The journey of a man: Roberto Casati reflects on Dante’s metaphysics for The Divine Comedy

Pascale Marthine Tayou: Les cercles de cristal, 2005

The Divine Comedy exhibition at MMK unites more than 60 African artists to offer us new interpretations of Dante’s masterpiece. Why is The Divine Comedy such a universal work that continues to touch people from different epoches and cultures? Why is it constantly being revisited in a contemporary key? Texts of the exhibition’s catalogue (link) allow us to better understand the substance of the encounter between the Dante’s poem and some of the most prominent artists of the African contemporary scene. Among them is the essay of the philosopher Roberto Casati titledStones, Shadows and Visions, published by Doppiozero.  Following Divina Commedia africana, the dialogue between Simon Njami and Elio Grazioli, this essay allows us to go even deeper into the exhibition’s behind-the-scenes.

Casati focuses on the fundamental point of establishment of a relationship between the narrative and the reader, between the past, when it was written, and the present, when it’s being reinterpreted in various cultural contexts and scenarios. The Divine Comedy is above all a story about a journey of a man.  The scholar compels us to be transported to the space where the actions take place. We have to let ourselves go and live “the here and now” of the story, to immerse ourselves and become open to what Casati defines as “the spontaneous understanding of the world”.  We should suspend disbelief and abandon restrictive rational tools to create empathy with Dante, who through his actions tries to comprehend a bit more of the world around him. This is just a taste of the original interpretation offered by Casati, which we invite you to examine more in depth in the complete version of the essay (in Italian and inEnglish).

The Divine Comedy is an universal work, which continues to engage us regardless of time and cultural differences.  To write it the author took the historical, theological and artistic knowledge/threads and wove them into the story of man’s experience, at times flawed and imperfect, confronting a world that he does not know and cannot explain or comprehend. The reader, the scholar, the director or a contemporary artist can keep on repeating this experience endlessly. The African artists that participate in The Divine Comedy exhibition invite us to retrace Dante’s familiar path through new eyes and discover new forms of contemporary culture.

Roberto Casati’s essay Stones, Shadows and Visions is published in the catalogue “The Divine Comedy- Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists” (published by Kerber Verlag) on invitation from the curator Simon Njami. It’s kindly offered by the author tolettera27 for the Doppiozero publication. lettera27 e Moleskine are the partners of The Divine Comedy exhibition, currently taking place at MMK Frankfurt and open to public until July 27th, 2014.