Even if you don’t speak Italian, watch Roberto Benigni talk about Inferno Canto XXVI, just for a couple of minutes. Start at the 2:30 mark, where he says: “The amazing thing about Dante is that in 100 cantos, the intensity never fades. I’ve never read anything, not even Shakespeare, well maybe every now and then in Macbeth, in Macbeth it gets intense from beginning to end, powerful like in Dante, but in Dante, in every verse, there is an intensity that never fades. It’s a book that you applaud - on some pages, literally, you’re there reading by yourself and you find yourself applauding, you don’t even understand why. I sometimes all of a sudden start yelling ‘Bravo!’” He goes on to talk about Moby Dick and its Dantean heritage, and how of course Melville read Dante, in the Longfellow translation, and look how you can see it in the way Captain Ahab meets his end. Treat yourself, if you like, to Benigni’s beautiful recitation of the entire canto starting at the 5:15 mark (“Godi, Fiorenza”), and follow along with the text in English and Italian here (input Inferno, Canto 26, both languages). I show students clips of this speech in first-year Italian, when we tackle Dante for the first time. They don’t need to understand every word to see and appreciate Roberto Benigni’s animation, the way he lights up when he talks about this canto, and the fact that his unending love for it comes from his having thought about it a lot, such that he knows the whole thing from memory. This video sent me back to Dante a second time eager to see what Benigni saw, and I never read Inferno XXVI without thinking of him sitting all by himself in a room, applauding.
I love lots of things an embarrassing amount, as you will have gathered if you have been reading along. As it turns out, I have been pleasantly surprised to learn, the act of writing about things I love an embarrassing amount tops the list. Before I wrote the Casablanca essay a couple of weeks ago, I did not know what the weekend feature would be, at all. It was the first thing I have written in months that truly persuaded me of my desire to do this. In discussing both Casablanca and my Natalia Ginzburg post from last weekend with some readers, and in reflecting on my teaching and writing over the years of my academic career, I have become more and more convinced that literary criticism is a force for good that belongs in places where people can not only read it but also feel like participants. I love telling you about why I love that one scene in Casablanca, and I want you to go watch the movie and feel like you have a vantage point that opens it up to you and makes it more inviting to you than it might have otherwise been. I want you to do the same for me. Persuade me to watch Aliens for its feminist premise and near-perfect character-building, even though I am not really a sci-fi person. Those are the conversions I want to undergo myself as well as provoke in others. My hope for “Go ahead and love something,” then, is that it will eventually feature occasional guest bloggers. I enjoy writing about art and literature is because it feels like I am teaching people how to read something such that the fullness of its beauty and of its genius becomes apparent. I love it just as much when people do the same for me.
One of the great joys of this past year was my discovery of a podcast (The Cine-Files, which I highly recommend checking out) in which the hosts taught me over the course of 2.5 hours how to read and appreciate the film Die Hard. I had seen Die Hard once before, but only because my college boyfriend was like, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN’T SEEN DIE HARD?” I really couldn’t have cared less about it then, but after the Cine-Files were done, I actually gave a talk at a college in which I compared Dante’s Divine Comedy to Die Hard. Those guys’ love for the movie made me into a Die Hard fan (pun intended!) because of the depth and specificity of their admiration and the critical analysis at its core. In a grand and sweeping way, when I think of why I do what I do, I think it’s because I want people everywhere to be included in the practice of loving art, whatever form it takes. Whether you love Die Hard or Dante, I want to encourage you to think about why, and about how this thing that you love works on you. If you love something so much you could sit down right now and write 4000 words about it without even blinking an eye, then that’s the love I want to hear about (although I might make you cut it down a little). Think about it. Talk to me. And don’t worry, your Dante post is coming.