Robin Blaser
from The Holy Forest
(C) 2009 Estate of Robin Blaser. Used by permission.
Great Companion: Dante Alighiere


            the speech born-in-one's-house is that which we acquire
            without rule
                         De Vulgari Eloquentia I. 1

            The language for which we have no words, which doesn't
            pretend, like grammatical language, to be there before
            being, but is 'alone and first in mind,' is our language,
            that is, the language of poetry.
                         Giorgio Agamben, Idea of Prose

            Face to face, but without seeing each other from now
            on, the gods and men are abandoned to writing. This
            abandonment is the sign given to us for our history yet
            to come. It has only just begun. My god! We are only
            beginning to write.
                         Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community

entering the territory—map is not territory—the boy                                             Korzybski
looked up from the book he held in his lap, startled
that it seemed the size of half of himself it was so
large compared to Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne,
Melville, Dickinson, Longfellow around the house—
Gustave Doré's Inferno of the dark forest, where the
boy's mind multiplied the leopard, lion and wolf
in his heart—heart and mind were then entwined—
entered the writhing trees, drew back from Geryon,
as if to hide, touched the page of flames that were
not raindrops, swept his hand over the streaming
anguish in the air, felt the chill black of the ice
around winged Lucifer, who chewed on something
with two legs that he didn't want to imagine—in
bed at night after saying 'please, if I die before I
wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take'—which was
very hard to think about—he returned before he
slept to Doré's imagery—under the covers with a
flashlight—and nearly always forgot the two small
figures high on a rocky promontory, who looked up
at the stars—territory is not map—there, going from                                            Ruth Padel
inside out and outside in, he could not yet think how
ancient he was, where the phenomena of consciousness are
the phenomena of religion
—this is the boy of the house
in Idaho, a railcar, painted Union Pacific yellow,
by the railway tracks, goldenrod garden of wand-
stems—grandmother Sophia Nichols whose tele-
graphic mind ' knew the distances—in the sagebrush
desert during the Great Depression—entangled with
Dante before and after he learned to read—the inno-                                           1930
cence of walking there is forgotten—
     'That means,' said I, somewhat amused, 'that we would have to                   Kleist
eat of the tree of knowledge a second time to fall back into the state
of innocence.
      'Of course,' he answered, 'and that is the final chapter in the
history of the world.'

I address Dante, who is our contemporary, like us,
speaking out of human violence—who is implicit
in our use of our mother tongues—who is initial
and continuously implicated in the courage of
poetry—whose art records an attachment to the letter                                        Saussure
that lay at the mysterious origin of poetry—the dazzlement—
who is concealed in the depth of our culture like a blind spot—                        Sollers
whose journey in poetry reverses the metaphysics of
a transparent language—whose daring in the realms
of the sacred proposes il poema sacro—propositions of
the mind in that scattered territory—of whom the
story is told that at the moment he began the Comedy all                                  cited Sollers
the rhymes of the world presented themselves and asked to be
—of whom Mandelstam, studying Italian
in order to read him, writes:
   When I began to study Italian and had barely familiarized my-
self with its phonetics and prosody, I suddenly understood that the
                  trans. Harris
center of gravity of my speech efforts had been moved closer to my                & Link
lips, to the outer parts of my mouth. The tip of the tongue suddenly
turned out to have the seat of honour. The sound rushed toward the
locking of teeth. And something else that struck me was the infantile
aspect of Italian phonetics, its beautiful child—like quality, its close-
ness to infant babbling, to some kind of eternal Dadaism. . . .
Would you like to become acquainted with the dictionary of Italian
rhymes? Take the entire Italian dictionary and leaf through it as
you will. . . . Here every word rhymes. Every word begs to enter
into concordanza. The abundance of marriageable endings is fantas-
—the astonishment that is Dante, of whom Yeats
wrote in his 1915 poem EGO DOMINUS TUUS:

    The chief imagination of Christendom,
    Dante Alighiere, so utterly found himself
    That he has made that hollow face of his
    More plain to the mind's eye than any face
    But that of Christ—

but it is not the self that made this face so plain to our
mind's eye after him, and certainly not his arguments
for Church and Empire, but more likely the colours
he gave to language—first, in his room una nebula di                                         La Vita nuova
colore di fuoco
—then, within this colour of fire, a figure
spoke in the high language of divinity—Ego dominus
—eros and nakedness that overwhelm—he
thought he saw una cosa, la quale ardesse tutta—the voice
said, Vide cor tuum—he had not recognized his heart in
flames where it was eaten—this discovery of Beatrice
in the shaping of a world—the colours of this event
in language fly in the flag of Italy—

the face moves among the beautiful letters, never still
in the alpha / omega, the A through Z of our vernacu-
lar tongues—born in the house of the heart's mind
that is the mind's heart—purposed to make it known to                                      La Vita nuova
—that they might flame in their alphabets—
saluting all the fedeli d'Amore that they might answer—
Dante, drawing upon the Provencal experience of
the reason of poems, brings us to Amors—Giorgio
Agamben tells us Amors is the name the Troubadours gave to
the experience of the advent of the poetic word. . . . It is difficult to
understand the sense in which poets understood love, as long as we
obstinately construe it according to a secular misunderstanding, in
a purely biographical context. For the Troubadours, it is not a ques-
tion of psychological or biographical events that are successively ex-
pressed in words, but rather, of the attempt to live the topos itself,
the event of language as a fundamental amorous and poetic experi-
—the loved experience is found in the poetics of un-
mapped territory—thus, the New Life is the possibility
larger than and other than the mere expression of the
sentiments of subjective reality or of the self, which is
as much a lifetime creation as is the poēsis of the tra-
ditional soul—this event of our vernacular speech—
not to be confused with language as an object of knowledge                             Michel de
constructed by philosophers and linguists, but a part of language, a               Certeau / Godzich
mode of language use, that is a discourse—with the heart
of—actual social interaction and practice—witness
Sordella—disdegnosa—mourning Sir Blancatz—                                                Purgatorio VI

    And so mortal is the harm (to the virtues)                                                            trans. Ezra Pound
    That I have no suspicion that it will ever
    be undone, except in this wise, that
    they take his heart out, and have it
    eaten by the Barons who live un-hearted,
    then they would have hearts worth something—

love's reason reasoning, which Dante tells us it would
be shame not to explain, enters into the discourses of
the territory called world—the poetic is the language
of the mapless—
Dante's gift is continuously contemporary in the
shape he gave his poem's discoursing—out of the
advent of language one's life in language, as if life
were the home of it—where the intimacy of sound
discloses the Amors of othernesses—in La Vita nuova,
the interplay of love and reason, poem and prose,
Dante and Beatrice, friends and beloved ladies opens
into a territory—even Beyond the widest of the circling
—where The Comedy entangles the amorous
with the discoursing of myth, cosmology, philoso-
phy, theology, history, economics, and current
issues—even as Beatrice's colours—white, crimson,
and green—circle my early morning coffee cup,
while I write—this is the polyphony of The Comedy
the ever changing polyphony of amorous thought—

the gift of the amorous and poetic experience so entangled—
the face haunting the curious laughter of the syl-
lables—that we might speak an ethics out of this
mapless century of ourselves—'at home,' so to
speak, in the unredeemable and irreparable—trans-
migrators—of humanism, of religions, of absolutes,
of ignorant hierarchies—when the sublime collapses
upon us—as it did upon Dante—we are inside the
condition of it—marking our footsteps among its
uncanny pieces—holding on to the love of our
ordinary lives—hearted or unhearted—Dante,
'the Tuscan Homer,' as Vico called him, is exemplar                                            Hanna Arendt,
of the necessary poēsis in a vast territory—not exactly                                        Men in Dark Times
human—even as we take up the task of our ongoing                                           Sollers
departure from the totality he confronted
in the difficult matter of God in the streets—facilis                                                Aeneid VI. 126
descensus Averno—it is easy today to descend to Avernus,
as the Sibyl tells us in the voices of Posillipo—there
the door of Dis is open twenty-four hours a day—
like the doors of the current return to religion—
whose concern is with the definition of abomination
and exclusion—

