On the Narratology of Concept-Being, Lecture Seven: Hegel in Hell

On the Narratology of Concept-Being, Lecture Seven:

Hegel in Hell

[Dante’s Inferno, Hegelian Aesthetics,

& the Hermeneutics of Blindness]

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To penetrate the mind of a medieval thinker is to go beyond his words and phrases. It is to effect an advance in depth that is proportionate to the broadening influence of historical research.

Bernard Lonergan[1]

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Every traveler who goes forward until the route ahead is unclear finds the

correct route to proceed by looking backward.

Joachim of Fiore[2]

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Today I introduce a Hegelian reading of Dante’s self-reflexivity concerning cieco – or blindness – in Inferno, and its poetic implications for the dialectic of identity and difference at the center of literary theory. I argue that rather than scrap at new utopian abstractions or recycle temporal politicizations,[3] Dante’s hermeneutics and Hegel’s aesthetic theory converge in a manner that proclaims a new direction, one concerned with the Dantean strain amidst Hegel’s place in the birth of theory.[4] I will first lay out a framework for understanding Marx’s debt to Dante,[5] namely the structural connotations between Capital v. 1 and Inferno. We shall then dive right into a critical analysis of Dantean blindness from the Hegelian point of view.

Capital and Comedia

It is not so cut and dry as Marx ‘rejecting’ Hegel and ‘moving on’ to create his own system. This correction must be made in order to understand that Hegel is invariably more trenchant to this study in redefining literature studies, with their Marxian bent, and any viable future study of theory’s conception, or birth, than a subjective link between Marx’s interpretation of Inferno while constructing the first volume of Capital.[6] Like Andrew Cole, I contend that Marx, as with Nietzsche, is running with the Hegelian torch despite flexibly rigid canonical understandings of Hegel.[7] But Hegelian and Marxian conjoin in the project of theory in a singularly Dantean hermeneutics of ontological blindness.[8] I take this further in picking up where Roberts left off,[9] dismissing euphemistic miscalculations of tenuous excerpt-reading by analyzing the Dante’s poetic genesis and structure in strict Hegelian fashion, adding to literary studies rather than myths and legends;[10] and all of this leads to an examination of the line of sight of figurative blindness, dialectical vision , by way of Hegel’s Dantean aesthetics and the identity/difference of the Inferno therein.[11]

For in order to transform himself into a Virgil for the proletariat Marx had to do much more than get through Hegel before acquainting himself with Dante.[12] For it does not matter that Marx’s predictions were wrong in the same way that all religious predictions that were wrong have unfolded; we learn from history that we do not learn from history. But where does Dante fit into this metaphysics of contradiction?[13] Dante’s circles of force[14] become, in time, Marx’s indictment of the then-imperceptibly vile core that is accelerated manipulation at the heart of a thriving capitalism; and here is the first Hegelian nod, as between these two writers’ literary aesthetic of damnation is Hegel, whose work is a set of pillars (secular and theological) upholding the bridge from that poetic Hell to the workers’ Hell.[15] Dante’s Upper Hell, with its sins of incontinence, takes us through circles 1-5 and cantos 4-8; Marx’s rejoinder is Commodities, exchange, and money, chapters 1-3. Dis, with its sins of violence, concerns circles 6-7 and cantos 9-17; Marx to this end moves into capital and capitalist exploitation, chapters 4-11. By the time of Dante’s Malebolge, sins of fraud, we are at the eighth circle, and cantos 18-30; at this stage in Capital v. 1 Marx moves to the capitalist mode of production and fraudulent accumulation, chapters 12-25. Lastly, we enter Cocytus, sins of treachery: circle nine, cantos 31-34; and thus Marx’s primitive accumulation of capital, chapters 26 to a perfect 33, while moving from the distribution or denial of fetishistic eucharist to the wafer factory itself. Marxist economic theory is thus bound to the threefold sequence of feudalism-capitalism-socialism rather than focusing on an exclusive demolition of capitalism; it is paradoxically Dantean and Hegelian, and thus a literary model rather than tenable actuality.[16] But if Marx did not pluck this vision out of thin air, then where did it come from? Let us step back from Marx to meet Hegel in Hell.

            Lines of Sight

            Two notes from J.N. Findlay’s commentary of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit make for perfect examples of Hegel’s aesthetic theory in its crystallized form, or the nucleus of his System where it pertains to Dante’s achievement. Findlay’s compressed commentaries on these otherwise winding, cryptically allusive passages, are, firstly, §781: “Spirit is the most essentially itself in the religious community where the Divine Man or Human God is transformed into the members’ universal, inward, chastening self-consciousness.”[17] In a word, at this late point in the Phenomenology, Hegel is concerned with an elevated consciousness, predicated upon collective memory and historical transformation, of a people who have slowly but thoroughly prepared themselves for the ecclesiastical poetics of the threefold afterlife to move from conscientious mustard seed to a personified blossoming instrumentation. The Church cannot bring to its subjects a vehicle less than immovable dogma; questions of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory have hitherto subsided in the Platonic cave of subconsciousness. The idea of eternal life, itself ultimately incomprehensible to a finite being, is most holy and for-itself in the allegories, symbols, and prayers of biblical text and exegetical writers. The choice is to either leave the next world to the Gospel, the Church, and one’s prayers, or to risk blaspheme and tap into the world that is that of Platonic Ideas, or poetical transubstantiation. Hence, Dante’s exile is the perfect disaster for the already-gifted poet to now move beyond the wages of sin, and into the architectonics of sociological and dialectical heuristic:[18] the line between heresy and dogma is poetical consciousness’s task. Building on the idea of Dante’s temporal place in the poetic synthesis of transformation in Christ, there is next §788:

In revealed religion self-consciousness is aware of itself in pictorial objective form, not as yet as self-consciousness. It must cancel this form and become aware of itself in all the forms it has hitherto taken up. They must not merely be forms of self-consciousness for us, the phenomenological observers, but for self-consciousness itself. It must see how it has externalized itself in various objects, and in seeing this also canceled the externalization. It must see all its objective forms as itself.[19]

Part of the self-seeing objective form is the multilayered approach to blindness considering identity/difference. And while the three selections I have chosen wherein Dante uses the word ‘cieco’ are by no means the sole encounters with linguistic derivatives of blindness in the Inferno[20] I have made my decision for reasons that, by the end of this discussion, and in subsequent examinations of blind language in the moment of digitality, will furthermore be made clear.

            We read in Inferno 4.13-15: “Or discendiam qua giù nel cieco mondo/cominciò il poeta tutto smorto/Io sarò primo, e tu sarai secondo.”[21] Thus Dante’s preliminary blindness makes clear that an absolute, or ontological blindness, lies beyond life for the condemned. The blindness of Hell must be distinct from earth’s temporal Hell; it is neither simply figurative nor connotating, for Dante and Virgil, the sense of sightlessness we can conjure by simply closing our eyes. Hence, the blindness of Hell is straightaway something more than the self-evidence with which it appears at a glance; and for Hegel the invokes picture-thinking in light of absolute negativity (in the spirit of Pseudo-Dionysius). By taking Dante into pictorial-objective form, Hegel systematizes the aesthetic of its process and reality and gives it a place within his System. Hegel’s putting language strives, likewise, to eclipse the ever-present metamorphosis that unfolds whenever one says, ‘I see what you mean.’ Inherent comprehension is made visible in the Hegelian sense of not-blindness, correlating into the religious sphere whereby it is rendered authentic in-itself; which is precisely what Dante does with the Commedia: linguistically construct a sociological-religious principle that’d till then been beyond the apprehensible, structural realm of poetics: Hegel consciously seeks to take philosophy to the place Dante took western poetics; and he succeeds by a methodology that diagnoses and eclipses blindness.

