[NetBehaviour] Riverrun Theory, Garments, and Dante

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 30 01:20:39 CEST 2021

Hi Johannes,

The footage and coverage of the floods there are astonishing, and it is very sad to hear of the loss of life.  Today in Minneapolis it is the smoke we are seeing, a great pall of it arriving from the fires in Canada so that we are warned not to exercise and stay indoors if at risk (elderly, etc.).  It's certainly a summer of extreme weather here too, just the "flip" side -- drought not flood.

Purgatorio 27, Dante's prophetic dream of Leah and Rachel -- who symbolize the vita activa and vita contemplativa respectively -- which foreshadows the appearance of Matelda and Beatrice in Purgatorio 28 and 30, is the theme of the chapter I am currently writing for my Dante book MS, which follows the Mona Lisa book MS I wrote last year.  Matelda and Beatrice are also personifications of the vita activa and vita contemplativa, i.e. the active and contemplative imagination.

There are three prophetic dreams in Purgatorio, in cantos 9, 19, and 27.  In 27, Dante speaks with Leah, who explains that she enjoys a state of eternal joy from weaving flowers, while her sister Rachel achieves the same by sitting and reflecting.  It is worth comparing the first two prophetic dreams: in canto 9, Dante is fatigued on his way up the mountain of Purgatorio and in his sleep is carried along the way by Saint Lucia.  However, while asleep he dreams he is being carried by a great eagle toward the sun, as Ganymede was, so that his eyes and the eagle's are burned clear.  In 19, he encounters a composite of Circe and the Siren who sings a divertingly beautiful song of knowing the future and the causes of things, and though Dante wants to listen forever Virgil in the dream rends the Siren's deceptive garment showing Dante the decay within; this shocks Dante awake to continue his effortful trek.

In the first dream, Dante is helped; in the second, he is corrected; and in the third, he is encouraged.

So, what can we learn about art and science from the third dream in Purgatorio 27?  Well, it is a question based on analogy: Leah is like Matelda, and Rachel is like Beatrice.  We know Leonardo drew a standing figure often understood to be Matelda; perhaps the sitting Esperienza (or Mona Lisa) alludes to Beatrice, and the contemplative?  Or perhaps Leonardo is unifying the two vitae in his portrait, not having had time to paint two separate ones: Esperienza is both sitting in reflection and weaving as she points to the left sleeve of her garment.  Contemplative experience, and active experiment, as one?  Perhaps impossible, perhaps not!  🙂

The FAZ commentaries, rotating among different voices, sound really interesting.  I don't know if Dante is part of the cultural vocabulary here, but must certainly not be the same way it is there.  The poet you cite is correct though, in my opinion, because like Leonardo Dante was writing for a future that did not yet exist, i.e., for today.  (I think of this sometimes as a long-distance pass in a game, where the passer sends the puck, frisbee, ball, or bladder to an empty place far down range toward which the receiver runs like all get out just to arrive in time.)

There are always many ways to read a poem.  The verse quoted is translated as:

“Whoever asks my name, know that I’m Leah,
and I apply my lovely hands to fashion
a garland of the flowers I have gathered."

Perhaps helped by what I think I see in Leonardo, or just because I enjoy Purgatorio 27 more as a vision of not just hope but hope realized, my sense of the verse is that no matter how inert any living intelligence has become -- symbolized by Dante lost in the dark forest of Inferno 1 -- it can always still pick flowers and make a wreath.  We can all do this, and not just during easy times but in the worst, during a pandemic too and indeed always, even if the earth was shattering to pieces.  Nor is such simple weaving a futile effort -- Matelda has the power to carry Dante through and across the waters of Lethe which remove one thing above all else: despair.  That being gone he becomes capable of seeing Beatrice's eyes (at first) and smile (a bit later) without his own occhi being roasted in their sockets by the intensity of the light.

John Keats put it this way: "Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing / a flowery band to bind us to the earth."  He means, "every day we get up in the morning and do the best we can, and this connects us to the life of the planet."

The Inferno is where those who choose to be blind stay, fixed on their distorted visions, but that's far from the only choice.  Proof?  Hold the eye contact of Esperienza for five minutes.  Be aware of your breath, and try your best!