in La Vita nuova, Dante proposes that love, which is                                            Sollers
meaning, impels speech—

the Inferno does not come to rest in those brutalities of
God's judgment—in hell speech is fixed once and for all—                                 Sollers
words stop dead in the depths of a bloody and frozen
silence—the entire human body is devoured—in
agonizing contrast to the love that eats the flaming
heart—Philippe Sollers, in his brilliant contemporary
reading of Dante, notices that self-interest—the
closed self—is a fundamental characteristic of the
damned, which has consequences: Language turns upon
and possesses him who believed he possessed it but in fact was only
one of its signs—

the reader who slops there in the drama of closed
meaning will lose Dante—including the Dante who
haunts our discordant departure from Christendom—
the Inferno fascinates with its imagination of the condi-
tion of irredeemable loss—the lost good of the intellect
we rebel at the theological imprisonment and aban-
donment—and suspect that Dante now and again
does so too—in this icehouse of language words, we
think, must thaw—we are, perhaps, closer to rebel-
lious Rabelais than we know—when Pantagruel hears
thawed out words: he threw on the deck in front of us handsful of                      
trans. Burton
frozen words, which might have been sugared almonds, like so                       Raffel
many pearls of different colours. We saw bright red words, green
words, blue words, black words, golden words. And after they had
been warmed for a bit between our hands, they melted like snow and
we actually heard them, but without understanding a word, for they
were in a barbarous language. . . .
        . . . Panurge asked Pantagruel to give him more. Pantagruel ob-
served that giving words was like making love.
           'Then sell me same,' said Panurge.
           'Selling words,' said Pantagruel, 'is more like what lawyers do.
I'd prefer to sell you silence and make you pay more for it. . .'
           But still he threw three or four handsful on to the deck. And we
could see sharp words, bloody words (which, according to the pilot,
sometimes; went back to the place where they'd been spoken, only to
find the throat that uttered them had been slit open), horrible words,
and many others unpleasant to see. And when they'd melted, we
heard: hin, hin, hin, hin, tick, tock, whizz, gibber, jabber, frr, frrr,
frrr, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, crack, track, trr, trr,
trr, trrr, trrrrr, on, on, on, on, wooawooawooon, gog, magog, and
God only knows. . . .

Cosi gridai con la faccia levata
—this I cried with lifted face,                               Inferno XV1.76
from among the sodomites—

Inferno—facing Dante's theology —even a Roman
Catholic amen from childhood—of the immutable
and unchanging—recognizing that it is the vocabu-
lary of his cosmology—of creation and continua-
tion—in the body of thought—this entanglement
of language and death—mortality's speechless-
ness—repetitious or masquerading in our own vo-
cabulary of such territory—I walk into a crisis of
where Hell is—out of this cosmology —gone in the
teeth—among twentieth-century Constitutions and
religious pretensions—Yes! to be 'clean of these
hell-obsessions' in another world, as Pound said,
discovering Hell on the surface of the earth—where,
as in Dante, the present might be found—this sense                                            Ernst Kantorowicz,
of exit and departure—'from the first canto to the                                                   Frederick II
last, the poet's path was the path of the living
man'—at stake in the poēsis—finding the life of
form—in so vast a territory—practices of the self and of                                      Michel Foucault
freedom within these games of truth, turning round and
round in, say, your marvelous kitchen—to impart
relish—I read this great, vulnerable poem—materi-
ality of language —materiality of form—materiality
of men's and women's bodies envisioning—as if
they were my own—thus, to unravel the Western para-                                         Michel de
digm of one sole truth—that cannot find the place of its                                       Certeau, The
totality—founded on sacrifice—there or here—our                                                Mystic Fable
immortalities cannot help with this—Churches,
States, even Atheisms are given to personifications of
totality—exchanging bed linens—you can vote for a
water glass of democracy on the side-table—they
never apologize for time misspent, not even in the
theories of themselves—now and again, they reha-
bilitate some lives—

