Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
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Cite as: Angela Merte-Rankin, ‘Dante’s Inferno and Walter Benjamin’s Cities: Considerations of Place, Experience, and Media’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati, Fabio Camilletti, and Fabian Lampart, Cultural Inquiry, 2 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 77–87 <>

Dante’s Inferno and Walter Benjamin’s CitiesConsiderations of Place, Experience, and MediaAngela Merte-Rankin

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia – Inferno; productive reception; Benjamin, Walter; eschatology; hell (theology)

When Walter Benjamin wrote his main texts, the theme of the city as hell was extremely popular. Some of his German contemporaries, such as Brecht or Döblin, also used it. Benjamin was aware of these examples, as well as of examples outside Germany, including Joyce’s Ulysses and Baudelaire’s poetry. And he was — at least in some way — familiar with Dante’s Inferno and used it, and in particular Dante’s conception of hell, for his own purposes. Benjamin’s appropriation of the topos of the Inferno has been seen as a critique of capitalism and as a general critique of modernism by means of allegory. In the following analysis, I would like to take a slightly different approach and, despite Benjamin’s status as an expert on allegory, consider hell in its literal sense as a place and examine the issues of emplacement that might follow from this standpoint.


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