With regards,




From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Johannes Birringer via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 29, 2021 3:29 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Riverrun Theory, Garments, and Dante

Dear all,
the threads began to expand and overlap, and I'd fallen behind by last weekend, but wanted to thank you all for this lively archaeology of art, writing, and riverrun theories (I add a photo, from the recent flood making the liminal a strange watery reflection, a Dantean mirror but not of ice, as yet). Max and Graziano really made things even more complex now, with the historical dig into the Italian language and the significance of Dante's poetry, yes today too ...(a language/dialect, spoken by a tiny minority, to unite a nation? what an idea!).

........(and interestingly, talking about popular reading, the German newspaper FAZ has run a nearly daily column for two or three months on Dante [www.faz.net/dante<http://www.faz.net/dante>] , every time written by a different writer, poet, cultural historian, politician, and each time one of them comments on Dante, a line or two is cited from the Commedia)

So thank you Max and Graziano, but also Alan, Simon, Anthony and everyone. (I tried to read Max while listening to 233.0819116727d (3 b flat hz) by Jackson and Klingenmeier, that proved difficult as the "Together but Separate" project was just too fascinating, watching the musician in the field.... But Max I also wish to thank you for your comments on Monika Weiss's work, and Alan Sondheim for correcting me on the wild land, parcelled off as you say, and I called it a park, something cultivated!  The noise of your video (mysterious chimneys) - that now makes sense and I will listen again to the sound you conjoined with the slime mold.

So, today's FAZ entry on Dante, interestingly, is by the Russian poet Maria Stepanova, who first quotes Purgatorio, XXVII,

„Sappia qualunque il mio nome dimanda
ch’i’ mi son Lia, e vo movendo intorno
le belle mani a farmi una ghirlanda.“

comments on the dream about Lia and her sister Rahel, but then veers off into speculation on time, and the (pandemic) present..."“It is unthinkable to read Dante's chants without directing them to the present. That is what they are made for. They are devices to capture the future. They require a comment in the future tense", she remembers ( Mandelstam), then thinks of Dante's hell as a blind kingdom and reads the lines above as a grotesque commentary on Lea and Rahel's dream: As if the blind souls who have gathered in front of the ice mirror were presenting the dark side of the vita contemplativa - in a situation where the vita activa has been abolished: The effect of the pandemic is such, it has started to sway,  passes more slowly, becomes still....
The daily monotony, the confinement, the standstill, all of this has typological similarity to sensations that we know from blockade or prison diaries...... If this blocked movement suggests it goes nowhere – then through the ice in which we are frozen, we can neither see ourselves nor the others around us, Stepanova* concludes.  We are in hell, as Sondheim had predicted ("pessimist altar").

with regards
Johannes Birringer

* Her most recent poetry collection is titled "The Body Returns"

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Max Herman via NetBehaviour

Hi Graziano,

Apologies for my anglo-centrism!  I was browsing wikipedia and saw that Blake helped something of a Dante revival but that of course was among English writers.  I happened to watch an online event about climate change which was introduced by the Italian Ambassador (I think to the US, or Canada?) who said in his introductory remarks that Dante was "the father of Italy" and wrote "people should not live like brutes" meaning for today's world that we should find solutions to climate change.

I did not know there were so many dialects, having only visited Italy a few times and studied its history very poorly for the most part.


Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com>
Wed 28/07/2021

Pessimist Altar


Look, I can't always be right can I? But more recently I keep
finding that what I had predicted all the way back and courses I
was teaching in the 1970s - these things are coming true . I
can't express this any other way except through music . This is
a piece I did in which I created a number of obstacles so to
speak things getting in the way barriers and then suddenly
flooding out as if a dam had burst or monsoon had hit or or a
tornado had flattened a house . Or a tornado had flattened a
town . Or a virus had destroyed the earth . Or heat had burned
everything up . There's nothing to do but sit back and watch the
spectacle and publish warnings and talk more and more about
these things and join groups and complain and take action . But
all of these good intentions can't hide the fact that the earth
has enormous inertia . And the inertia of the earth beats down
everything . It takes over everything . It takes over the green
houses for example it takes over the electrical vehicles which
have their own problems . I'm talking this through now . What
else can I do ? It's almost like a documentary the end of the
world . I've been told I'm pessimistic, but what can I think
when everything I have taught has come to pass ? It may be like
JG Ballard . So much of the heat so much of the violence so much
of the isolation all of these things have come true . All of
these things have become postulates . This small music is in
response to that . The picture is of an altar 10 years ago .
Thank you for reading this far . And if you wonder why I'm a
pessimistic, think again . And stop blaming the boomers for
everything that's built into our consciousness from the very
beginning .

Anyway enjoy the music .
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20210729/3ef6e24d/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list