I was talking to Galileo the other day about his
rehabilitation—he was disdainful—we wondered
who or what is speaking in such ethics of thought—
certainly not time regained, let alone eternalized—
we were standing there in Rome—in the Campo
dei fiore—at the foot of Giordano Bruno's monu-
ment. He jumped right off his pedestal and said
'Listen, kid, it's better to burn.'

'Hell,' I said, astonished, 'I'm 72.'—we three then
walked along talking about Bruno's dialogues and
sonnets, dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, De gli eroici
, and of Plato's curious blending of the words
Eros and heros—'the name heros is only a slight alter-                                        Cratylus
ation of Eros from whom the heroes sprang'—of
what it was like to write of heroic frenzies—

In canto X of the Inferno, we come upon the open
tombs of those who questioned immortality—
Epicurus, who argued that happiness is the chief
good, 'and all his followers'—the last great Emperor
of the Holy Roman Empire (the title lasted until
1806), Frederick II (d. 1250) —of whom it is said
that he had a man imprisoned in a sealed wine vat
and left him to perish under watch to prove that
the soul died with the body, if it could not escape—
and among them Guido Cavalcanti's father and
father-in-law, so condemned while Guido was
still alive, neither of whom had so experimented
with human destiny—only Florentines in the midst
of religious and political strife, who questioned
immortality—the crown of such totality—where
in modern terms a fortuneteller paradises—

I think of the friendship and estrangement of Dante
and Guido, whom Dante names 'the first among my
friends' in The New Life, of whom, in Hell, he sends the
message to his father that he is still living, who is re-
called in the Purgatorio for the glow of his poems—                                             Purgatorio XI.97

    Guido, i' vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io                                                                     Sonnet VI
    Fossimo presi per incantamento . . .

in Shelley's beautiful sonnet, which translates it:

    Guido, I would that Lapo, thou, and I,
    Led by some strong enchantment, might ascend
    A magic boat . . .

in Robert Duncan's version from among the

    Robin, it would be a great thing if you, me and Jack Spicer
    Were taken up in a sorcery with our mortal heads so turned
    That life dimmed in the light of that fairy ship . . .

    there's an ancient prejudice to the effect that one                                            Robert Musil
    is born and dies a human being

    A completed foundation of humanity should, however, signify                      Giorgio
the definitive elimination of the sacrificial mythogema and of its                        Agamben,
ideas of nature and culture, of the unspeakable and the speakable,                Language and Death
which are grounded in it. In fact, even the sacralization of life de-
rives from sacrifice: from this point of view it simply abandons the
naked natural life to its own violence and its own unspeakableness,
in order to ground in them every cultural rule and all language. The
ethos, humanity's own, is not something unspeakable or
sacer that
must remain unsaid in all praxis and human speech. Neither is it
nothingness, whose nullity serves as the basis for the arbitrariness
and violence of social action. Rather, it is social praxis itself, human
speech itself, which have become transparent to themselves—

'So!' Jack Spicer said, early in our friendship, 'you're                                           1945
one of those who eat their God.'

in unmapped America, the Puritans had a ferocious
time with omniscience, which proposed predestina-
tion of human nature, one by one—now, when
you get down to brass facts, who in this community
should be allowed to receive the body and blood of
Christ?—the answer: the successful—speaking in
the voice of—the coherence of—capitalism—


in ESTHÉTIQUE DU MAL, Wallace Stevens writes:
The death of Satan was a tragedy / For the imagination
and asks, What underground?—it was a dismissal
from usefulness—with the shift of Hell to the
surface of our own task, Purgatory and Paradise
also shift to the imagination of the irreparable—

