Entering its fifth year of existence, Lectura Dantis appears with a renewed frontispiece (see p. 2). Our initial scorn for the mainly decorative advisory «boards» remains: our editorial crew is a group of friends who have agreed to criticize and correct (but assume no responsibility for) the editor's decisions. __ Plans for the new journal cf: Comparative Forum (twin of LD but not limited to Dante studies), long entertained, take a step forward in this issue. The rubric cf hosts, for the time being, Dante contributions comparative in kind. __ The series Lectura Dantis Virginiana remains the backbone of LD: it was its initial reason for being and is still its prospective limit of «run». The Inferno series was prepared during 1987-89; 1990-92 should ready for printing a complete «reading» of Purgatorio; and once the supplementary issue Paradiso (to be prepared during 1993-95) is published, the primary function of this journal may be considered fulfilled.

      LD is, to our knowledge, the only journal of that name. Lectura Dantis, period. It is now quasi universally acronymed LD (MLA gave us a tailpiece t, __ for some arcane reason of its own). At our inception (but stray instances crop up even currently), some colleagues, worried about the possible confusion with other lecturae (the Romana, the Siciliana, the Benamukese, the Whatnot), added to the name an unsolicited «Virginiana». Mistake us not. LD is proud of its association with Mr. Jefferson's University and with the great state of Va. Nor was the intent of our solicitous colleagues that of doubting our existence or slowing our recognition. In fact, we considered the reminder a gift, caval donato. However, in our fifth year of hardship-ridden operation, the uncalled-for specification muddies rather than clears. The PC (Philologically Correct) reporting of materials quoted from the current issue, for instance, might be: Name of Author, «Title of article», Lectura Dantis 9 (Fall 1991), pp. such and such.

      No matter how closely MLA Conventions resemble a scene from Dante's Hell, future meetings won't any longer promote tourism in Inferno. Unless that fine constitutional scholar, Minos, promptly intervenes. Read the recent resolution by the membership: «The MLA will refrain from locating future conventions, not already scheduled, in any state that has criminalized acts of sodomy through legislation, unless that legislation, though still on the books, has been found to be unconstitutional, or the state has been enjoined from enforcing it through decisions rendered by the courts».

      Our recent (LD 7) comments on the colloquial fortunes of various textualities evoked comments in turn. Readers offered further variants, abuses, examples of vulgarization. One of these, at least, deserves reporting. George W. S. Trow's piece, in the New Yorker, July 9, 1990, has the protagonist describe a NY flat: «There was a seedy subtext but everything had beauty...».

      «Dear Contributor», the weary old editor of a journal not unlike LD wrote, «thank you for your good paper. Herewith the proofs. You will note that I have excised two of your three references to myself. One of these expressed gratitude for my reading of your work and my invaluable etc. No acknowledgment is needed. My name as editor appears on the first page of this journal. __ The second occurrence footnoted an unrelated passage in your text to an old book of mine, which you have not read. It is not clear why our readers should be advised to go beyond your engagement and "see also". __ I trust you will not take my cuts and reasoning in ill part. An editor must be (like Caesar's wife?) beyond suspicion of... self-referentiality. We may tolerate mild authorial puffs: we do, but with an effort in holding back our itching red pencil. Especially in the case of younger scholars who distribute their whole publishing curriculum in their footnotes. And especially in the case of established scholars who love the paragraph starter, "As I have demonstrated in my book...". __ Thanks again. Oh yes, the third instance. Well, there your direct quote of my text is fully "relevant" to your thesis. Omission would weaken your argument. Stet. (By the way, your ref was off a couple of pages; I straightened it out.) Good luck».