            But at the same time we can see that Hegel is also concerned with the very philosophical perennialization that must consolidate movement from idea to construction in a form that is linguistically tangible;[22] the blindness of the underworld must converge with the blindness of a post-Kantian Germany in the autumn of feudalism. Shortly after Hegel’s death, the torch is picked up in Italy, whereby through Hegel Italian philosophers worked to reconceptualize Giambattista Vico as a similar type of historiographical-hermeneutic bridge.[23] Previous modes of picture-thinking must be annulled if one wants to move from colloquial invisibility to imaginative signs, from foggy to clear glass, as Dante did with the afterlife by apprehending the movement of threefold deathlike thought and its systematic. The Hegelian response is to note that the highest art in fact moves from the communal state of mind to the beginning of auditory subjugation. The overcoming, or escaping blindness is an act of textual resurrection so deeply engrained in being that it perfectly mirrors the authorial subjects themselves: the Dantean threefold afterlife and the Hegelian development of consciousness are concepts at once literally embedded albeit impossible to convey until the moment ontological blindness is literarily deconstructed and reassembled; then the public sphere has at last a concise codex for what it is.

Hegel’s aesthetic discourses on Dante next concern, in the overcoming of aesthetic and spiritual blindness, in the midst of the observation that one can no longer consider, let alone engage in, an “idyllic poverty of spirit” that coincides with a full person’s higher urgings in light of lesser artwork. But here sterile – or temporal – is recognized in its role as foundation. For Hegel inner and outer harmony, as well as balance, have been dismantled in man’s disconnection through the alienating labor of machinery. And looking back to Dante Hegel observes that art, at this point, has two tonal options: an egregious exaggeration which its maker erroneously perceives as a statement of extremity; or, plainly (and scarcely), transcendent authenticity. Hegel notes that there one dialogical key to the latter is the singular ability, masterful way to portray authentic suffering; and this is found in Dante, who “touchingly presents to us Ugolino’s death from starvation.”[24] But Dante’s description of starvation is for Hegel a prime example of a breadth and scope of allegory that must, unfortunately, also remain open to a seemingly endless stream of interpretation. In this process an initial chain of magnets is observed with authentic attempts at penetrating the Platonic aura of a poem’s interpretational wellspring; but these magnets give way to a process that eclipses itself in a process that is unaware of its self-eclipse, and at this scholastic point endless interpretations set out in uncontrolled directions. Indeed, Hegel would know this conundrum well; such has been the fate of his work, and such has been the unfortunate nucleus of Theory in-itself. 

            If everything is symbolic, we have two more questions in approaching Dante and his infernal land of the multifaceted blind: first, does an all-encompassing symbolism negate itself? Second, is all symbolism subjective duality? On this note Hegel first approaches Dante, suggesting that to ‘decode’ Dante line-by-line, allegorical assessment by allegorical assessment, is to pursue a false understanding of symbolism:[25] the task is meaning and shape which works from the interpretative foundation of art-itself as a symbolical other rather than a systematic deconstruction. According to Hegel, should one render Dante a methodical treatment in allegory is in the last analysis simply ideological rereading; it claims to reveal Dante, but Dante has already crystallized the symbolical debt in choosing to write poetically; his method in poetics, such as language, exilic reflection,[26] and rhyme schemes are the symbolic channels through which to comprehend the poem. Even the most straightforward dialectical conversions of topoi are a matter of personification rather than allegory:

[Dante’s] theology appears fused with the picture of his beloved, Beatrice. But this personification hovers (and this constitutes its beauty) between allegory proper and a transfiguration of his youthful beloved. He saw her for the first time when he was nine years old; she seemed to him to be the daughter, not of a mortal man, but of God; his fiery Italian nature conceived a passion for her which was never again extinguished. When it had awakened in him the genius of poetry, then, after the early death of his dearest love had lost her for him, he put into the chief work of his life this marvelous memorial of, as it were, this inner subjective religion of his heart [italics mine]. [27]

In this light a nine-year-old Dante’s vision concerns less the daughter of a man than the daughter of God; absolute spirit is for Hegel at work in a line of sight that will hitherto serve as Dante’s vision par excellence. The reflexive orbit that extend, through aesthetic epiphany and epistemological retraction, all further aspects Dantean allegorical theology by means of sublimation, or a sublated identity/difference.[28] As with Marx, we do not have to dig; Dante has done the digging for us.[29] The second wave of blindness comes in 10.58-60: piangendo disse: “Se per questo cieco/carcere vai per altezza d’ingegno/mio figlio ov’ è? e perché non è teco?”[30] The precocious heights of lofty genius are apparent even to they who dwell, like the weeping Guido Cavalcanti , forever. One weeps in Hell, but is not blinded by tears; and in fact in this case sight is something like punishment to the second power, enabling the figure to see greatness in Dante, who is bound for better places, as well as that one’s son has not, is not going to arrive to spend eternity in Hell with his father, or to even visit alongside Dante and Virgil. For Hegel, the mythology of destitution lays throughout history an extensive groundwork that ultimately raises the question of whether an entire genre or school of art can be interpreted symbolically.

                Hence, Hegel’s vision of Dante as the exemplary productive artist in the classical age both compares him to Raphael in his ability to move kingdoms and the lowest class in one fell swoop.[31] On the first hand there is literal revelation that begets reconciliation on intertextual levels, moving from gospel edict in direct inspiration from the sublime to a hermeneutical prosody that at last address have and have-not as equal.  After this there is the sphere drawing on the results of such revelation, giving shape to “what was already present in the creeds and religious ideas.”[32] This observation allows us to move away from either the quasi-formalistic approach or that of allegorical historicism; instead we can begin to understand the wealth of knowledge found within Dante’s concrete references, and seeing Dante as a process rather than an artist without predecessor or successor.[33] Such insight enables us to remove – even if just temporarily – the aura from Dante that bars one comprehending his poetic intuition as anything less than a meteoric flash in the poetic pan. By working from that which was already available, itself made available from sources not of this world, Dantean engagement entails “a similar respect the art of sublimity too, but with the difference that there the relation to the content as the one substance prevents subjectivity from coming into its rights and does not allow it any independent self-sufficiency.”[34] This scarce methodological success, vision, achievement, is in other words profound in its classical Beatrician elation begins for Hegel on the whole in the arena of otherworldliness, is ravaged by untimely death, and yet unlike so many thoughts of nine-year-old’s, there is an absolute normalcy is Dante’s childhood vision working as the aesthetic vehicle throughout his life.

