[NetBehaviour] six weeks left

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Aug 4 00:09:30 CEST 2021

Hi all,

It's about six weeks until the 700th anniversary of Dante's passing.  There may be some more activity around this time; I've looked for some around here in Minneapolis but haven't found any.

There is an article by Barbara Newman in the new London Review of Books, titled "Seven Centuries Too Late," that reviews five books on Dante from 2020.  The article starts with a concise history of Dante's life and works, and contains some assertions with which I cannot fully agree.  Yet these need no further detail as of course I'm likely mistaken.

The question occurs to me, what is the range of possibility for positive developments on the planet regarding Dante between now and the anniversary?

Six weeks is just a drop in the bucket compared to 700 years, so by math one could say only 0.0164 percent of whatever positive developments have already occurred in the previous 36,400 weeks can occur in the next six.  But the math isn't necessarily proportional here, and there's no reason the percentage couldn't be 1, 10, 50, 200, or 1000 percent.  It could also be zero or minus 1000, or minus 10,000, in theory.

Concurrent events also constrain how positive such hypothetical events might be.  Due to the climate and Covid crises, and all other difficulties, there may be a very small window for positive developments of any sort in the next six weeks.  One could say it's inevitable that conditions will be worse than the status quo in six weeks no matter what, due to climate and Covid.  However, they might not necessarily impact conditions regarding Dante.

One could certainly say that human interpretation of Dante is too sensitive, since he addressed politically difficult issues, and therefore must be kept mainly unchanged.  By this logic, any change greater than 0.0164 percent would be, by definition, bad or negative.  If so, how positive might a change of 0.0164 percent or less be?  However, it is possible that the degree of changelessness the planet's safety requires regarding Dante could be subject to change over time and therefore also in the next six weeks.  It is possible, but to what extent can it be known?  Are only wild guesses possible?  Perhaps it is most logical to say that the percentage of change should be lowered in proportion to the risk of too much change, vis-a-vis Dante, but could still be pretty high like even 1 or 10 percent due to the occasion.  After all you can usually change back pretty quickly too if needed, or often can.


When too many topics proliferate for standard interpretations one can get new results that are "interesting" as they say in AI, but one can also just get "mud" as they say in painting.  Just trying to make sense of and parse one painting -- the Mona Lisa -- I tried to bring in words, namely Esperienza, from Leonardo's handwritten journals.  These journals led of course to Dante, because they place the relationship between words and images (or painting and poetry) at the very center of nature, culture, art, and science.  Anniversaries like Leonardo's in 2019 and Dante's in 2021 can sometimes offer constellations, or novel  permutations, but half the time or more they offer the opposite.

Johannes' mention of Purgatorio 27 seemed relevant to Dante and change, as did Graziano's information on Dante's language project (to make a network vernacular of sorts), the vitae activa and contemplativa as parameters for information experiments, astronomical language metaphors in Tolstoy/McLuhan/Joyce/Eliot, plus Nail on postmodern theory and rivers in drought or flood seemed a reasonably simple arc.  Yet one can easily make too many assumptions and every piece that sort of fits could go in a completely different direction or a completely different puzzle.  I don't know what vectors and bundles are, only extremely vaguely, so if Alan's images of the heron and the star pertain I couldn't necessarily say how except perhaps to mention Doré's images of Dante.

What about place?  Free association aside one can look at Finsbury Park, a green space in a city by a river, beset by Covid and uncertainty like perhaps all cities by all rivers.  It opened the year War and Peace was published, in part to help alleviate Dickensian conditions of the urban working poor.  How many more incomprehensible conflicts will its plane tree see?  The range of possible occurrences within its grounds is infinite, in one sense, yet bounded in another.

Though by the laws of physics it can't be ruled out, it's not clear to me how any permutations at all of Dante or Leonardo could help the park or with the park's help change or keep the same anything in European or global history for the better.  How could it be clear even if it were possible?  (A meditation class on Leonardo and resilience might fly, or go over like a lead balloon.  🙂 )  I do still try to see more chiaro at local parks here this summer -- of which there are also about six weeks left -- and a few afield, but the only permutation with any purchase beyond random may be as it perhaps should even more local than local.

Very best regards,


PS -- I wrote the below Sunday and Monday, for the Purgatorio 27 chapter, amateur and derivative doggerel but it was fun to write.


On Canto 27

1            Sage Dante’s passing nearly sept siècles past
2            I read an article by Barbara Newman.
3            The clock of Purgatorio ticks its last

4            To show us what transforms can change the human,
5            Comparing antique stimuli-response
6            Gold yolk’s emergence into clear albumen

7            To fabric that our human beauty wants
8            And thereby may make image for itself.
9            Once seen and spoken, such an image haunts

10          All memory and time, as White Guelph
11          Did the Black, the Ghibelline
12          Of both a coral ship-destroying shelf.

13          In twenty-seven, three times nine, is seen
14          By Dante fire most fatal to behold
15          Since public pyre should grace his Florentine

16          Return, a curse that kept his footing cold
17          On roads of poverty and gifted roof.
18          Yet past that wall of fire his shepherd told --

19          Virgilio that is, to Dante’s hoof
20          Aeneid author holding verse’s hook --
21          His Beatrice’s eyes remained aloof.