      Our visit to Italy coincided with the querelle on TV interruptions for commercials, called in Italian, for some reason, spot. Filmmaker Fellini requested an uninterrupted showing for his latest opus: so as not to disrupt its lyrical atmosphere __ I think is how he put it. Movieman Zeffirelli followed suit, lamenting the ruinous showing of his Romeo picture, ruptured by many a spot. Then a fellow named Scola blamed his failures on that invention of American cultural imperialismo. Now, reader, do not rush to reply that you need those ads to raid the fridge or distend your bladder. The filmari should incorporate those pauses in their yarn __ just as Ariosto does, interrupting the flow of his not unlyrical yarn for «spots» of all kinds, some of them frankly «commercial». Dante takes pains to find 99 pretexts for a pause in his great lyrical story: the white space that follows each canto is just such a breather transformed into a narrative tool. All commentators notice this. «La bocca sollevò...». Imagine this line without the pregnant pause that precedes it. __ Great narrators always knew what Scola and his fellows ignore, that is, the universal need for suspension of belief. Yes, I said suspension of belief. I mean the built-in neutral space that allows the reader (or listener) to take stock and tell himself, «Yes, but of course all this is just invented». None the less, he is going to fall into the master storyteller's net as soon as the next segment gets under way. __ «The fiction of the Comedy is that it is not a fiction». This somewhat flippant statement has become the master tenet of American Dante scholarship. As is the case with clichés, its reverse is true as well: the fiction of the Comedy is that it is a fiction. In fact, Dante's narrative, as all great narrative, is the result of the tension between not believing and believing. Dante's «spots» are signposts that separate his creation from God's: that distinguish his book from the Bible.

      Our ancient Vandelli Dante (the SDI Hoepli one), from student days, is still the most precious piece of Danteana we have. Its text, gradually supplanted by Petrocchi, had become in our copy too, as if by a sympathetic process, semi-obliterated by handwritten notes and the grime of decades. The book's original toad-green binding had long gone; we had it rebound in half leather in the 60s, then in full cloth some ten years ago; that too is webby now on the spine. We take it along nowadays __ to class, lectures, transatlantic trips __ mainly for scaramanzia. It has had dozens of adventures (mostly in the lost & found department). May we tell you here its latest?
      «Sorry, this is a holdup, sir: please give me your money». These were the soft-spoken words a young man addressed to us one night, around eleven o'clock, on 119th Street, halfway between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. The occasion: returning from our late Inferno lecture, at our old alma mater, to Cockroach Hall (owned & operated by Alma herself). «You've gotta be kidding» we began, incredulous, although veteran New Yorkers had warned us that mugging in NYC is a rite of passage, like dousing on crossing the Equator; a kind of hazing the new kid on the block must almost joyously submit to.
     «Please give me the money, sir» the Well-Bred Mugger repeated, without resentment or impatience, moving ever so lightly the small handgun he was holding close to his vest, so to speak. «Say, is that thing for real» we tried to set a jocular tone to the exchange. «The money, sir, the money» the Kind Criminal said, rather sadly and as though merely reminding absentminded us of the purpose of the interview. «All right, I'll give you some money» we agreed, with an educator's disapproving sigh, «if you insist». Pulling out our wallet, though, we realized that without the use of our left hand (encumbered by Vandelli) we could not lift out the banknotes __ not in a controlled way, that is. Notwithstanding his suave manners, we worried about the Polite Punk's grabbing the billfold and running. Loss of IDs, etc.: trouble no end.
      «Could you hold this please» we asked somewhat embarrassed; and Vandelli crossed the ideal trajectory of a bullet as we held it out with our left hand. The man took it! Wordlessly, he took Vandelli with his left hand, pointing the gun at us (rather perfunctorily by now) with his right. We pinched out a sheaf of 10s and 20s __ but here another hindrance arose. Our Armed Robber had no free hand to take the bills. Seeing now his embarrassment and knowing his delicacy of feeling, «I'll hold that for you» we offered, reaching with our free left hand toward his opposite right (which, you recall, held his gun). «No» he said pensively, «hold this please»; and Vandelli recrossed the no-man's-land between us, the spectral track of a gunshot: from left (his) to left (mine).
      We wish we could, reader, report to you the moving exchange of decorous formulae with which we illustrated our parting: the soft-spoken thankyou, the murmured ...mentionit. But «sempre a quel ver che ha faccia di menzogna...». We will tell you, though, that our brave Vandelli is going to get a new binding. Full saffian, this time.