1st Edition

Dantologies Theoretical and Theological Turns in Dante Studies

By William Franke Copyright 2023

    This book comprises a searching philosophical meditation on the evolution of the humanities in recent decades, taking Dante studies as an exemplary specimen. The contemporary currents of theory have decisively impacted this field, but Dante also has a strong relationship with theology. The idea that theology, teleology, and logocentric rationalities are simply overcome and swept away by new theoretical approaches proves much more complex as the theory revolution is exposed in its crypto-theological motives and origins. The revolutionary agendas and methodologies of theoretical currents have ushered in all manner of minorities and postcolonial and gender studies. But the exciting adventure they inaugurate shows up in quite a surprising light when brought to focus through the scholarly discipline of Dante studies as a terrain of dispute between traditional philology and postmodern theory. On this terrain, negative theology can play a peculiarly destabilizing, but also a conciliatory, role: it is equally critical of all languages for a theological transcendence to which it nevertheless remains infinitely open.


    Disclaimer and Acknowledgments

    Introduction: Theoretical and Theological Turns in Dante Studies

    Setting the Scene: The Wider Critical Context

    Theory and Theology: De-limitations of Context

    Some Theoretical Approaches to Dante Preparing the Turn to Theology

    Faith and Philosophy – Dante’s Christian-Neoplatonic Synthesis

    The Theological Turn – Its Discontents and Defenders

    Ancient Theological versus Modern Secular Approaches to Reading Dante

    Part I: Critical Encounters in Dante Studies with the Theoretical/Theological Turn

    1. Equivocations of Comparative Metaphysics in Christian Moevs’s Nondualist Comedy
    2. A Theology of Human Encounter: Vittorio Montemaggi’s Professional-Personal Testament
    3. Professional Dantology and the Human Significance of Dante Studies: Justin Steinberg on the Limits of Law and Representability
    4. Gregory Stone and the Universalist Aspirations of Philosophy in Dante
    5. Giuseppe Mazzotta and Dante’s Poetic Theology of Universalism

    Part II: Essays in the Theoretical/Theological Criticism of Dante

    6. Paul Celan, Dante’s Manfred, and the Woundedness of Language as our Common Bond

    7. Language and Transcendence in Dante’s Paradiso

    8. The Place of the Proper Name in the Topographies of the Paradiso

    9. Dante and East Asian Buddhism: The Apophatic Connection and Human Rights

    10. Dante’s Theology and Contemporary Thought: Recovering Transcendence?



    William Franke is a philosopher of the humanities, a Dante scholar, and a professor of comparative literature at Vanderbilt University. He has also been professor of philosophy at the University of Macao (2013–16), Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Intercultural Theology at the University of Salzburg (2005–06), and Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung research fellow at Potsdam University (1994–95). In 2021, he became Honorary Professor (Professor Honoris Causa) of the Agora Hermeneutica. Franke’s apophatic philosophy is conceived and expounded in On What Cannot Be Said (2007) and A Philosophy of the Unsayable (2014). It is extended into a comparative philosophy of culture in Apophatic Paths from Europe to China (2018) and applied to address current controversies in education and society ranging from identity politics to cognitive science and media studies in On the Universality of What Is Not: The Apophatic Turn in Critical Thinking (2020). As a philosopher of the humanities with a negative theological vision, Franke elaborates a theological poetics in books including Dante’s Interpretive Journey (1996), Poetry and Apocalypse: Theological Disclosures of Poetic Language (2009), Dante and the Sense of Transgression: "The Transgression of the Sign" (2012). He traces the ramifications of Dante’s theological poetics forward in modern poetry (Secular Scriptures: Theological Poetics and the Challenge of Modernity, 2016) and backward toward Dante’s own sources (The Revelation of Imagination: From the Bible and Homer through Virgil and Augustine to Dante, 2015). His book Dante’s Paradiso and the Theological Origins of Modern Thought: Toward a Speculative Philosophy of Self-Reflection (2021) received the Hermes Award: Book of the Year in Phenomenological Hermeneutics from The International Institute for Hermeneutics (IIH). It is cited along with Franke’s two other speculative monographs revolving around Dante published in the same year: The Divine Vision of Dante’s Paradiso: The Metaphysics of Representation (2021) and Dante’s Vita Nuova and the New Testament: Hermeneutics and the Poetics of Revelation (2021).

    “The book is certainly on the leading edge when it considers the purpose and relevance of the humanities in our time – a very “cutting-edge” question for humanities scholars.  In terms of Dante studies specifically, the book provides original insights into the Paradiso, perhaps the least studied of the Commedia’s three canticles. The scholarship is first-rate.  Franke, as a major Dante scholar, is steeped in all the research and publications on Dante.  He has an easy familiarity with most of what has been written about Dante, going back even throughout the twentieth century.”

    -Glenn A. Steinberg, Professor, The College of New Jersy, USA

    “I found this book to be thought-provoking, and at several points mind-changing. an original perspective, and certainly on the "leading edge" of its field. Franke writes with pellucid clarity; even when he is handling complex issues in literary theory and theology, his argument is easy to follow.“ 

    -John Fyler, Professor, Tufts University, USA