In the last column, I speculated that Mary Jo Bang’s translation of the Inferno was initially seduced by but ultimately rejected the more corrosive qualities of Flarf. However, in the baroque-brut line of Henrik Drescher’s accompanying illustrations, there seems to be a corrective, drawing us into visceral mess of hell’s innards, albeit with high artisanal flare. These illustratings seem to outdo (or undo) Gustave Doré's engravings from his popular Dante volumes of the 19th century, in that they are at once more terrifying and more cuddly — open to being in an loose relation with the text they accompany. In contrast, Doré's engravings are so aesthetically overpowering that, existing in volumes that were kept around the house more as a marker of status than for reading, the illustrator’s name is more commonly associated with this Divine Comedy than that of its proper translator (Henry Francis Cary, who for the longest time, because of a C with an overgrown serif, I thought was merely “Gary” — like some anonymous Cher or Prince of a forgotten poetry scene).
“Hell is other people,” and that’s perhaps why Dante chose to write in the vernacular. Mary Jo Bang posits Dante’s choice of demotic Italian over more academic Latin as crucial to her more “pop” approach to the Inferno, as if Dante, in descending the circles of Hell, were literally playing out a necessary descent from the purities of high-culture into the noisy substrata of the low. But for a misreading of Benjamin, in which Bang posits his translational ethics as invested in “sharing what is common to all,” her approach partakes in Benjamin’s notion that, in the zombie “afterlife” of a text, one can only reanimate it through translation in ways that are impermanent and historical.
Sonia Di Placido is a Toronto-based poet, playwright, writer and artist. She has published two chapbooks, as well as many poems in several anthologies and magazines. Her first book of poetry, Exaltation in Cadmium Red, showcases her love of language and level of craft as a poet, drawing on her Italian ancestry and centuries of “Old World” artistry. One of her very interesting preoccupations is with the notion of a female Dante creating the ideal male love, presumably in a “sweet new style,” and changing history thereafter. Poet Russell Thornton waxes on rather marvellously about her first book, and here is the truncated version:
The poems in Sonia Di Placido's Exaltation in Cadmium Red lay authoritative and stylish claim to an older, deeper, more poetically acute and powerful song than is often heard in Canadian poetry.