Blindness is for Hegel an ever-present aspect of art in a method akin to that of Pseudo-Dionysius’s negative theology taken to aesthetic historiography. Art’s subjective emancipation connotates for Hegel a blindness that– as in its makers’ species – once possessed a naivete that was lost, and not in the Miltonic sense; this aesthetic paradise cannot be regained having slipped away. To this end it is perfectly clear as to why, considered from the view dialectical-aesthetic negativity, Hegel sees in Dante the essence of Raphael: these figures (not-Raphael) represent the ontological reality that art cannot undo its movements forward, no matter how backward it might seem. The restored sight for one who experiences aesthetic depth in earnest does not, in its curing of societal blindness, prepare one to carry out a similar task, but rather carry out one’s lifework in a way that is illuminated rather than imitative. Blindness executed in the sphere of Dantean hermeneutics thus paints a portrait of revelatory negative: in assessing what is not, that which is unfolds, channeling aesthetic finitude and the infinite, artistic life, and death.

The Hegelian concept of artistic death, or aesthetic decay within the archival finality of the species’ nonexistence, is as much a product of the living as the threefold afterlife becomes for Dante the matter of poetics. Christ is the Author and Finisher of the Faith; but Dante is the poetical jury and executioner of the living, or those who have lived. His matter is thus the transitory becoming eternal, in becoming itself, whereas the Hegelian aesthetic transistorizes cumulative absolute spirit in realizing the enormity of what is at play in the medieval dialectic of identity and difference. Hegel’s living through the last shreds of feudalistic being thus equip him with a profound sense of ideological exile, one that registered with the Italian Hegelians.[35] Hegel does not have to be ejected, like Dante, from his homeland; he does, however, need be there as Napoleon rides through in the shadow of Kant, prefiguring less the end of history than the concrete decimation of feudalism, and hence cementing the way for technological destruction and saturation.

            Darkness Visible

            Throughout the voluminous Aesthetics, Hegel’s thoughts on Beatrice never part from that first, gilded sight. Specifically, a dwelling upon the senselessness with which a young person can die tragically love in a universe that is created by God, also known in one Dionysian sense, as Love, that injects itself into the bloodstream of the poet’s understanding. It is also Dionysian in its dialectical rendering of identity and difference, in a perfect Hegelian sense; Dante’s foundation, for Hegel, is consciousness’s movement that is at the center of this aesthetic totality. This childhood vision of love and loss is for Hegel a perfectly tangible lifelong well from which to draw theological-poetic waters, as he makes regular reference to Beatrice-the-person through his voluminous aesthetic theory, in particularly as the seed of the restructured totality and infinity of ecclesiastical finitude, as well as the text’s culmination. Furthermore, the beatific vision is for Hegel the intuitive – distinctive from the conceptual seed – mustard seed from which a singular artist ascends the heights of divine judgment; one equipped with a perceptive apparatus that sets its face like flint before tragedy is, in effect, in business.

Hegel says, however, that Dante “only gave a shape to what was already present in the creeds and in religious ideas”; but in so doing, Dante’s art of sublimity only disables self-sufficient subjectivity that finds its polar opposite in symbolism for-itself, the latter “running riot without proportion and definition.”[36] The Comedia is furthermore Dante‘s fulfilment of one poet to judge men to Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, “an artistically developed ardor of the heart, formed [with] a close union with religion”, the resulting synthesis of which is what Hegel calls “a higher work”[37]:

A higher work is that which every man has to achieve in himself, i.e. his life, whereby he settles for himself his eternal fate: despite the strict organization of the whole, there is no lack of fantastic ideas or adventures in so far as this work of salvation and damnation comes before us not only absolutely in its universality but as a list of practically innumerable individuals brought forward in their particular characteristics – and, besides this, the poet  makes himself the world’s judge.[38]

We can see this much in Inferno 27.25-27: Se tu pur mo in questo mondo cieco/
caduto se’ di quella dolce terra/latina ond’ io mia colpa tutta reco [39]whose vision of love is necessarily degraded in subsequent poets,[40] a Marxian matter of totality and infinity:

Indeed even his damned souls in Hell still have the bliss of eternity – io eterno duro[41] stands over the gate of Hell – they are what they are, without repentance or desire; they say nothing of their torments – these affect neither us nor them, as it were, at all, for they ensure forever – they keep in mind only their disposition and deeds, firm and constant to themselves in their same interests, without lamentation and longing.”[42]

Beyond the terz-rima, canzone, sonnets, and stanzas, Hegel’s aesthetic diagnosis is concerned with the totality of the project, where the universal and the individual entail no abstract separation of their sides; there is no mere servitude of individuals,[43] which again compliments John Freccero’s observation that there is no sense of self-reflexional prior to Dante.[44] For as Freccero notes this, it follows that absolute self-reflexional alone can separate the individual from the universal, objectivity and logic from subjectivity and plurality. The dialectical unity of opposites is therefore a perfect aesthetic conjoiner to Hegel and Marx’s respective – and equally monumental – dialectical convergences of syntheses. Negativity becomes the handmaiden of dialectical systematic; through subtraction of the is-not Dante arrives at what is. But what makes his vision unique is moving beyond negativity’s surplus goods into the simultaneous universalization and individual concretization of its conceptual reality and history. By rendering himself judge, Dante fulfills the simultaneous dream of secular and ecclesiastical thinking alike: God has given him the task to carry out that which could not formerly be seen; and in so doing, Dante applies a fourfold literality to this vision: Firstly, in completing the work, ordained by God, Dante brings kings and slaves, prisoners and freedmen, martyrs and popes into a unity with the Holy Spirit that all other works and their categories, subcategories, simply cannot touch, unpacking the questions of anthropology and categorization: one cannot say that the poet-pilgrimage was not aided by God. Secondly, the aesthetic process of render a former proximity obsolete is a subconscious shock to the general readership, as it forces readers, societies, nations to reconsider the reality and hermeneutic facticity of historiographical dogma and the absolute meaning of Geist. Thirdly, typology is thence unpacked into the dialectical unison of negative theology coming to terms with the dismantling of taboo. Fourthly, imagination emerges as the absolute champion of conceptual history in concept-being as concerns steady currents of methodology and temporality (as defined by conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck).[45]The individual is at stake; but their fate can be added or subtracted as concerns the conceptual invincibility of Heaven. 

