Editorial: Lyndon Davies

Welcome to the Junction Box Dante 700th death-day edition.

When I first mooted the idea of a special issue, I had an inkling that there might be a certain degree of interest, but I was genuinely surprised and delighted by the size of the response. Dante, it seems, is still news, still a living irradiative cultural cell, still exciting writers, artists, musicians, dancers.

For me, re-reading the Divina Commedia and then re-re-reading it for the occasion, has been both a joy and an eye-opener. I’d forgotten how adhesive that narrative can be, how startling and at times electrifying the imagery, how often how cutting still the moral and ethical calculations (after a bit of temporal-cultural transposing), how relevant, how sane. When I say ‘sane’, I mean clear-eyed in its enumeration of the vagaries of the human relation to self, world and others, however dubious the logical and conceptual paradigms within which Dante was working (as it seems to us).

Actually, it may well be that for we post-enlightenment, post-Freudian, post-holocaust liberal western moderns, a reading of Dante is not so very far removed from the medieval position, alert as we can no longer avoid being to the fact that whatever we encounter in this phantasmagorical construction, however terrible or uncanny, has its active and present avatars in our own minds, in the structures of the psyche or in the skittering surface flows of fantasy and language. Stumbling as we are, as a species, to the edge of a terrifying self-inflicted global catastrophe, longing for redemption, but stymied by the very psychological defects which led us to this apocalyptic situation, what could be more Dantesque, more medieval? 700 years after Dante, the world is no less abounding in liars, fools, frauds and maniacs, so many damaged and damaging spirits; and no less abounding, too, in glimmerings of goodness, in real moral and intellectual struggles to find a way through the morass.

In fact, there are so many points of connection. We live in a time when history is increasingly understood as existing not in some distant elsewhere, but as if variously folded in on the present in its effects and its continuing motival impulses. To the point that, recognising the extent to which we are implicated as inheritors, victims and beneficiaries of past processes, we’re embroiled in a constant revaluation of values, making ethical and behavioural adjustments to situations which we might have thought safely stowed away in the glory-hole of time. This has its vivid parallel in Dante.

From another angle, modernism, post-modernism and their literary-critical manifestations have rendered more or less commonplace our sense of the rhetorical and formal nature of texts; in the hour of the Oulipian revival, word and number games and the manipulation of signs, emblems, allegories,  and the like have become a familiar part of the literary modus operandi, lacking only the transcendent aspect to be wholly congruent with the medieval experience.

Dante, then, is a brother, a strange brother, but one we can engage with deeply, even now, whatever our politics, religion or non-religion, whatever our ethical standpoint. The strangeness is part of the energy package, and can have vivid and varied effects, even comic ones, as exemplified, it seems to me, in this wildly motley edition of Junction Box, containing poems, translations, travesties, speculations, videos, drawings, paintings and collages.

It’s obvious that much of the work included in this edition comes out of a long and deep involvement with Dante, but it’s clear too that some of the contributors have been prompted to explore aspects of the work for the first time, which is wonderful. There are items here, too, which seem connected with the theme in a more glancing way, in relation to which Dante exists more as a kind of cultural stone in a landscape than a living text, and that’s fascinating too. I can only offer my heartfelt thanks (as well as admiration) to everyone who contributed.

It’s worth saying that there are a couple of extras to the edition. One is a grouping of responses to a recent joint exhibition called Materials from the Garden, of work by Penny Hallas and Allen Fisher, which took place in September at tactileBOSCH, Cardiff. Although I describe this as an extra, there is no doubt that the Dante theme was very relevant to the exhibition, especially in Fisher’s textual and artistic contributions, but also in the general thematics. The other (magnificent) addition is a poem by Peter Larkin. Although Peter would probably not ascribe any kind of particular connection between this poem and the work of Dante, for me the echoes are there in the DNA. Not that that matters; it’s just great to have the poem.

Due to technical WordPress restraints I’ve had to break the edition into separate pages. I’ve added to each of the four pages a list of contributors with links to the pages, to facilitate the business of navigation. I’m also adding a further link back to the Contributors and Links to Pages section, at the foot of every article (see below). Hopefully this will make moving around the site reasonably easy.

Click here to go back to: Contributors and Links to Pages 1 – 4

Lyndon Davies 15th November 2021




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+44(0)1873 810456 | LYN@GLASFRYNPROJECT.ORG.UK