I forget, sometimes, how small the world is, and how especially small (and accommodating*) the world of the Internet is. Once upon a time, for instance, Giant Squid Expert Steve O’Shea (who is not Dead to Me, not like that goddamned poseur Clyde Roper) sent me an email because of something I wrote on the Internet. Also, ex-boyfriends keep finding me on Facebook.
(One got sort of fat and scruffy, which is awesome; one has a huge house in Hawai’i and has too many pictures of himself on a yacht — proving, yet again, that God never gives with both hands. “Do you wish you were still dating the doctor?” Zach asks, because we’re going to be married soon, and this is the kind of stuff that can put a kink in the reception. “No,” I tell him. For one thing, the doctor used to call me “baby” all the time, and: no. He was three apples tall and I towered over him. “If you can’t reach the top shelf,” I remember asking him, “then why do you keep putting things up there?” “That’s why I have you, baby,” he’d say. So while on the one hand, we’d be in a huge house on Hawai’i if we were still together, on the other hand, I’d spend my days on being called “baby” while standing on tip-toe reaching for things too high for him to reach and surrounded by the ocean of which I’m mortally terrified.**)
[* I wonder, sometimes, if the word “fetish” in its sexual sense even has any meaning any more, since a Google search for “midget bisexuals who knit” is sure to bring up at least a couple hundred hits. No one need live in shameful isolation any more. And yet, there’s something to be said about shame…]
[** This terror of the ocean — and of whales — is a weird, late-breaking phobia for me. No idea where it came from. And it’s not like it doesn’t make sense; whales, as you know, have an unsettling habit of surfacing where it’s not helpful. Like under a small boat, say. “But we’re in a river,” Zach once suggested, helpfully, during a moment where I was in mid-panic. We were inner-tubing down the Shenandoah and had reach a still part of the river, and I couldn’t see to the bottom, and all I could think about was something large brushing my ass before surfacing under me, knocking me out of the inner-tube and eating me. “But don’t they eat krill?” And I love Zach, I do, very much, and I’m going to marry him and it’s going to be wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But his insistence on resorting to rationality has and will prove difficult in the future.]
The reason I’m even thinking about the web of interconnectedness that brings us all closer than we’ve ever been before (for example, I can promise you that I did not have nearly the same access to Russian brides that I have now, via email) is that someone found this website by searching for the Emily Dickinson quotation “that it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” I wanted to share an email my friend Steve had written to me, and posted an excerpt from it here, and someone somewhere searching for Emily Dickinson found me and my small, self-absorbed presence on the Internet and hopefully was as impressed with Steve as I am on a daily basis. Or, instead, they said, “Fuck. I can’t quote any of this in my term paper.” Or they were hoping for something a little more multi-orgasmic. I don’t always understand how anyone’s mind works. And now, what with the title of this particular post, from the first line of Canto VII, I imagine I’ll have a flock of adolescent Satanists disappointed that there’s not more about Anton LaVey here. (Special note to those adolescents: He was a nice Jewish boy named Howard Levey once upon a time, and keeping snakes is the antisocial version of the Lesbian Cat Lady. Also, sit up straight. Just because you want to subvert the Christian paradigm your mother and father subscribe to doesn’t mean you have to sit all slouched like that at the computer. And would it kill you to wear a little color now and again? What about the blue polo shirt? We’ll sew an alligator on it. That’s like a snake, isn’t it, Mr Hedonist?)
And speaking of that opening line: no one knows what the hell it means. It’s not Italian. It’s the fourteenth century equivalent of Nell-speak. (And God bless the poor sap who had to transcribe Jodie Foster’s gibberish for the closed-captioning. [typing]Gai’ainja! Gai’ainja! Tai tai, spay fo nay![/typing] “Dude, I’m out. I’m going to do something easier than this, like naming Pokemon monsters or writing speeches for Michele Bachman.”) The gist of it is: Plutus, the moster guarding the entrance to the Fourth Circle, is yelling something to the effect of “Get out of here, poet!” and Virgil is having none of it, so he defeats Plutus by chanting at him. (Taci, maladetto lupo!/consuma dentro te con la tua rabbia; “Silence, accursed wolf! Let your fury feed itself inside you.” And then, a little later, we’re told tal cadde a terra la fiera crudele; “so fell that cruel beast to the ground.”)
The Fourth Circle is the home of Avarice and Prodigality (according to my handy cheat-sheet at the front of my edition of the poem). It’s a nice little bit of poetic bow-tying that Virgil curses the monster guarding this particular gate with a punishment that’s pretty avaristic.
I had other hopes for this project. I wanted something that gave me a topic sentence at least once a week. Something that got me writing on a somewhat regular basis. “And why not the Divine Comedy?” I remember thinking. I’m sure out of the wealth of sins I’ve committed as a human being (at least sixteen since I sat down to write this morning), I’m sure I’ve got a story or something to connect me with each of Dante’s nine circles. But the issue is, Dante doesn’t understand sin the way that I do. Or, rather, he defines them in ways that aren’t immediately apparent to me. The poem refuses to be made personal; the poem insists on being its own toxic thing. (It’s not achingly human in the way, say, The Cantebury Tales is. And yet, ironically, Dante’s poem is suffused with aching humans.) And he’s writing of a God even more monstrous than I can regularly conceive — and I’m no big fan of the Big Guy to begin with. I’m left feeling about people who praise Dante the same way I feel about people who praise Ulysses: these aren’t people I’m going to enjoy knowing.
Avarice for Dante is a means towards cataloging the hoarding sins of the Church. Dante, in effect, is more Catholic than, say, the Pope. Or, at least, the several popes he describes as being punished in a circle dance in the Fourth Circle. Dante has lumped clerics, priests, and popes here, while not naming anyone specifically. (While subversive, he’s also smart, that Dante, and won’t necessarily name anyone outright who isn’t a figure of myth of antiquity.) Prodigality, on the other hand, is vaguer. Dante doesn’t give direct examples of those who spend wildly beyond their means; he just uses them as the yang to Avarice’s yin. The Avaristic yearn after the money the Prodigal spend foolishly to hoard it; the Prodigal yearn after teh money the Avaristic hoard to spend it. Dante punishes them by forcing them to dance a giant hora which, as the Hollanders point out (Jean and Robert, translators of the edition I mostly use), would look like a giant zero if viewed from above.
I own six copies of Dombey and Son. They’re not even necessarily different editions; four of the six are the same edition. I hoard books. When we’re at a book store, if I can find nothing new to buy, I’ll simply buy something I already own. There’s something sensual about the feel of a brand new book — the cover is smooth and cool to the touch. The spine is uncreased and pristine. The pages are slick and white and unread. I will spend beyond my means to own books. I covet them. Yet I’m not a collector. I’m not interested in hard-backed books or first editions. I feel in some ways as if this would make me destined for the Fourth Circle, except I remember that I also gluttonously ate both containers of ice cream before Zach had a chance to enjoy them, and that I have spent many fruitless hours with lust all over my heart.
Maybe I could just time-share throughout Hell.
The canto ends with the line Venimmo al piè d’una torre al da sezzo; “Unto the foot of a tower we came at last.”
Next week: Canto VIII