Looking at the divine comedy


‘Among others, Montale said that poetry should first of all be looked at before being read. And he sustained this point referring to Ungaretti’s Fiumi, a repetition of short verses, like drops running on a page. A bad page setup can ruin a poem forever, said Calvino, referring to Montale and recalled Anguilla, written in a single long paragraph which snakes down the page like the fish about which it relates. This too is a poem to look at. Zanzotto says it is impossible to read M’illumino d’immenso, for example, without seeing the white of the surrounding page. And it is a well known fact that even people who can’t speak a foreign language know whether the text before them is a poem or not. Whatever the script – prose, poetry or formulas, we should always look at it first. Because reading isn’t easy. Above all for our society which is, quite wrongly, said to be based on images and yet is unable to see them. Consequently, we can’t imagine (or transform into images) the meaning of words. Let’s take boat for example. It is made of wood and it is a thing. Even wood sometimes means boat. Some boats have a mast, to keep up the sail. But today nobody thinks we have a pear, or a pine, to sail in. Poets, on the other hand, did think that way, and so did those who, in defining the supporting element of the sail, imagined using that word, or that image. Remember Foscolo in talking of Nelson, il prode/che troca fé la trionfata nave/del maggior pino, e si scavò la bara? Who, to put it briefly, cut his coffin out of the main mast (pine in this case) of the enemy admiral. But mast is also equivalent to cross, dulce lignum. Wood that is. Have you ever seen those images with the boat – the Church – which has as its mast the holy cross? Quite apart from its meaning, wood is also related to sign. The wood of the cross produces the sign of those who declare their belonging to Christ, the tree of Eden comes to pass in the cross of Golgotha, Christ is the new Adam, the boat of the Church is the arc of the New Alliance. It is all quite confusing – signs, countermands, cross-references, superimposures, to which we are educated by the liturgy, often with an insistence which not always manages to break our habit of not looking. Unless they are explained to us, the ancient frescos – with all their images, their recollections and their symbols – remain silent to our eyes. Guardare la Commedia (Looking at the Comedy) is an exhibition designed by Alberto Brasioli, Enrico Gamba and other friends, in a universe of things which are, at the same time, words and signs. The exhibition presents 35 panels, each of which containing passages from the Comedy or proposals for reading according to a route indicated by the organisers, and a number of photos which evoke and recall the above subject matter, using poetic scenes from the work of architect, Marcello Chiarenza. Daily sacraments, transfigured objects, wood and stone symbols, like the sculptures Marcello Chiarenza has purposely created for the exhibition. In the initial darkness of the text, in the initially terrorising sea of his life, for a long period without paths or points of reference, Dante found a companionship which enabled him to find the light, to navigate safely. We have attempted to share this experience with you: to look at a text as you would look at things, at your own life and that of others, which bloom like palm trees, like sails, like roses, from the luminous pages on which the black and fertile seed of words has been thrown.’


18 Agosto 1996 - 24 Agosto 1996




Agorà C1 (Area CdO)
Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions