Poetic Vision & Vernacular Theology: Reading Dante & Julian of Norwich

(Co-Conveners:  Thomas Pfau, Sarah Beckwith, Martin Eisner, Paul Griffiths)  The objective of this working group will be to study Dante’s,Commedia and the writings of Julian of Norwich intensively over a period of two years. Each of the first three semesters (with meetings scheduled bi-weekly) will focus on one of the three books of the Commedia and the staggering wealth of literary, theological, and philosophical issues Dante’s work continues to raise to this day. The fourth and final term would be given over to the work of Julian of Norwich. Our reading and discussion of these texts will be complemented by carefully selected secondary literature from a variety of fields (literary studies, theology, philosophy, visual studies) so as to cast further light on how the Commedia “interanimates” (to use John Donne’s phrase) forms of knowledge that have since evolved into distinct, heavily specialized academic fields: theology; literary studies; psychology; law; philosophy; visual studies, etc.

Part of what makes Dante and Julian such enduringly relevant and compelling writers is their unique fusion of large- and small-scale forms of knowledge in a multi-layered, visual and narrative form. Aided by the propulsive logic of the terza rima, Dante’s poetry in particular appears to do an astonishing number of things at once: Through a narrative that is “both linear and circular” (Prue Shaw), the Commedia “offers a picture of earthly life, … whose confusion is not concealed or attenuated or immaterialized, but preserved in full evidence” (Auerbach). At the same time, Dante’s and Julian’s acutely visual approach to narrative is shaped by the paradox of a (theological) knowledge that does not presuppose – as modern epistemologies invariably do – that the meaning and conclusion of the overarching narrative is ever fully in our grasp.

Instead, “the vision of ultimate love is the end of the possibility of story, [even as] the necessity of story excludes the possibility of a completed vision” (Denys Turner). Hence it is that visuality and figuration in Dante and Julian cannot be mapped onto the Kantian antinomies of the authentically (meaningfully) “aesthetic” and the merely “ornamental,” respectively. Rather, Dante’s and Julian’s vernacular theology entwines the realm of “earthly” (irdisch), empirical, and visual reality with a narrative (anagogical) model that, under the heading of figura, Erich Auerbach had influentially identified as the beginning of Western Realist narrative. No other work of Western literature so consummately embodies and fuses the social, psychological, theological, and political dimensions of its ambient world as the Commedia. Yet to call it “interdisciplinary” not only amounts to an anachronism but also vastly understates how in Dante’s and Julian’s vernacular theology social and political issues, moral psychology, and theological questions are fused in ways that far exceed our own, often clumsy ways of attempting staging a productive exchange between otherwise segregated forms of knowing.

Spring 2017

The Art of Dying (1475): https://www.wdl.org/en/item/8976/view/1/1/

 

Eighth Working Group Session: March 21, 2017

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Reading:  Chapters 39-50,  "A Revelation of Love" (Long text)  (Watson & Jenkins, pp. 239-273 Colledge & Walsh, pp. 244-267).
Secondary Reading: Selections from Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian.Chapter 3: "Two Stories of Sin"  and   Chapter 5: "Prayer and Providence"

Seventh Working Group Session: February 28, 2017

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Reading:  Chapters 1-30,  "A Revelation of Love" (Long text)  (Watson & Jenkins, pp. 122-217, Colledge & Walsh, pp. 175-229).
Secondary Reading: Barbara Newman, “What did it mean to say “I saw”? The clash Between Theory and Practice in Medieval Visionary Culture” (Speculum 2005, Number 1)

Sixth Working Group Session: January 24, 2017

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Reading:  Short Text, "A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman" (Watson & Jenkins, pp. 61-119, Colledge & Walsh, pp. 125-170).
Secondary Reading: Watson's and Jenkins' introduction (pp. 1-59).

Fall 2016

Special Event: November 4, 2016

10:00 am--12:00 p.m.: Talk and Roundtable Discussion:  Christian Moevs, "Ugolino and the Eucharist"

0013 Westbrook (Duke Divinity School)

Roundtable Discussion Material Here:  Handout  and Inferno, Canto 33

 

Fifth Working Group Session: November 3, 2016

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.
With special guest Christian Moevs (Notre Dame), author of The Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy, discussing "Dante: Knowing Oneself, Knowing God"

Primary Text: Dante, Paradiso, Cantos 24-28

 

Fourth Working Group Session: October 20, 2016

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Text: Dante, Paradiso, Cantos 19-23
Secondary Text: Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy, Chapters 1 and 2 ("The Empyrean" and "Matter")

Third Working Group Session: October 6, 2016

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Text: Dante, Paradiso, Cantos 12-18
Secondary Text: Jeffery Schnapp, “Marte/Morte/Martiro: The Dilemma of Florentine History”

Second Working Group Session: September 22, 2016

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Text: Dante, Paradiso, Cantos 6-11
Secondary Text:  John Freccerro, "The Dance of the Stars: Paradiso X"

First Working Group Session: September 8, 2016

Breedlove Room (349), Rubenstein Library, 7:15-9 p.m.

Primary Text: Dante, Paradiso, Cantos 1-5
Secondary Text: Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy, pp. 107-132
 

 

Archived Working Group Sessions