Dante in America VI


Location: Special Collections (View on map )

In connection with the 2021 Dante centenary, the Devers Program in Dante Studies and the Center for Italian Studies are organizing a year-long lecture series, which will be held on the Notre Dame campus throughout the 2021 calendar year. The aim of the series is to assess the ways in which Dante has impacted the literary and popular culture of the United States. The series is divided into six sessions. Each session will consist of two speakers who will speak for 30-45 minutes each. The series will address topics including translation, iconography, library collections, the Civil War era, African-American literary culture, American religious culture, American poetry and narrative, and Italian-American culture.

In this session, Arielle Saiber, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Bowdoin College, will give a lecture on American artist Paul Laffoley's plan for a Dante museum in outer space, and Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian & Associate University Librarian for Special Collections at Boston College, will offer perspectives on Dante collecting by American libraries since the early nineteenth century and its possible futures.

The Fall lectures are being planned in a hybrid online and in-person format. Please register here.(link will be coming soon)

Christian Y. Dupont, "Recollecting Dante Collecting"

John Augustine Zahm, CSC, quietly assembled one of the greatest Dante collections in America for the University of Notre Dame around the turn of the twentieth century. Zahm’s efforts followed those undertaken by Daniel Willard Fiske for Cornell University, and by Charles Eliot Norton, George Ticknor, and others for Harvard. What common, or different motivations inspired these and additional Dante collecting enterprises for and by American universities? What do they contribute to our understanding of the reception of Dante in America then and now? What might the future of Dante collecting look like and contribute to our knowledge of Dante’s works and influence? This illustrated lecture will explore these questions and how they relate to and support trends in Dante scholarship.

Christian Y. Dupont has served as Burns Librarian and Associate University Librarian for Special Collections at Boston College since 2014, and as secretary and librarian for the Dante Society of America for as many years. He began his library career as a rare books and manuscripts curator at the University of Notre Dame, where he also earned a doctorate in theology and philosophy. His publications in various disciplines feature several studies of the formation of major American Dante collections and other Dante-related topics. Recent essays include “‘How the Young Women Take to It!’: Italian Exiles and Women Readers of Dante in Nineteenth-Century New England,” “From Poetics to Phenomenology: Consciousness in Dante’s Divine Comedy,” and a historical survey of illustrations for Inferno 33.

Arielle Saiber, “The Lantern of the World Rises to Mortals by Varied Paths:  Paul Laffoley (1935-2015) and Dante”

American artist and architect Paul Laffoley (1935-2015) had a life-long fascination with Dante. Not only did he refer to Dante and the Commedia throughout his writings and paintings, but he created a large-scale triptych illustrating the poem, as well as sketched out plans for a full-immersion Dante study center on a planetoid orbiting the Sun, complete with a to-scale replica of the medieval earth, Mount Purgatory, the material heavens, and the Empyrean through which a “Dante Candidate” could re-enact the Pilgrim’s journey. Laffoley’s work is often placed by art critics within the “visionary” tradition and Laffoley himself embraced that label, even as he deconstructed the term in his writing. Among the many visionary artists, poets, and philosophers Laffoley studied, Dante was central. This talk offers a brief biography of Laffoley and his works; an overview of his two main Dante projects (The Divine Comedy triptych [1972-1975] and The Dantesphere [1978]); and initial considerations on how Dante’s works and thought fit into Laffoley’s larger epistemological project.

Arielle Saiber is Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures at Bowdoin College. Saiber's books include Images of Quattrocento Florence: Writings on Literature, History and Art, co-edited with Stefano U. Baldassarri (Yale, 2000); Giordano Bruno and the Geometry of Language (Ashgate/Routledge, 2005); and Measured Words: Computation and Writing in Renaissance Italy (University of Toronto Press, 2017). She publishes on Dante, medieval and Renaissance literature and mathematics, topics in “literature & science,” and early print history, as well as on science fiction, visual culture, and experimental electronic music. In 2006 she built the web-based archive, Dante Today: Sightings and Citings of Dante’s Work in Contemporary Culture, which she now co-edits with Elizabeth Coggeshall. Saiber has also served on the executive council and as Vice President of the Dante Society of America.

Originally published at italianstudies.nd.edu.