            The bold energy of inventive genius furthermore strikes us in time as ordinary, says Hegel, drawing on Homer as an instance in expressive literality[46]  that for Hegel structurally depends upon the acute cognition of word-forms within the exacted System:

The individual vitality of a poem is destroyed if these word-forms substitute a universal mode of expression, constructed on rules, for the peculiar outpouring of feeling and passion. If they do, they form the very opposite of the deeply felt, fragmentary and laconic expression which the depths of the heart can utter despite its little command of eloquence, and which has such great efficacy, especially in romantic poetry, for the description of undisburdened states of soul. But, in general, sentence-construction remains one of the richest external means available to poetry.[47]

For Dante and the Christological Hegel, one is marked by evil for failing to see what we might today casually refer to as the natural law: laws that needn’t be written down, and are rather figuratively written in the wind: one plus one is two in Sumer as well as Williamsburg; harming any innocent person, especially a child, is the most egregious of offenses. There is no way to make any system break down faster than to disobey the universal law; but Marx rightly points out that the law is itself subjective, and furthermore tarried by its structural standing as infallible. The fact that one is considered blind for being skeptical of that which does not even exist is itself odious to one who considers death a terminus and life much less than an entrance.[48]             Marx, however, fails to admit that all powers are grasped in subjugation, and that all conquerors arrive in the name of a new freedom and generally end up more despotic than before. Dante and Hegel would say that this the problem of Marx and his followers is that they do not have, among other thing, the natural law. Hence, their actions are guided by words that can never be definitive, predicated upon a Christological mistrial of false premises in blindly denying Logos; the Marxian exposition of remedial utopianism as a cure for subjective blindness is itself objectively blind. Definitive words, or the dogmas of empiricism, reformulate; but the Dantean weight of their conceptual existence warrants a uniformity whereby Hegel contends that if there is to be a life and death of aesthetics, its perceptive process must demand the seen prior to the unseen, rather than the other materialistic way around, on its way to resurrecting a berated language. For Hegel and Marx the Comedia is further exemplified as a model by its express and interchangeable theological and materialistically adaptable aura; this aura connotates an absolute lack of stylistic hindrances to the proceedings, and is intensified by the slow advance of the story, as in epic. At the same time, Dante has an ever-present ability halt of the description at any given step throughout, dialectically enmeshing narratological chronology and a sense of timelessness, space, and form, that was not lost on the opening books of Milton’s Paradise Lost; and this mirroring of sociological anxieties in many small episodic stories and conversations bestows upon us individuals for whom, if the hermeneutic cieco that permeates the text would have crept into its author’s hand, what are initially successful as powers become just as easily lifeless machinery. But the affective machinations of blindness are never degraded, never falling to teleological artificial creation of the poet.[49]

            Here, in the act of aesthetic construction and balance, we have something rather close to a definition of the textual transmission of Platonic Form(s), despite Dante’s Aristotelian bent. The understanding of how a poet makes or breaks ‘lifeless machinery’ or molds it into vibrant matter is found in the aforementioned higher viewpoint and is again synonymous with eyesight lost and regained. These steps, the pilgrim’s, and the pilgrim’s dialectical unfolding, can be understood but not followed, coinciding with the idea of theological geography and, even more importantly, conquering blindness by way of trustfully surrendering to divine providence.

            First, the inventor must conceive the plan. The inventor must then either execute the plan, like paint splashed against the wall, or undergo a heuristic decoding of the Absolute Concept. At the same time, equal attention must be given to the heuristic devices as is given to the vigor with which one has originally committed to moving the idea from imaginative text to action. It is this point of tautological apprehension that the aesthetic theory of a hermeneutic linguistics must replenish itself within formulating intuition, as is noted by Hegel in his Natural Law: Dante’s Thomistic acquiescence is unmarred by narrative lack of opposition along the way; and at the same time, if Dante had not crystallized the above method of aesthetic-linguistic synthesis that is the germ of Hegel and Marx (by ensuring that the ever-present Absolute systematically, horizontally and vertically, replenishes itself), there would be no contingent purpose for his pilgrim’s “perfect security and calm, merely opposition without seriousness or inner truth.”[50] This poetic-dialectical structure echoes Finn’s discussion of an Augustinian Christology whereby God’s image mnemonically achieved by “legitimating word imagery for the mental act of thinking (cogitare) and its fruit, a thought (cogitatio), and setting this production of an inner word… a true word is one that contains what is in memory.”[51] But as for Hegel, “God and the world are not extrinsic to each other in Hegel’s system; his linguistic logic overcomes that divide.”[52] It is thus fitting that between Augustine and Hegel we discover a current whereby concrete memory – of God, no less – converges within the epistemological totality of a Hegelian linguistics that seeks to transpose the divide between God and humanity’s approximation of the Concept with literarily philosophical prose; and it is this very dense aesthetic theory that informs Hegel’s singular study of Dante’s dialectical refusal and reconstruction of the conceptual-poetical epic.[53]

            It is therefore the aesthetic of a Christological axis whereby the abstract finite-infinite Being, or God, is at the same time announced as concept, in a poetical method that is removed from strict heterodoxy or contradiction: it is the Triune God presented as both Creator and Presence, lending credence to what Gustave Flaubert[54] would later describe as the ideal author: “Like God, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”[55] For Dante the modus operandi is not a text inspired by God. It is something more than intercession; and this hermeneutic facticity is herein apprehended by Hegel.[56] These realms must take on a poetic realm of archival finality, a language that, writes Marchesi, “is the more perfect the closer it comes to becoming transparent, the becoming the imperceptible vehicle for the exchange of ideas” [italics mine].[57] This poetic intuition is for Erich Auerbach the Dantean place where the text, directionally steep but preordained, is “a true umbra [shadow] of the truth, chiseled in [one’s] mind… character and fate are one, and the destiny of the autonomous self lies in the freedom of choice… the divine order of the universe becomes visible and manifest.”[58] Theory must be transformed and history not the developing sphere within which the author works, but as the unfolding calamitous process and reality that has prepared the transcendent author with the tools to which unpack Platonic Ideas in a sense hitherto unknown.[59] Dante, furthermore, must make the exilic break first with community and then the interior break with dogmatic constraint or expectation; he must realize the afterlife in all sense faculties, but most imperatively this: that an authentic dispensation of the concept of time is prerequisite to paradise. So it was for Dante, Hegel, and Marx: conceptual progression is rendered obsolete within the parameters of absolute interiority. What is more, Dante renders the afterlife’s three prospects his vision, his unfolding mnemonic device that never spirals out of control (this is further attested to in the poem’s ability to be read vertically, horizontally, in pairs or numbers, and so on); the threefold prospect of one’s eternal indwelling is suddenly less ecclesiastical than it is Dantean. The bridge from Dante to Marx enables literary scholars to better understand the medieval origins of the modern state, political religion, secular reexaminations of conceptual sin, and the genesis and structure of conceptual time in the sphere of Christological history.

It is the work of Dante and Hegel, then, to apprehend the absolute self-knowledge through conceptual thought – first in poetic intuition, then in philosophical systematic – developing and transmitting the collective consciousness of picture-thoughts that long sift among a people before being crystallized into their aura. We can cite the heretical tones in Dante, cite any number of atheistic variations on Hegel; but both Dante and Hegel are united in a hitherto neglected Christological aesthetics: “When people assert that we cannot know the truth, this is the extreme of blasphemy. People are not aware of what they are saying here. If they were aware of it, they would deserve to have the truth withdrawn from them… [invoking Paradiso, IV. 124-29].”[60] It is the aesthetic bond described by Dante here that brings these torrents of prose together; that enables Hegel to recognize it as such, and to later allow Marx to dive into the bowels of a system his contemporaries could all but skim the polemical surface of. As is well-documented in Roberts’s text, these figures are neither boring nor irrelevant (Proudhon being perhaps the most famous of them),[61] a pattern we see as well in Took’s pre-Dantean survey of Italian poetry.[62] But it is the imagination that enables the hermeneutic facticity of conceptual afterlife, conceptual consciousness, and conceptual vindication of the powerless with an urgency that perpetually self-replenishes. It constructs a conduit from the conceptual (literal) underworld to the literal (conceptual) underworld because the aesthetic clock strikes, and summons forth singularity with which to concretize universal abstractions and to set collective memory in motion – for better or for worse – the acquisition of self-reflexive consciousness that is borne unto a people with the Comedia, Phenomenology, and Capital (as well as the minor characters contemporaneously)[63] each dialectically, aesthetically reformulating the semiotic entirety of objective life, saying at last, an author has arrived, whose ideological systematic converges with aesthetic hermeneutic in rendering the fruit of justice in the time of harvest.[64]

Consciousness and Reality

Considering this argument for a refortified literary appraisal of Hegelian aesthetics ala self-reflexive identity/difference of Dantean blindness has been proceeding without a hitch, we may well pause to ask, as though disrupted mid-sleep by silence: is a thesis that proclaims Hegel the father of theory simply too enormous to contain at present, hence painting too large a target on its imaginative back?