like you, I walk in contemporary culture—the movement of                                 phrases from
perpetual departure—I walk the forest of innumerable sounds—                       Michel de
I talk with a haunted tongue—how does the body get                                           Certeau
form?—and clothe itself—

the entire Comedy, Philippe Sollers writes, is an apprenticeship
in thought, vision, and writing
—from the frozen silence to a
new poetry—The Purgatory, in fact, is a continuous image of the
poetic condition
—Dante walks and questions—perhaps
the poetic condition is a matter of interrogation—
certainly, it is for us, as it was for him—he walks as
if he were in the place of language—in Sollers'
words, to the discontinuity that rediscovers the silence and other-
ness of a new language
—the spontaneous, intimate lan-
guage that is opposed to Hell—and approaches, through
successive ruptures the
'umana radice' (human root)—in other
words the root of a language exempt from guilt
—there in the
place where love dictates—I enter with you la divina                                            Purgatorio
foresta spessa e viva—the divine forest green and dense—                              XXIV.54-56
in apprenticeship—so, Robert Duncan would cele-
brate Dante's seven hundredth birthday in 1965,
writing of 'the sweetness and greatness' of the Divine

we have been walking and climbing all the days of
our lives in a forest fire of language—one calls for
the good of the intellect—it is existentially given—
another calls for the grace note time can be in order
to know oneself—when suddenly a voice calls,
'O voi'—O, you there in your little barc—as one
might from the upper deck of a liner call, 'You there
in your dinghy, watch your shores before you lose
your bearings'—we enter the Odyssean language
of the Paradiso —L'acqua ch'io prendo già mai non si corse—
in waters that have never been sailed before
—we are warned
that we may become lost in the waves of the marvelous—
among the light substances, if we do not have the
intelletto d'amore, as through smooth and transparent glass, this
discourse with cosmos—the glorious wheel, the radiance
speaking, horizon brightening, a swift fire in a cloud,
the sun-struck rubies of conjugated souls—the ladder
of splendours—(La mente, che qui luce, in terra fumma
the mind, which shines here, smokes on earth) —the
mind that is the sky ensapphired—crystalline, where the
sewer of blood and filth is not forgotten but absent—sud-                                    Inferno XXVI
denly, Dante looks down to see the earth—il varco
folle d'Ulisse
—my mind looks back, as Dante's did,
to Ulysses in the Inferno, clothed in that which burned
him—who tells us, 'I could not conquer within me
the passion I had to gain experience of the world and
of the vices and worth of men'—he talked his com-
panions into making wings of their oars for their mad
flight—until, as he says, 'the sea closed over us'—
in the Purgatorio, the siren in Dante's dream sings of                                          Purgatorio XXIX.22
Ulisse mid-sea—here, in the Paradiso, Dante looks
back through the dangers of language traveling,                                                   Paradiso XXX. 33
Odyssean, eager, and infinite—come all'ultimo suo cias-
cuno artista
—as with every artist at his or her limit—
living sparks, rubies, the river of topazes—the laugh-
ter of flowers—to find this rose in the farthest petals,                                            Paradiso XXX. 11
which Charles Olson calls the longest lasting rose


Dante's Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise are signposts—
of tradition, which implicates us—of shifts in their
landscapes, which implicate us—in imagination
of language—Hell, where we are lost in the un-
redeemable time of our own century—Purgatory,
renames the poetic condition—the experiment of
writing—the feel of writing—Paradise, where words
wander in the wildwood—Dante's Paradiso remains in
the arms of Beatrice—for hers is the first name of the
love that moves his language among the stars—this
is, of course, heresy, as the Dominicans recognized
when they condemned him in 1335—

The gods prevent the supreme undecidedness of man; they close off            Jean-Luc Nancy,
his [ / her ] humanity, and prevent him [ / her ] from becoming                          The Inoperative
unhinged, from measuring up to the incommensurable. . . . The                         
gods forbid that man should be risked further than man. And most
serious of all, they take away his death.

