid'). __ Hairsplitting? Imagine e.g. how Aeschylus would look if you «corrected» Wilamowitz-Moellendorff's painstaking dots to current «stylesheet» specifications. We chose to spend this picciola vigilia of ours (che è del rimanente) coordinating virgulae in texts submitted to LD; our sensitivity to such matters may be morbid. However: a colon in Italian, as we all know, has an altogether different «specific weight» (and mental connotation) than a colon in English (or Chinese or Benamukese) __ and so do semicolons, dashes, parentheses, suspension dots, exclamation marks, etc. If you choose to reprint the Commedia, you either go the whole hog and MLA everything or... reprint it from the critical edition as is.
Knowing him eternally besieged by concorsisti etc., I never sought (perhaps even avoided) his personal acquaintance. But pen in hand, honing the edge of a sentence, I often assigned to him the role of the inspirational «ideal reader». __ I knew he had seen some of my work. Through the grapevine I knew that he, as a... purblind reader for the publisher, had promoted my second Dante book. And once I sent to him, with an impersonal note as is my wont, a short piece for his Studi danteschi, __ which I saw again, impersonally printed, in the next issue. __ False modesty? Whimsical Chance arranged a meeting nevertheless. It was in New York __ some conference. On the charter bus taking the congressisti to Long Island I found a seat next to this very scholarly-looking scholar in a long gray topcoat. He had no nametag, but I saw him studying mine with interest. __ «Ah but I proprio hoped to meet you... Your name has long puzzled me», he began; and then and there the Unknown Etymologist went on to deliver an hour-long lecture on the Indoeuropean phoneme *vlah (=«allogenous», «alien», «a foreigner») and its vagaries: its straying into the Slavic tongues; its penetration into Hungarian and its permanently assuming there the form olasz and the meaning (guardacaso) of «Italian», first applied to the good monks («people from elsewhere», from Italy in this case) who trekked to the plains of the Danube to convert, willy-nilly, those contented heathens... It was a lecture with paragraphs clearly marked, with clauses skillfully suspended and then caught up with again, with references, reminders, hints, quotes, notes, even footnotes __ a lecture, in sum, admirably conceived and amiably delivered. Truth to tell, I, its subject, felt a little like a rare lepidopter, still alive but already pierced and awaiting final fixing on the Unknown Entomologist's corkboard. I was looking for a lacuna to intervene: perhaps just to say how thrilled I was to know that the thirteen letters of my name will forever define me __ in Sanskrit or in Magyar, on this Earth or on Mars, in the vernacular of this Universe and in all dialects beyond it __ the «one who is from elsewhere», the «stranger», the «outsider». But whimsical Chance gave me no chance. The bus crossed Long Island Sound; we had arrived. __ «Say, who is the tizio there, in the long gray topcoat?», I later asked a friend, a colleague from Ca' Foscari. «But you don't know him?!», my friend quasi exclaimed. «He is Gianfranco Contini».
«Dovresti raccogliere in un volume i tuoi scritti danteschi, sparsi qua e là...» «Dopo: si farà dopo». __ «Bisognerebbe fare cambiare le grondaie, s'intasano di foglie...» «Dopo, lo farete dopo». __ «E' proprio indispensabile: dovremo fare l'apicectomia, altrimenti questo dente è bell'e andato...» «Dopo, dottore, dopo...» __ Dopo? Dopo quando? Dopo... che cosa? Da quanto tempo sto ripetendo questa cantilena del dopo? Lo ritrovo, lontano che io rimonti nel tempo. Ritornello di una salutare procrastinazione, non fare oggi quel che puoi fare domani? No: il «dopo» voleva sempre dire dopo un traguardo, temuto e atteso in pari tempo. Come il primo giorno di scuola, paventato e pure desiderato; e come poi l'ultimo giorno di scuola, il giorno della «maturità», atteso e non meno terribile... __ Il «dopo»: aborrito e agognato; dopo. Con una sincope, ti accorgi che il «dopo» ora non ha un dopo; che ormai stai rimandando tutto, l'utile e l'inutile, il faceto e il serio, il bello e il brutto, la gioia e il dolore, tutto, per dopo. __ «Dopo?» ti domandi sorpreso, trattenendo il respiro, tendendo l'orecchio a lontani rumori. «Dopo che cosa?»