To this I offer a threefold rejoinder: firstly, consider a Thomism that is exhausted beyond measure. It is a vast school of thought, not unlike a large family; and at some point, the creation of children must cease due to reasons that abdicate desire. Would it be out of the question, then, to consult the early Dominicans, or even Albert the Great[65] for that matter? To my estimation this is, like my Dantean-Hegelian thesis, a matter of conceptual time and dialogical austerity; if the foundation of a source has run its course, must it retain its standing as a perpetual reference point? Such is subjective linguistics. But what is not subjective linguistical matter is this, that the process in moving from the ever-present source of an intellectual school is bound to carry with it growing pains; its strength is made perfect in weakness.[66] Graham Harman put it well when he described the handmaidenesque flux with which theories that are slated for demolition move from temporality to temporality, “like a bossy partygoer changing the music on another’s sound system.”[67] While our technological gadgetry is plainly different from our forebearers, I would like to suggest that literary-theoretical stalemates are as old archaism more generally.[68] Our theoretical stalemate, or bind, is what it is not because of political or historical moments unfolding right now that are, seemingly, unattached at the surface level from literary scholarship, but because in our mad rush to object-accumulation culture we lost track of the austere higher level thinking that an actual functioning knowledge of both literature and philosophy demands in order to flourish, which is simultaneously a vice-grip on ontological blindness. After all, it is not exclusively Hell that drew Hegel and Marx to Dante; but it is Hell through which we must first enter, as it is the closest Dantean season to our way of life, for which literature has long served as that most potent, supplement: “He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”[69] We are thus less concerned with the miraculous claim here than we are with the process, as was Plato with the move from shadow to reality; Dante knew it, and so did Hegel.[70] It moves from Dante’s ecclesiastical-sociological unveiling of the imperceptible (threefold afterlife as decreed by neither gods nor God but a mortal), and it is the measure of the inborn gift amidst centuries of quantitative breakdown, or the recording of global consciousness, striking a target that none before or after in the field can even see, let alone hit. The second we are on the way to reengaging the nucleus herein, identity/difference, is the second literary an indispensably rich horizon, vault of literary studies is reopened to the discontent student and professional alike. Such is the modus operandi of this working monograph’s final chapter: the historiographical implications of Hegel, in his Philosophy of Mind, ending his published engagement with Dante by working through Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (Oxford), Paradiso 124-30. Following suit, Marx’s Dantean finality comes in the form of Capital’s citation of Paradiso 24.84-5. Light, then, at the end of the tunnel; the same lights that engulf Dante’s Paradiso, whether pro or contra; the linguistic hermeneutic light that is sensed in the seeing and blind alike.

Between Dante and Hegel in several regards lies Ficino, whose first book of Platonic Theology goes right to the heart of hermeneutical blindness. Like Salutati before him and Grassi later, Ficino’s Virgilian casting down of darkness comes in the form of citing Aeneid 6.734: ‘clausae tenebris et carcere caeco’, or ‘incarcerated by darkness and a sightless dungeon’ (translation mine), whereby the mind prior to theological dialectics looks in vain to light. Ficino sounds radical when he proclaims that nothing outside of bodily death can render one anything remotely resembling substantial happiness – but is this not the crux of the Commedia? Is it not, among so many other things, the sociological-ecclesiastical doctrine of bodily destruction giving way to conceptual destruction, as in the destruction of conceptual time, content, and objectivity? Ficino’s Virgilian concern with eclipsing the dungeon of unknowing, surpassing empirical content and eternally recurring objectivity, is likewise purely Hegelian:

Spirit has shown itself to us to be neither merely the withdrawal of self-consciousness       into its pure inwardness, nor the mere submergence of self-consciousness into substance,          and the non-being of its [moment of] difference; but Spirit is this movement of the Self        which empties itself of itself and sinks itself into its substance, and    also, as Subject, has    gone out of that substance into itself, making the substance into an         object and a content at            the same time as it cancels this difference between objectivity and content.[71]

From the dialectical point of view, the poetic rejoinder to an unfolding, multifaceted blindness must be the object-oriented break with planetary reality. I have in mind, specifically, a moment from none other than Virgil himself, as recalled by Salutati (born ten years after Dante’s death) in his De laboribus Heruclis: “To put one thing in the place of another is possible for no one but the poet, as [when Virgil presents] the golden bough that the Sybil called for an Aeneas to break off before entering the underworld.”[72] The break with the way things are, or at least appear to be, is no doubt at least a passing thought, if not plausible obsession, for any writer deciding to give it a go.

            But as we have seen, Dante and Hegel contain between them a rare dialogical aesthetic of transcendence that, in the last analysis, gave Marx the final push in comprehending the structure and springing into attack as per Capital. In each of the three cases, the world of letters was and remains rattled, mystified, and obsessed; now it is time for literary scholars to stop looking elsewhere, in temporal places for indefinite solutions, and consider that whether or not the Kingdom of God is, truly, in one, then at least the formula for a resurrected literary theory capable of eclipsing the euphemistically political and recurrently tenuous is at hand. The Dantean-Hegelian wager of system-building, picture-thinking, and reinvention of contemporaneous consciousness, wielding the locomotive dialectic of a refurnished identity and difference, can serve to unpack the birth of theory chronicled by Andrew Cole. It can now be taken further into underworld of theoretical conception, where the afterlife, consciousness, and revolution have already been cemented in something like a fourth volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, or what it might have looked like had it ever been written: the technological ontology of simultaneous virtual sex/death that is in one’s pocket now, at last, at all times; liberation revealed as bondage; manufactured subcultures and political religions; Gnosticism and permanent standby: all of this is the canvas of dialectical literary studies. Like Virgil’s break with the golden bough as prerequisite to transformative darkness, putting one thing in the place of another, such is identity/difference, on the way to reconceptualizing discourse in literary theory, the Dantean line of sight restored, the current blindness of literary discourse swept out.

Works Cited

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            —. The Myth of the Eternal Return. Princeton Univ. Press, 2018.

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Harman, Graham. “The well-wrought broken hammer: object-oriented literary criticism.” New literary history 43, no. 2 (2012): 183-203.

