Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
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Cite as: Federica Pich, ‘Dante’s ‘Strangeness’: The Commedia and the late Twentieth-Century Debate on the Literary Canon’, 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. 21–35 <>

Dante’s ‘Strangeness’The Commedia and the late Twentieth-Century Debate on the Literary CanonFederica Pich

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia; productive reception; canon (literature); Bloom, Harold; Auerbach, Erich

A reflection on Dante and the literary canon may appear tautological since nowadays his belonging to the canon seems a self-evident matter of fact and an indisputable truth. It is for this very reason, though, that a paradigmatic role has been conferred on Dante in the contemporary debate both by those who consider the canon a stable structure based on inner aesthetic values and by those who see it as a cultural and social construction. For instance, Harold Bloom suggests that ‘Dante invented our modern idea of the canonical’, and Edward Said, in his reading of Auerbach, seems to imply that Dante provided foundations for what we call literature tout court. While his influence on other poets never ceased, the story of Dante’s explicit canonization through the centuries revolved around the same critical points we are still discussing today: his anti-classical ‘strangeness’ in language and style, the trouble he occasions in genre hierarchies and distinctions, and the vastness of the philosophical and theological knowledge embraced by the Commedia (and, as a consequence, the relationship between literature and other realms of human experience). Dante’s canonicity is also evinced by the ceaseless debates that he has inspired and the many cultural tensions of which he is the focus. What I will try to do in the next few pages is to reflect on the features that make the Commedia central both to the arguments of the defenders of the aesthetic approach, such as Bloom and Steiner, and to the political claims of the so-called ‘culture of complaint’.


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