22          The laureled Poeta even shares a look
23          A “seem to see,” parea and the like,
24          To burn all hesitance from Dante’s book!

25          Thus spurred he walks on through, because to hike
26          Reversing couldn’t be and went nowhere
27          To nothingness in fact, his soul to strike

28          From both his body and our world so fair
29          Far worse than fire could, murmured what the hell,
30          Burned hot, stepped forth, to hear the new song blare.

31          Endorphins sweet and dopamine that dell --
32          Well really a narrow canyon, rocky stairs,
33          Steep walls that hid the sky almost -- a spell

34          Of hard-earned rest infused, dispelling cares
35          Like last and ashy sparks of fading flame.
36          He calls himself a goat and slumber shares

37          With few but brighter stars above like fame.
38          What happened there is that his brain was burned,
39          “His” meaning Dante in the poem’s frame,

40          To rid it of vestigial data learned
41          Like doubts and fears, defeats that weighed him down,
42          All pettiness, misapprehension, turned

43          To crumbling papery leaves or scaly brown
44          Skin cells that lost their use and atomized
45          As in the old and Jovian eagle’s crown

46          Of burning eyes and sight restored comprised.
47          He slept in other words right tired so dream
48          Is what we all can sense he realized.

49          Some dreams are weird, plain nonsense, not a gleam
50          Of relevance to them.  Yet half awake
51          They sometimes mix an image fresh and seem

52          With parallel a question's thirst to slake.
53          How else would Dante read his burning up
54          Of old debris than as a way to stake

55          His own imago of himself a cup
56          Of wine from grapes he sought and grew to drain?
57          The taken breath must outward ever sup

58          On emptiness within as sweet refrain.
59          How though?  Like dancing, duplicate repeat
60          Would be as a ricordo but inane

61          Because the spot is new and dancer fleet
62          And each new turning is its very own;
63          A slightly different glance each reel must meet

64          And every spring new flower from what was sown.
65          The brain must mix.  It knows no other way.
66          And so to see the eyes his thoughts were flown

67          To match a something third, a story say,
68          That would the not yet real event allow
69          A form that would not in an instant stray.

70          This third was chosen loosely, much as how
71          We pick a word somewhat by chance when one
72          We thought of first does not quite speed the plow.

73          A ripple on a stream, a glimpse of sun
74          Through leaves on water or avian on the wing
75          Percussing lightly in a pattern begun

76          Elsewhere just enough is just the thing
77          To balance in a pertratatto knot
78          The dancers’ feet to what the voices sing.

79          Alike, yet not alike, the mind will spot
80          A match, yet not a match, with subtle touch.
81          The fire with which he had to burn yet hot

82          With charcoal black and soot his mind as such
83          Still smoky, yet in hope of seeing seen

84        The image of two vitae would do much

85          To move him past scorched waste to verdant green.

86          Yet how to move from spent exhausted blank

87          To what he never was is to careen

88          From one shore to another without rank

89          Or ship intact.  A way he saw:

90          To gather flowers on a riverbank.

91          Convivio makes simple, clear, the law
92          That languages do what they want.  They change
93          And dance according to the times in raw

94          Profusion.  Improvised and sleek they range.
95          If speakers fish, at sea they find their speech.
96          Each passing moment words will rearrange.

97          What better form than poetry’s spring could reach
98          This fact of flowing improvisation?
99          Musicians kept the time, that book did teach.

100        A swaying river grass in currents’ run
101        Is how the Poet’s changing mountain jaunt
102        At Book Two’s base auspiciously begun

103        Is shaped to us, and so as not to daunt
104        Our frail and battered crisis-riven heart
105        The river-grass grows instant back, as wont

106        For everything from which life cannot part.
107        This holds as much for images as words,
108        For themes and narratives and place as art.

109        So Lia’s way of living undergirds
110        The brighter, starker truth our fear now past
111        We long to see as air uplifts all birds.

112        An information experiment can last
113        As long as can be imagined.  A time crystal,
114        Announced last Thursday, arguably could cast

115        A shadow of a theme, to distill
116        Echoes found in a computer’s quanta.
117        The simple case of folk songs that persist will

118        Show the same.  A thing can be like A,
119        And like not-A, contra Aristotle,
120        As every science knows it should display.

121        Life flows like rivers and forests, and to bottle
122        It up for observation and control
123        Is simply vain, a duckling’s baby waddle,

124        Not flight from inferno, fiery death of the whole,
125        The all, from which no living thing survives.
126        Something more sturdy cares, call it a soul.

127        To crown us each with one Vergil contrives
128        His final lines of play benign to do
129        Then logic and reason fade.  Beatrice drives

130        The vision thence with certainties but few.
131        This error-checking self-awareness gained
132        Constructive peaceful art and science grew.

133        Or did they?  Maybe we’re still caught, restrained
134        By something we get really, really wrong
135        With nature and cities’ ruin by deluge pained.

136        We see in twenty-seven simple song
137        Consistent, sung and heard, the only bridge
138        From Purgatorio sufficiently strong

139        To Paradiso, of sciences' presence the image,
140        Experience of the spheres by nature’s art
141        Informed, coeval sight's renewing vintage.

142        “The purification is real,” for Newman’s part;
143        “The earthly paradise within reach” we start.


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