Hegel, G.W.F. Aesthetics (2 vol). Oxford Univ. Press, 2010

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—. Philosophy of Mind. Oxford Univ. Press, 2017.

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—. Hegel’s Idea of Philosophy. Fordham Univ. Press, 1983.

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Marchesi, Simone. Dante and Augustine. Univ. of Toronto Press, 2011.

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—. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. CUP Archive, 1977.

—. “Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1867–68 (Excerpt).” Historical Materialism 1, no. aop (2019): 1-31.              

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Stewart, Jon (ed.).  The Hegel Myths and Legends. Northwestern Univ. Press, 1996.

Took, John. Dante. Princeton Univ. Press, 2020.

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Voegelin, Eric. “On Hegel—A Study in Sorcery.” In The Study of Time, pp. 418-451. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1972.

Williams, Robert R. Hegel on the Proofs and Personhood of God. Oxford Univ. Press, 2017.  

Zambrana, Rocio. Hegel’s Theory of Intelligibility. Univ. of Chicago Press, 2015.


[1] Insight (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2013), 769.

[2] From the Book of Concordance [Book 2, Part 1, Chapter 4], as translated (Bernard McGinn) and anthologized in Apocalyptic Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1979), 123.

[3] I contend that Hegel’s aesthetics eclipse such protocol at a time when humanities scholars are existentially perturbed with eternal returns of suspicious hermeneutics, identity politics, et al., as chronicled in Rita Felski’s Limits of Critique (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2015). Authentic progression is no longer Marx-forward, but Marx-backward. This lecture also concerns Italian Hegelians; I advocate bringing several into American literary discourse.

[4] See also William Clare Roberts’s Marx’s Inferno (Princeton, 2017). For whereas Andrew Cole located the Hegelian foundations of theory (Birth of Theory, Princeton Univ. Press, 2014), Roberts chronicles Dante’s structural place in Capital vol 1; this lecture thus was thought up reading him and Cole while engaged in critical study of the Comedia and medieval theology.

[5] One might add to Roberts’s analysis a host of Dantean correlations rampant in other Marxian primary texts, viz., “To call on them to give up their illusions is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions… Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear the chain without fantasy or consolation but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.” From A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Joseph J. O’Malley, and Richard A. Davis. Early political writings. Cambridge University Press, 1994), 58. Likewise, Inferno 3.85, “Forget your hope…” is echoed in Marx’s “criticism of Heaven.” Ironically, Marx ends this tract proclaiming that “religion is only the illusory sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself”; such extreme narcissism, perhaps replacing the illusory sun with an arctic, frozen moon, exemplifies Dante’s inward mutations of Lucifer in the climax of Inferno.

                Further, “Precisely because political economy does not grasp the way the movement is connected, it was possible to oppose, for instance, the doctrine of competition to the doctrine of monopoly, the doctrine of craft freedom to the doctrine of the guild, the doctrine of the division of landed property to the doctrine of the big estate – for competition, freedom of the crafts and the division of landed property were explained and comprehended only as accidental, premeditated and violent consequences of monopoly, of the guild system, and of feudal property, not as their necessary, inevitable and natural consequences… First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working, he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.” See “Estranged Labour.” (1844): 32-38, as well as “The Power of Money” from Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1867–68 (2019).

                Lastly, a host of Marxian reflective practice is made of Dante’s third canto of Inferno, the Hegelian subject of this project, not least by the poet’s inability to recognize the tortured, and Marx’s “Hence the ancients wailing about money as the root of all evil”, which precisely leads into the literal disfigurement of greed, viz., Grundrisse (Penguin Classics, 1993), 221-4); Grundrisse 156 also chronicles the bank as papacy of production “disfigurement and transformation”; where the absolute is itself conditional, cf. 42, 488). Reading the Grundrisse in light of Columbia’s digital Dante commentaries, e.g. “the eternity of Hell is of a different order from the eternity of Paradise: eternity of Hell signifies duration, while eternity of Paradise signifies an eternal present”, the idea here is immediately correlative to the Marxian prospect of revolution, where the banal enslavement of endurance, debasement, and duration of capitalism returns humanity to an ever-present origin of archaic ecstasy; one no longer has no relation to one’s unending work (“What the product of one’s labor is, one is not” – is this not Dante’s Lucifer, the not-good, ice at the core of earth?), but works for the good of oneself and one’s kin. But whereas one may be quick to bring up the idea that Hell is an arbitrary assignation rather than the consequence of one’s own choices as per Purgatorio 16.67-72, Marx, like Hegel, approaches the concrete by arresting empirical thought, rather than posthumous being, taken to the second power: the Hegelian point of view is concerned, aesthetically, not with free will in the afterlife, but in the conditions that enable the artist to forcefully transmit the hitherto collective subconscious culture, replacing its cultural totality within the frame of a single book; whereas Marx, to this end, seeks movement from text to action, overthrowing the unnatural state, and returning to an archaic mode of organic being. Hence, both Hegel and Dante would argue that this effort is in vain; for as in art, like the pillar of salt, there is no turning back. The dream cannot move beyond the dictatorship of the proletariat, supposedly temporal; to this end Marx’s followers, in distorting Hegel, find themselves forever dwelling in perfect Dantean schemas. Such is, as Dante knew, the diachronic unveiling of economic realities.

[6] Marx had a propensity for modeling his texts on literary works, while in his day the vying socialist writers regularly utilized the concept of “social Hell.” But Marx is different in that he seems to have actually spent read Dante. For instance, the first circles of Dante’s Hell exhibit persons on whom self-control was lost; and for Marx, producers are torn apart by their ultimately uncontrollable products, which cannot guarantee a stable living.

[7] See for instance Cole’s “The Function of Theory at the Present Time.” PMLA 130, no. 3 (2015): 809-818.

[8] Italian Hegelianism in the lifetime of Marx is chronicled by Guido Oldrini and Betrando Spaventa (1817-83); the latter recalled that “in Naples, starting in 1843, the Hegelian idea penetrated the mind of the young cultivators of science, who, uniting fraternally, took to advocating it in speech and in writing as if moved by saintly love.” See ‘Studi sopra la filosofia di Hegel’, in Unificazione nazionale ed egemonia culturale (Bari: Laterza, 1969), 23.

[9] “While it would be foolish to argue that it is Dante, not Hegel, who provides the key to the structure of Marx’s book, Hegel cannot claim our complete attention. There is room to investigate other influences upon Marx’s “method of presentation.” William Clare Roberts, Marx’s Inferno (Princeton Univ. Press, 2017), 12.

[10] See The Hegel Myths and Legends (ed. Jon Stewart, Northwestern Univ. Press, 1996).

[11] The question was glossed in in a general, if vague sense in 1982 in John Dobbins and Peter Fuss’s, “The Silhouette of Dante in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.Clio 11, no. 4 (1982): 387.

