Harrison Betz: Dante’s Psychological Manual

As many of you may know, working on projects is extremely different from planning them. Over the past few months, I have spent actually researching my topic, I have found that it was much more nuanced than initially expected…and I find that fascinating! For me (and I would imagine most people), there is an inherent euphoria in discovery. And so far, the more I look into Dante in Latin America, the more I discover. Having prefaced this discussion with a note on the changes that occur from development to application, it is therefore only right for me to share some of those alterations. For one, my research has led me towards a much more thematic approach to analyzing my sources.

Harrison Betz, Junior, International Affairs

In reading the Latin American poems, short stories, and other writings that reference Dante’s Francesca it is impossible to not look for the notions which form the undercurrents of these works. Unsurprisingly, many authors attempt to deal with the concept of sin and its effect on human psychology. For example, Roberto Bolaño’s poem “La francesca” focuses on the impact of physical and sexual trauma on the emotional state of the poem’s subject, “Francesca”. At the same time, “Ivresse” by Pablo Neruda addresses the drunkenness and loss of rationality often associated with love and its much more physical counterpart, lust.

Other authors write along similar lines, though one particularly notable element is the tendency towards absolution. That is, many of these writers attempt to absolve Francesca of her sin either by literally rewriting her narrative or exonerating the supposedly sinful behaviors that she exhibits. Francesca’s absolution is something that I plan on spotlighting within my final paper given the prevalence with which it occurs in my references. In all, the references that I have thus far found have pointed to a reworking of both Francesca’s sin and her humanity. To these authors, she becomes much more than a sinner condemned to suffer for all eternity; she is a human being who loves and lusts as we all do.

Me and a lobster I met on Cape Cod.
Very delicious and very laborious.

Interestingly enough, I don’t think it’s entirely insane to suggest that Dante might have thought similarly. A read-thru of the fifth canto reveals many instances of deep empathy on Dante’s part. In many ways then, the Inferno is not a lecture, nor does it intend to preach. Instead, Dante creates – to borrow the phrasing of my mentor, Dr. Coggeshall – a “psychological manual” that attempts to collect and diagnose the problems of the modern world. By reinterpreting this work, authors update that manual to include the complexities of the even more modern world.

Boston, as seen from the Harvard Bridge!

Right now, I am still very early in the process of writing. Whereas I dedicated the month of May to get the vast majority of my research completed, I’ll be spending the rest of the summer in Boston for an internship while I try my best to keep up with my writing. Having been here for about a month, I have done some scouting to find the most aesthetic places in which I might do my writing from cafes to the Museum of Fine Arts. I plan to try to submit my completed article to the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA)’s conference this November and as such will need to get an abstract put together before too much longer. Overall, I have a lot more thinking to do, followed immediately by a lot more writing, though I hope that the journey will be worth it in the end and that I will have something wonderful to show for all of the effort. Until next time!

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