Dante and education

A copy of Dante’s Inferno translated by Ciaran Carson. One day, to pass the time, we read of Lancelot. Indeed. A former owner has underlined this and that ­– I can almost hear the tut-tutting over translation disagreements. I don’t have the same difficulties: ‘Halfway through the story of my life / I came into a gloomy wood because / I’d wandered off the path, away from the light.’ Is the wanderer always halfway? Zeno’s paradox? The present is always mid way between birth and death? ‘It’s hard to put into words what that wood was; / I shudder even now to think of it, / so wild and rough and tortured were its ways.’ If I were to decide to educate myself, reading Carson’s translation of Dante’s Inferno would be a start. Perhaps its plan could be used to structure the rooms of a satellite college orbiting the Earth, allowing one to look down with wonder during geography and history lessons (I would retain traditional disciplinary boundaries in order to foster interdisciplinary thinking). And at its heart, as in William Gibson’s Count Zero, an artificial intelligence sampling the weightless bits and bobs floating around it to make works indistinguishable from those of Joseph Cornell. A feather, a map, a bird’s egg. Ursula Le Guin writes: ‘To order, to govern, / is to begin naming; / when names proliferate / it’s time to stop. / If you know when to stop / you’re in no danger.’ That is a passage from her version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Misgovernment and over-naming are in a historical embrace at present. The inhabited reality of the city becomes ever thinner as it becomes no more than an expression of wealth and franchise. And the atmosphere of the planet thickens up and the weather systems change. A cliff edge for humanity? Or will we be let down gently?

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