[12] Engels refers to Dante as the last poet of the Middle Ages and the first of modern times, while the discovery of the Grundrisse led Western Marxists to affirm the sentiment of what Lukacs and others had been saying for some time: that Marx was in the last analysis a radical Hegelian (Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality, (Univ. of California Press, 1984), 3). He, like Hegel, was drawn to Dante’s dialogical self-reflexiveness through which there was rendered, at last, a structural-poetic depiction of ecclesiastical matters divided by Aristotelian propaedeutic (See Poetics XVIII, viz. “Identity exists where the Complication and Unraveling are the same” (Translated by H.S. Butcher). Roberts, in assessing the Dantean schema of Marxian sociology and textual structure, notes that the early socialists, who Marx was reading and responding to, and who often wielded a systematic that was “in essence a cheap knock-off” (Roberts, Marx’s Inferno, 22) of Dante. And Marx does not reject this but actualizes it – but with the aesthetic guide of Hegel, acknowledged or not. Dante elucidates the eternal endgame of a temporal system. Marx wants to divulge what the meaning of this meaning means, and what it says about the world.

[13] Such is the etymology of utopia, no-where; Hegel calls this “unhappy consciousness.” Yet Dante proves that this means nothing in light of the individual’s dogmatic fate, whereas “Marx wanted to publish a work that would be both a systematic treatise and a thoroughgoing critique of both the capitalist mode of production and the political economy that reflected and justified it… Marx’s fourfold literary mission – depiction and critique, of practice and of theory – required a literary armature to support it” (Roberts, 23). While Roberts surveys Dantean correlations within Capital and the years of its composition more generally (Roberts, 24-6), the task at hand remains to unpack how Hegel’s Aesthetics as a literary-theoretical bridge between Dante and Marx, specifically focusing on Hegel’s aesthetic epistemology and the Commedia’s place therein.

[14] This Hegelian idea of Force is one that Marx, like Dante, sees in the veneer of respective contemporality: illusion of choice, for medieval and modern oligarch alike, as the alchemical transubstantiation whereby the gold of reality is relegated to a perpetual baser metal of warring exhaustion and economical bondage. For Marx, exploitation is the code and not the exception: and this process and its taboo dissection is fixed in the unnatural (alongside exploitation and plunder) (Roberts, 17-18).

[15] “[Unhappy Consciousness] occupies rather this intermediate position where abstract thinking is in contact with the individuality of consciousness qua individuality. The Unhappy Consciousness is this contact; it is the unity of pure thinking and individuality; also it knows itself to be this thinking individuality or pure thinking and knows the Unchangeable itself essentially as an individuality. But what it does not know is that this its object, the Unchangeable, which it knows essentially in the form of individuality, is its own self, is itself the individuality of consciousness. Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), 131.

[16] See Michel Henry’s “Life, death: Marx and Marxism” from Marx: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2019), 37-60.

[17] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Translated by A.V. Miller, Oxford Univ. Press 1977),588; 473.

[18] Martin Donougho’s “Hegel as Philosopher of the Temporal [irdischen] World: On the Dialectics of Narrative”

[19] Phenomenology of Spirit, 589; 479-80.

[20] Passages I plan to take up in the prospective second chapter of this hypothetical monograph include Inferno 3.47 (e la lor cieca vita è tanto bassa/Their blinded lives beyond perverted); 6.93 (cadde con essa a par de li altri ciechi/They perished in blind tandem); 12.49 (O eyeless greed, like senseless wrath); and 15.67 (Vecchia fama nel mondo li chiama orbi/Even the sightless world has long perceived their blindness). Translations mine. – JN.

[21] “Let us descend now into the blind world”/Began the Poet, pallid utterly/I will be first, and thou shalt second be.” (Translated by Longfellow.)

[22] Hegel’s debt to Dante lent itself to a host of tragically neglected Italian philosophers writing during and after Hegel’s life, into the eve of WWII. Vicenzo Gioberti, an Italian Hegel, bridged the gap between Vico and the present; and the parallels between Gioberti and Hegel’s lesser discussed theological writings, as well as his Natural Law, are made clear by Rubini 48-57. Gioberti would also make for an invigorating case study alongside the Christological Hegel perhaps best recorded most recently in Douglas Finn’s Life in the Spirit: Trinitarian Grammar and Pneumatic Community in Hegel and Augustine (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2015), as well as Stephen Crites’s Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegel’s Thinking (Penn State Univ. Press, 1998).

[23] Italian philosophers in the early twentieth-century likewise had a ‘temple of Hegelianism’ in the University of Naples (Rubini 102). Even in the 1920s Agostino Gemelli “was aware that Italian idealists could back their claims with an equally illustrious roster of names and that they had been working long, hard, and successfully to prove Hegel’s congeniality to Italy” (119). Spaventa maintained that Hegel taught Italy, through future-oriented dialectics, how to approach the past from a philosophical perspective (202).

[24] Hegel, Aesthetics, 259.

[25] Hegel, 313.

[26] In accordance with the Dantean-Marxian motif of exilic system-building and epiphanic breakthrough, Vicenzo Cuoco belonged to the first generation of nineteenth-century intellectual experience defined by exile (Rubini 39n20). But whither Hegel? According to Rubini, “One need only compare the work of Cuoco to that of his exact contemporary, Hegel, to gauge the philosophical incommensurability between Italy and Germany” (47, italics Rubini’s).

[27] Hegel, 402.

[28] See Robert R. Williams’s Hegel on the Proofs and Personhood of God (Oxford Univ. Press, 2017), viz. “For Hegel, the phenomenological genesis of the concept of spirit is the union resulting from mutual-reciprocal recognition wherein the I becomes a We. On a higher level, spirit is manifest in ethical life – institutions such as love, marriage, family, and the state in the ethical sense; God is no exception to, but the chief exemplification of, spirit, and that is why Hegel’s preferred term for God is absolute spirit.” 266.

[29] “Paradise and Hell are not in themselves a world affecting us more nearly but serve only as a place for the reward or punishment of men.” Hegel, 1055.

[30] “Weeping, he said to me: ‘If through this blind/Prison thou goest by loftiness of genius/Where is my son? /and why is he not with thee?’” (Trans. Longfellow.)

[31] Also unpacked through the lens of neglected Hegelian philosopher Francesco De Sanctis (1817-83) by Rocco Rubini in his The Other Renaissance (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2014), 77-9.

[32] Hegel, 438-439.

[33] This has been laid out superbly in Took’s Dante (Princeton Univ. Press, 2020), most notably in the early chapters chronicling Dante’s poetic forerunners and their place in his subsequent development.

[34] Hegel’s Aesthetics, 439.

[35] There is for instance the case of De Sanctis, whose exile led to prison – where he nonetheless accordingly spent three years exclusively studying Hegel’s Logic in the aftermath of the 1848 revolution (Rubini outlines De Sanctis’s relationship with Hegel on 74). Upon his release he threw himself into a Hegelian reconsideration of Dante, seeing in the poet a marked ability to magnetically draw together varied stages in an ontology of reconciliation: knowledge and desire, the doctrinal and the mystical, identity and difference, and echoing Hegel, sees Dante’s crowning achievement as the dialectical embodiment that is Beatrice, “ideal unity, the love that joins together intellect and act, science and life (History of Italian Literature 1.145). It is only after Dante has finished that the Comedia, for De Sanctis, that a new century (or ‘secolo’, viz. self-contained cycle), can begin. In between the lines lies the stuff of epochal transformation (Rubini 77-8) that paved the way for an unfiltered reconsideration of the Renaissance “as an intrinsically flawed epoch, only partially redeemed by what Spaventa had been able to articulate on philosophical grounds, via Hegel” (305).

[36] Hegel, 439.

[37] Here Hegel’s notion of an aesthetic higher-level thinking is a forerunner to what will in time become the division of what-is-called-Fiction and Literary Fiction. The idea is also unpacked, from the Thomistic-philosophical point of view, in Bernard Lonergan’s Insight re: “higher viewpoints”, cf. 37-43, 258-60.

[38] Hegel, 589. 

[39] “If thou but lately into this blind world/Hast fallen down from that sweet Latian land/Wherefrom I bring the whole of my transgression” (Longfellow). Hence the latter the authority of the poetical archetype.

[40] Hegel, 591.

[41] Inferno, canto iii, 8. ‘Eternal I endure.’

[42] Hegel, 874.

[43] Hegel, 979-980.

[44] “The Portrait of Francesca. Inferno V.” MLN 124, no. 5S (2009): S30.

[45] See The Practice of Conceptual History (Stanford Univ. Press, 2002): “The methodological, temporal layering, extending from the interviewing of direct eyewitnesses and the questioning of mediating earwitnesses to the countermeasure of written records, was as well developed in Herodotus as it was in Bede or present-day historians. There are anthropological pregivens for the possibility of gaining knowledge about events composed of personal experiences which, once discovered, cannot be relinquished. That is the distinction of methodology.” 58.

[46] Hegel, 1009.

[47] Hegel, 1008.

[48] More recent classical accounts of the natural law, Gnosticism, and political theology in the work of Dante and Hegel run through the bibliographies of Eric Voegelin and Carl Schmitt. See Roman Catholicism and Political Form and “On Hegel – A Study in Sorcery.” And although he is criminally all but unknown today, the lifelong Hegel scholar and Fordham professor, Fr. Quentin Lauer, S.J., wrote about this as well, as in Hegel’s Idea of Philosophy and Hegel’s Concept of God. [These texts are all documented in the bibliography.]

[49] “For however far poetry also involves an element vision and illustration, it still remains even in this respect a spiritual activity and it works for inner intuition to which the spirit nearer and more appropriate than external objects in their concrete visible and external appearance.” Hegel’s Aesthetics, 972.

[50] See Hegel’s Natural Law (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1975), 105-06.

[51] Douglas Finn, Life in the Spirit (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 57.

[52] Finn, 60.

[53] “Dante has no individual rounded action proceeding on the broad basis of the world, and yet it is precisely this epic which is least lacking in the firmest articulation and rounded completeness. Instead of a particular event it has for its subject-matter the eternal action, the absolute end and aim, the love of God in its imperishable activity and unalterable sphere… in the face of the absolute grandeur of the ultimate end and aim of all things, everything individual and particular in human interests and aims vanishes, and yet there stands there, completely epically, everything otherwise most fleeting and transient in the living world, fathomed objectively in its inmost being, judged in its worth or worthlessness by the supreme Concept, i.e. by God.” Hegel’s Aesthetics, 1003.

[54] French novelist (1821-1888) whose most famous work is Madame Bovary. Also known for surgical precision of prose, secular monasticism, and intense research regiment that enhanced themes of late antiquity in his other works.

[55] Victor H. Brombert’s Novels of Flaubert: A Study of Themes and Techniques (Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), 169.

[56] “For as individuals were in their passions or sufferings, in their intentions and their accomplishments, so now here they are presented forever, solidified into images of bronze. In this way the poems comprise the entirety of objective life: the eternal condition of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise; and on this indestructible foundation the figures of the real world move in their particular character, or rather they have moved and now in their being and action are frozen and are eternal themselves in the arms of eternal justice. While the Homeric heroes have been made permanent in memories by the muse, these characters have produced their situation for themselves, as individuals, and are eternal in themselves, not in our ideas. The immortality created by the poet’s muse counts here objectively as the very judgement of God in whose name the boldest spirit of his time has pronounced damnation or salvation for the entire present and the past. This character of the subject-matter, already independently finished, must be followed by the manner of its portrayal.” Hegel’s Aesthetics, 1003-04.

[57] Marchesi, 35.

[58] Time, History, and Literature (Princeton Univ. Press, 2014), 104, 122, 191.

[59] “This can only be a journey through realms fixed once and for all, and although they are invented, equipped, and peopled by the same freedom of imagination with which Homer and Hesiod formed their gods, still they are meant to provide a picture and a report of what has really happened: in Hell the movement is energetic but the figures are plastic and stiff in their agony, lit terrifyingly, though the picture is modified by Dante’s own mournful sympathy; in Purgatory things are milder but all fully worked out and rounded off; finally, in Paradise all is clear as crystal, a region of eternal thought where external shapes are no more. There are glimpses of antiquity in the world of this Catholic poet, but antiquity is only a guiding star and a companion of human wisdom and culture, for, when it is a matter of doctrine and dogma, it is only the scholasticism of Christian theology and love which speaks.” Hegel’s Aesthetics, 1104. 

[60] Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (Oxford Univ. Press, 2017), 166: “I see that nought can fill the mind’s vast space/Unless Truth’s light dwell there as denizen/Beyond which nothing true can find a place./In that it rests, like wild beast in its den,/When it attains it; and it can attain,/Else frustrate would be all desires of men” (Translated Plumptre).

[61] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), noted socialist writer and, alas, impetus for Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy.

[62] See John Took’s Dante (Princeton Univ. Press, 2020), 82-113.

[63] “If Italians [once] chose to embrace Hegelianism as fulfilling their national philosophy, it was most certainly because of Hegel’s apparent combability not only with Vico but also with late Renaissance thinkers such as Bruno and Campanella… a prolonged naturalization of German idealism ensured that the Italian philosophical tradition would gain a solid internalist perceptive on itself” (12).

[64] Took, 65.

[65] See Rutkin’s “Astrology and Theology in Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas: Fate, Divination and Providence.” In Sapientia Astrologica: Astrology, Magic and Natural Knowledge, ca. 1250-1800, pp. 173-234. Springer, Cham, 2019; Räsänen’s “Ecce novus: Saint Thomas Aquinas and Dominican Identity at the End of the Fourteenth Century.” Acta ad archaeologiam et artium historiam pertinentia 31 (2019): 161-176.

[66] 2 Corinthians 12:9.

[67] See Graham Harman’s “The well-wrought broken hammer: object-oriented literary criticism.” New literary history 43, no. 2 (2012): 183.

[68] Mircea Eliade’s The Forge and the Crucible, The Myth of the Eternal Return, and Jean Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin come to mind.  

[69] John 9:25.

[70] “Hegel does not articulate reason’s purposiveness in terms of a goal that is unambiguously actualized, thereby affirming a classical teleology of reason… [the] actualization of reason is the subjectivity of things themselves.” Rocio Zambrana’s Hegel’s Theory of Intelligibility (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2015), 42-3.

[71] Phenomenology of Spirit, 490.

[72] Translated by Ernesto Grassi, Rhetoric as Philosophy, Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 2001, vii.