Dante’s Paradiso and the Theological Origins of Modern Thought : Toward a Speculative Philosophy of Self-Reflection book cover
1st Edition

Dante’s Paradiso and the Theological Origins of Modern Thought
Toward a Speculative Philosophy of Self-Reflection

ISBN 9780367714666
Published March 25, 2021 by Routledge
364 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Self-reflection, as the hallmark of the modern age, originates more profoundly with Dante than with Descartes. This book rewrites modern intellectual history, taking Dante’s lyrical language in Paradiso as enacting a Trinitarian self-reflexivity that gives a theological spin to the birth of the modern subject already with the Troubadours. The ever more intense self-reflexivity that has led to our contemporary secular world and its technological apocalypse can lead also to the poetic vision of other worlds such as those experienced by Dante. Facing the same nominalist crisis as Duns Scotus, his exact contemporary and the precursor of scientific method, Dante’s thought and work indicate an alternative modernity along the path not taken. This other way shows up in Nicholas of Cusa’s conjectural science and in Giambattista Vico’s new science of imagination as alternatives to the exclusive reign of positive empirical science. In continuity with Dante’s vision, they contribute to a reappropriation of self-reflection for the humanities.

Table of Contents



INTRODUCTION: The Theological Apotheosis of Lyric in Dante's Paradiso

1. Self-Reflexion and Lyricism in the Paradiso

2. Orientation to Philosophical Logics and Rhetorics of Self-Reflexivity

3. Self-Reflexive Lyricism and Ineffability

PART I. The Paradiso’s Theology of Language and its Lyric Origins: Out of the Abyss

4. The Self-Reflexive Trinitarian Structure of God and Creation

5. Beyond Representation—Origins of Lyric Reflection in Nothing

6. The Circularity of Song—and its Mystic Upshot

7. Self-Reflexive Fulfillment in Lyric Tradition and its Theological Troping by Dante

8. The Lark Motif and its Echoes

9. An Otherness Beyond Objective Representation and Reference

10. The Mother Bird’s Vigil—Canto XXIII and the Lyric Circle

11. Ineffability in the Round—and its Breakthrough

12. The Substance of Creation as Divine Self-Reflection

13. Eclipse of Trinity and Incarnation as Models of Transcendence through Self-Reflection

14. Narcissus and his Redemption by Dante

PART II. Self-Reflection on the Threshold between the Middle Ages and Modernity: A Theological Genealogy of the Birthing of Modernity as the Age of Representation

15. Self-Reflective Refoundation of Consciousness in Philosophy

16. From Postmodern to Premodern Critique of Self-Reflection—Egolology versus Theology

17. Self-Reflection in the Turning from Medieval to Modern Epistemology

18. Crisis of Conflicting Worldviews and Duns Scotus

19. Towards the Self-Reflexive Formation of Transcendental Concepts

20. Severance of Theory from Practice, Disentangling of Infinite from Finite, by Transcendental Reflection

21. Scotus’s Discovery of a New Path for Metaphysics—Intensities of Being

22. Scotus’s Formal Distinction

23. The Intensional Object of Onto-theology as Transcendental Science

24. Phenomenological Reduction and the Univocity of Being

25. The Epistemological Turn in the Formal Understanding of Being

26. Signification of the Real and an Autonomous Sphere for Representation

27. Objective Representation—Beyond Naming and Desiring the Divine

28. Conceptual Production of "Objective" Being—The Way of Representation

29. From Logical (Dis)Analogy to Imaginative Conjecture versus the Forgetting of Being

30. Reflective Repetition Realized in the Supersensible Reality of Willing

31. Fichte’s Absolutization—and Overcoming—of Self-Reflection

32. From Analogy to Metaphor

33. Univocity as Ground of the Autonomy of the Secular

34. The Fate of Negative Theology in Scotus

35. Coda on Scotus and Modality

36. Arabic Epistemology of Reflection of Transcendence

PART III. The Origin of Language in Reflection and the Breaking of its Circuits: Overcoming the Age of Representation through Repetition

37. The Tradition of Self-Reflection and Modern Self-Forgetting

38. The Original Event of Language in Modern Lyric Tradition

39. The New Rhetoric of Reflexivity in Geoffrey de Vinsauf

40. Poetic Self-Referentiality as Creative Source—From Paradiso to les Symbolistes

41. The Paradox of Lyric as Song of the Self—Deflected to the Other

42. Self and Other between Order and Chance—Ambiguity in Lyric Language

43. Language beyond Representation—Repetition and Performativity

44. Quest for the Origin of Language—From De vulgari eloquentia to the Paradiso

45. Dante’s Recovery of Speculative Metaphysics as Productive

46. Referentially Empty Signs and Semiotic Plenitude

47. Sum—Lyric as Self-Manifestation of Language and its Ontological Power of Creation

PART IV. Self-Reflection, Speculation, and Revelation: Modern Philosophy and the Linguistic Way to Wisdom in Western Tradition