    What there is to say here can be said very simply: religious
experience is exhausted. It is an immense exhaustion. This fact is
in no way altered by the upsurge in the political, sociological, or
cultural success of religions ( . . . Jewish, Islamic, or Christian
fundamentalism; sects, theosophies, gnosis). There is no return of
the religious: there are the contortions and turgescence of its exhaus-
tion. Whether that exhaustion is making way for another concern
for the gods, for their wandering or their infinite disappearance,
or else for no god, that is another matter: it is another question
altogether, and it is not something that can be grasped between
the pincers of the religious, nor indeed between those of atheism.

coming upon the inability of man, who is lost in time, to take                             Agamben, Infancy
possession of his own historical nature                                                                 & History

poets who took the initial steps into our uncovered
Hell ran wildly into a dark forest—una selva oscura, say,

Shelley, living at Lerici on the Gulf of Spezzia in
1822, starting to write The Triumph of Life—beautiful
terza rima in honour of Dante—bring him into a
vision—he thinks he sits beside a public way where
he sees 'a great stream / Of people there . . . hurrying
to and fro, / Numerous as gnats upon the evening
gleam'— 'one mighty torrent'—a chariot comes 'on
the silent storm of its own rushing splendour'—and
in it sits 'a Shape, as one whom years deform'—and
the charioteer, 'A Janus-visaged Shadow,' drives the
'wonderwingèd team'—whose shapes are lost 'in
thick lightenings'—'a triumphal pageant of a captive
multitude' that becomes a 'sad pageant'—half to
himself, he asks, 'And what is this? Whose shape is
that within the car? And why— ' —when suddenly
a voice answers, 'Life!'—so,

    That what I thought was an old root which grew
    To strange distortion out of the hillside,
    Was indeed one of those deluded crew,

    And that the grass, which methought hung so wide
    And white, was but his thin discoloured hair,
    And that the holes he vainly sought to hide,

    Were or had been eyes

this is Jean Jacques Rousseau—displacing the fierce
dignity of Virgil in Dante's Comedy—Rousseau, whom
Shelley had revered as emblematic of 'political and
metaphysical transition'—of originary language—of
revolutionary possibility—of human liberty through
oppositional writing—of the stake in desire of any
one of us—

In Shelley's vision, we see the Chariot herd, tether,
and roll over the wise, the famous, age and youth—
now, Rousseau insists upon this endless passing on
of life—but Shelley interrupts:

    'Mine eyes are sick of this perpetual flow
    of people, and my heart is sick of one sad thought—Speak!'

Rousseau replies with the story of his own love—
when 'the bright omnipresence/ Of morning . . . /
And the sun's image radiantly intense'

    'Burned on the waters of the well that glowed
    Like gold, and threaded all the forest's maze
    With winding paths of emerald fire . . .

    'A shape of light'

Rousseau tells us that he asked that she 'Pass not away
upon the passing stream'—she offers him a cup to
'quench his thirst':

    'I rose; and, bending at the sweet command,
    Touched with faint lips the cup she raised,
    And suddenly my brain became as sand

    'Where the first wave had more than half erased
    The track of deer on desert Labrador;
    Whilst the wolf, from which they fled amazed,

    'Leaves his stamp visibly upon the shore,
    Until the second bursts;—so on my sight
    Burst a new vision, never seen before.'

shadows, phantoms, ghosts—'like small gnats and
flies'—'like discoloured flakes of snow'—which the
youthful glow melts and the snow extinguishes—
even Dante, whom the poem honours with its
rhyme, is seen on the 'opposing steep' and will
be swept away as the chariot climbs—Rousseau

    'Desire, like a lioness bereft

    'Of her last cub, glared as it died; each one
    Of that great crowd sent forth incessantly
    Those shadows, numerous as the dead leaves blown

    'In autumn evening from a poplar tree.
    Each like himself and like each other were
    At first; but some distorted seemed to be

    'Obscure clouds, moulded by the casual air;
    And of this stuff the car's creative ray
    Wrought all the busy phantoms that were there,

