Dante in America II


Location: Special Collections (View on map )

In connection with the 2021 Dante centenary, the Devers Program in Dante Studies and the Center for Italian Studies are organizing a year-long lecture series, which will be held on the Notre Dame campus throughout the 2021 calendar year. The aim of the series is to assess the ways in which Dante has impacted the literary and popular culture of the United States.

In this second session, Kristina Olson, Associate Professor of Italian at George Mason University, will give a lecture on translations and iconographies of Dante and Kathleen Boyle, Associate Teaching Professor of Italian at Notre Dame, will speak on Dante and Italian-American culture.

This series is open to the public.

Kristina Olson, "In Good Faith: Translations and Iconographies of Dante from Longfellow and Doré to Birk and Sanders"

The Californian-born artist Sandow Birk, in collaboration with writer and editor Marcus Sanders, executed a dual translation - one visual and the other verbal, including paintings, lithographs, and a "textual adaptation" - for their Divine Comedy, published just after the turn of the millennium. Offering graphic-novel style lithographs inspired by Gustave Doré, Birk adapted the Commedia in words and images, "carrying" Dante's afterlife over to an urban American landscape. Not only does Birk craft a new urban American vernacular when he adapts Dante's poem to such cityscapes as L.A., San Francisco, and New York, but he also achieves a further translation in showing us the location of Dante's afterlife around the globe in Tokyo, Mexico City, and Mecca. In bringing Dante's world across the world, Birk shows us that Dante's vision of the Christian afterlife can be illustrated with images from Islam and Hinduism. Birk boldly demonstrates that adaptations of the poem should not be limited by geography, time or faith. Birk's Comedy offers Dante's poem a global expanse while retaining its spirit of political and moral invective. In this talk, Olson contextualizes Birk's adaptation within a broad survey of verse translations and visual adaptations of the Commedia since Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Gustave Doré. Since Birk's Comedy is one of the most recent and ambitious of such twenty-first century American creations, we can study his illustrations and textual adaptation with Marcus Sanders for their adherence to and rejection of these two rich and diverse traditions. While Birk's illustrations demonstrate a strong fidelity to Doré's engravings, for example, and neglect the work of many other visual artists, the verse translation he completed with Sanders is a free-form adaptation of many existing English translations, including Longfellow. The iconographic focus of the project is admitted by the artist himself, who described the origins of the project in Doré, with the secondary allure of Dante's poetry. Birk looked to only one iconographic source, whereas he and Sanders consulted many translations of Dante, from Longfellow to others. This talk considers the relationship of his visual and verbal projects to these two separate yet intertwined traditions.

Kristina Olson is Associate Professor of Italian at George Mason University, where she is also the Italian Program Coordinator. Her research explores the intersection of history and literature in the works of medieval and early modern Italian authors, paying particular attention to matters of language, gender and reception. Her current book project, Sartorial Poetics: Clothing and Identity in Late Medieval Italian Literature, investigates clothing, gender, and identity in Italy in the works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, as well as the chronicles and early lyric production. Her first monograph, Courtesy Lost: Dante, Boccaccio and the Literature of History (University of Toronto Press, 2014), reads Dante’s influence on Boccaccio in the contexts of social, political, and economic transformations in the fourteenth century. Together with Christopher Kleinhenz (Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison), she edited a new volume of Approaches to Teaching Dante's Divine Comedy, with the Modern Language Association's Approaches to Teaching World Literature series (2020). She serves as the current President of the American Boccaccio Association. She is also an Associate Editor for Digital Dante and serves on the Editorial Boards of Dante Studies and Bibliotheca Dantesca. She was Vice President of the Dante Society of America from 2016-18.

Kathleen Boyle, "'All the Verities Mundane and Spiritual': Dantean Intertextuality in Pietro di Donato's Christ in Concrete"

Just as Dante Alighieri's sociocultural imprint on Italian America is well documented, there is no shortage of examples of Dantean intertextuality in the Italian-American literary canon. Indeed, from Lorenzo Da Ponte's use of the Commedia in his language courses in New York and direct references to Dante in popular culture, to brief citations and elaborate treatments of Dante's works in literature, Dante frequently serves as a type of bulwark for new Italian-American immigrants negotiating their simultaneous proximity to and distance from their culture of origin. Per his representation in literary works, Dante was often shown as strengthening Italian America's connection to Italy. As such, he was represented as providing a sort of orientation that reinforced Italy's legitimacy, while offering support to new immigrants who were met more often than not with prejudices, and who often described their experiences as exilic. Pietro di Donato is arguably one of the most well-known Italian-American writers, and his 1939 novel Christ in Concrete has been widely appreciated for the attention it gives to the early 20th century Italian-American experience. While Christ in Concrete has occasionally been cited by critics as directly engaging with the Dantean tradition, these commentaries can be cursory, acknowledging di Donato's citation of Dante, but leaving much more to be said. Therefore, after briefly addressing the critical reception of Christ in Concrete, my aim is to redirect scholarly attention to the text's prevailing and sustained albeit at times underappreciated engagement with Dante.

Kathleen Boyle is an Associate Teaching Professor of Italian at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches all levels of Italian language and also a course on Italian diaspora studies. She did her graduate work at the Italian School of Middlebury College, where she completed an MA in literary studies. In 2013 she completed her PhD. in Romance Philology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.