29 November 2004

On Taking Dante Down Again

      Tossing through my increasingly messy library last night, I dragged down my copy of Dante's Commedia for the first time in some months. The Commedia's a strange book for me. I seldom reread through the Purgatorio or the Paradiso, my attention almost inevitably going directly to the Inferno, perhaps because it's more vibrant than the other books. It also reminds me, without fail, of a particular young woman I once knew, a young woman, I should probably add, that I think about more often than I care to admit. (There's a particular irony to this, as my copy of Dante's masterwork was a Christmas gift from another young woman's parents.) Every time I crawl into Dante, within the first few stanzas, my eyes glaze over and I'm distracted, my brain back in a long-defunct bar on the York Campus where I once tore through the Inferno in a sitting. Or, rather I planned to, though I made it through a huge portion of it (and had the out-of-body realization that I had to be the only person in that bar literally going through Hell), until said young woman wound up inviting me over to join her at her table. For the rest of that year, I wound up sitting with her and her friends every Friday, idling away hours over copious amounts of coffee and beer. Sadly, I haven't seen her in more than five years now, but somehow she remains fixed in my memory, peculiarly Beatified, as much as I try to slough it off as a sentimental stupidity on my part. I can't explain it, and I surely won't elaborate on it; but I have a strange feeling that I'll always think of her when I reach for Dante, and that fact alone keeps me from being able to reread the book with any sort of commitment or focus. Sometimes I wonder if such associations are worth the prices that we pay for them, the freedom of amnesia seeming so much healthier. But things are as they are, and poor Dante now has, for me at least, that woman tied around his neck, though that's not a bad thing, really, especially for those of us that haven't so much abandoned the true path as given up on going anywhere. The past, though, keeps rearing its head, unsettling us as it rattles its chains Jacob Marley-like. Mr. Eliot was half-right: history isn't freedom, but it surely is servitude.

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