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132Philosophy and Literature really amounts to acknowledging an allegiance to dialectical pluralism) makes for difficult reading. The outcome of this contest of faculties appears to lie in "more conversation," but I am not altogether certain that allowing for the coexistence of Marxism, deconstruction, and liberalism in the same text is a successful move. How is it possible, for instance, to assume the deconstruction ofpresence at the same time as promoting a debate between opposingidentities? I should like to have seen less time spent in a panoramic display of antagonistic sources, which often occludes the clarity of Mitchell's own argument. Perhaps greater coherence would have resulted if the chapters on image and ideology had been extended to book form, while the readings of Burke and others could have benefitted from similar isolation and expansion. More space would then have afforded the development of a clearer synthesis on this strategic question of the relationship between image, text, and ideology. University of Canterbury, New ZealandAnna J. Smith The Transfiguration ofHistory at the Center ofDante's "Paradise ," by Jeffrey T. Schnapp; xiii & 268 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, $35.00. The "transfiguration" explored in this extraordinary work ofscholarship and criticism is Dante's radically Christian revision of classical historiography. While this "metamorphosis" can be seen to unfold throughout the length of the Commedia, Jeffrey Schnapp locates its fullest elaboration in those cantos (15— 18) that stand at the center of the Paradiso. It is there that Dante's encounter with his great-great-grandfather, Cacciaguida, offers the reader a profound reworking of a venerable classical scene found both in Cicero's Dream of Scipio and (more importandy) in Virgil's Aeneid: the meeting between a deceased ancestor and a heroic protagonist, in which the horrors of history are presented as a trial to be endured until death offers its escape. Schnapp begins with Virgil's notion of Roman history as providentially ordained yet caught fast in the grip of Mars: a divinity at once patron of the city and source of its flux, corrosion and death. Unlike Augustine, who repudiated the entire Virgilian construct and all but equated the city of man with the realm of Satan, Dante sees the promise—and the pathos—ofcivic reality. With Virgil, therefore, he affirms that history is more than an eternal cycle of growth and decay, driven by greed for power and the anarchy ofpartisan will. But if Dante's text, like the Aeneid, presents die hope of the city as transcending the Martian nightmare of historical reality, it is the specific nature of his hope that reveals Reviews133 the great gulf fixed between the Christian poet and his pagan "maestro." While both stress the necessity of sacrifice in the face of Mars/mors—and while both have their epic protagonists afforded a glimpse ofeternity on the brink of their fullest engagement with the works of time—Virgil finally can offer nothing more substantial than the prospect of fame. He cannot imagine any force powerful enough "to convert history's tragic signs into comic ones, history's temporary losses into eternal gains" (p. 35). What Virgil could not imagine was the sign which Dante superimposes upon Mars in order to mark not so much the transcendence of death as its total transfiguration: the Cross. Schnapp draws upon a dazzling array of patristic and medieval sources to elucidate the synthetic achievementofwhat the poet has created in the "Elysium" of his Paradiso. His fourth chapter, "Unica Spes Hominum," is a scholar's gold mine and a literary critic's tour de force where he elaborates upon the traditional exegetical and iconographie resources Dante drew on to forge his poem's response to Virgil's "darkness visible." Schnapp's erudition is exceptional, yet throughout his careful reconstruction of tradition he never loses sight of the hermeneutical concerns that drive the scholarship forward and present a compelling reading of the whole Commedia. For what the "transfiguration of history" finally means for the Christian Aeneas of Dante's poem is, according to Schnapp, an invitation to take up the cross and follow in Christ's steps—a charge delivered by Cacciaguida in the central canto (17) of the Paradiso. This entails...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 132-133
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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