48. Lacanian Psychoanalytics of Self-love: From the In-fantile to the Divine

49. Formal Linguistic Approaches to Self-Reflexivity

50. Formalist Theory of the Poem and Agamben’s "La fine del poema"

51. Self-Reflexivity and Self-Transcendence—Toward the Unknown

52. The Ambiguity of Self-Reflection in Contemporary Thought and History 

53. The Historical Turn of Self-Reflection in Vico’s New Science

54. Self-Reflexivity in Paradiso and the Secular Destiny of the West

55. Language as Speculative Mirroring of the Whole of Being in the Word—Gadamer

56. From Philosophical Idealism to Linguistic Ontology

57. Language as Revelation or Revealment

58. Language as Disclosure in Lyric Time: Heidegger, Heraclitus, and Unconcealment

PART V. Dante’s Redemption of Narcissus and the Spiritual Vocation of Poetry as an Exercise in Self-Reflection

59. Lyric Subjectivity and Narcissism—Totalization and Transcendence

60. Narcissus Redeemed—Positive Precedents from Plotinus

61. Lyric Self-Reflection and the Subversion of the Proper

62. Lyric Language as Spiritual Knowledge in its Sensual Immediacy—Orphic Echoes

63. The Exaltation of Technique in the Troubadours and in Dante's Stony Rhymes

64. Lyric Reflexivity in Panoptic Historical-Philosophical Perspective

65. Romantic Singularity as a New Universal Reflexivity

66. Dante’s Narcissus Redeemed—A Perennial Paradigm for Contemporary Thought

EPILOGUE. Reflexive Stylistics in the Language of Paradiso

POSTSCRIPT ON METHOD. From Genealogy to Apophatics


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William Franke is a philosopher of the humanities, a Dante scholar, and professor of comparative literature and religion at Vanderbilt University. He has also been professor and chair of philosophy at the University of Macao (2013–16); Fulbright-University of Salzburg Distinguished Chair in Intercultural Theology and the Study of Religion (2006–07); and Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung research fellow at the University of Potsdam (1994–95).  


"With his characteristic creativity, originality, and humane learning on full display, William Franke reconsiders the historical role of self-reflection in human language and thought. This book explores how self-reflection emerged as one of the chief characteristics of the modern age, often devolving into self-enclosed narcissism. Through an immersive study of language, lyric, and theology in Dante’s Paradiso, Franke charts a way out of modern cultural narcissism by developing Dante’s model of self-reflection as a way of opening the self up to others and even to the Divine. Franke’s bracing and compelling argument is sure to be a major contribution to theological studies of Dante’s Divine Comedy by giving readers a Dante they can think with about the problems and possibilities of life in modernity."

Matthew A. Rothaus Moser, Honors College, Azusa Pacific University

"Franke has long been a pathbreaker in Dante Studies. The current book is a tour de force demonstration that he continues to play that role. The connection he skilfully interweaves between Dante’s absolute mastery of the lyric style of poetry and the modern crisis arising from the inner ambiguity of "self-reflection" at the origin of language and self-consciousness will prove an immensely fruitful focus of discussion, not just regarding Dante, but in philosophy of the person, comparative literature and cultural studies generally."

Frank Ambrosio, Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University

"Both rigorous and evocative, this book provides a powerful invitation to recognize in Dante’s Paradiso resources for profound philosophical and theological illumination. Franke shows that Dante’s lyric language can help shatter – towards transcendence – the sterile self-referentiality that characterizes much modern thinking."

Vittorio Montemaggi, Senior Lecturer in Religion and the Arts, King’s College London


"Beyond its considerable value as a thoughtful and thought-provoking study of lyric self-reflexivity and transcendence with Dante as a focal point, Franke’s book will be an important resource for scholars in a wide array of areas in literary criticism, literary theory, and philosophy."

Gregorgy B. Stone, Joseph S. Yenni Professor of Italian Studies, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Louisiana State University


"In Dante’s Paradiso and the Theological Origins of Modern Thought, William Franke fruitfully explores the entwined questions of possibilities and perils of self-reflection and narcissism. Narcissism becomes, in this book, the major textual clue and theoretical term for exploring the Dantean and Scotian alternatives to the pre-modern history of modern metaphysics and epistemology. Pursuing this clue, Franke begins from the thought that, if the world is nothing but a specular image of the divine, then God’s relationship to the world can be understood to some degree as fundamentally narcissistic. However, as Franke also shows, it is also possible to see in the Dantean and Scotian alternatives different ways in which human imitation of that narcissistic relationship can play out. In exploring these alternatives, Franke offers a fresh and intriguing approach to his already significant contributions to two genres of recent work in Dante Studies: work motivated by methodological commitments to contemporary critical theory and work on Dante’s theology."

Jason Aleksander, Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean of Faculty Success and Research, College of Humanities and the Arts, San Jose State University