    'As the sun shapes the clouds; thus on the way
    Mask after mask fell from the countenance
    And form of all; and long before the day

    'Was old the joy which waked like heaven's glance
    The sleepers in the oblivious valley, died;
    And some grew weary of the ghastly dance,

    'And fell, as I have fallen, by the wayside. . . .

again Shelley cuts into this continuous flow of
despair, leaves us and the poem with only his
own question in six words—

    'Then, what is life?' I cried

before he drowned—

Shelley and Rousseau—like many of us—were en-
amoured of an absolute—the universal from which
human freedom might escape into a community of

the shift of Hell to our own surface changes the be-
ginning and the end of time—the sacred powerline
of our totalies—alpha and omega reverse—unre-
deemed—into our own responsibility—the task of a
community of meaning—


I think of Wittgenstein: 'to imagine a language means                                           Philosophical
to imagine a form of life'—                                                                                        Investigations 19
and of his remarks to the heretics' club: 'and now I
shall describe the experience of wonderment before
the existence of the world, with these words: the
world thus is experienced as a miracle. I am now
tempted to say that the correct expression for the
miracle of the world, albeit as expressing nothing
within language, is the existence of language itself—
and I ponder Giorgio Agamben's reply: '. . . if the                                                  Infancy & History
most appropriate expression of the wonderment
at the existence of the world is the existence of
language, what then is the correct expression of
the existence of language?
     'the only possible answer to this question is human
life, as ethos, as ethical way. The search for a polis and
an oikìa befitting this void and unpresupposable com-
munity is the infantile task of future generations.'


in this task of Hell—indebted to Dante—I hear
Ezra Pound's magnificent, poetic interrogation
of the great crystal—stained by anti-Semitism and
twentieth-century political shame—among us now,
as if they owned a percentage of the human mind
of—this viscid Western paradigm—transmuted into

'To what is the poet faithful?' Agamben asks, uncov-
ering a vocation—faithful to the immemorial, for
which we have used the word gods—faithful to the
emptiness of language—faithful to what is first in
, word by word and daily yet unformed—

in 1963, an Italian reporter named Luigi Pasquini met
Pound in the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini:
    'When I reach him he is standing in the sacristy
of the church, a tiny room that formerly housed its
relics. Above the door is Piero della Francesca's fresco
depicting Sigismondo Malatesta as he kneels before
his patron saint. Pound is standing beneath it, sur-
rounded by people.
    'I approach him slowly, nervously, until I am
directly before him, face to face. I look him in the
eye, and inquire: "Ezra Pound?"
    'He does not respond. He stares at me, silent, and
his mouth hints at a smile.
    'I insist, and repeat his name. He gazes at me, arch-
ing his eyebrows for a moment, but says nothing.
    'I fear I must be mistaken and address my glance to
the woman beside him. She peers up at him, then
nods, reassuring me that it is him.
    'I offer him my hand, and he takes it in his own, I
do not tell him my name, but I make clear that I know
his books. . . . He understands, it seems. He gives a
sign of assent, but continues to remain silent.
    'Our hands are still clasping each other. "This is
the hand of the great American poet," I offer. ("La
mano del grande poeta americano!")
    'And at last his voice emerges, his first words,
uttered in a tranquil Italian accent without a trace
of an Anglo-American inflection: "I am not great."
("Non grande.")
    'Swiftly I reply: "—you are among the greatest."
    'But the conversation falters, and I grow uncertain.
Through friends I had heard that he was living in
Rapallo, but a stray remark from Miss Rudge indicates
they have just come from Venice. I try to take up the
topic: "Where are you living now: in Rapallo? Or in
Merano with your daughter, or in Venice?"
    'He will not reply. He looks at me again, with a
mocking gaze.
    'I persist: "Rapallo, Merano? Venice, Rome?"
    'Nothing. He is still silent, his gaze fixed on me,
like someone playing a guessing game.
    'I press on: "So where are you living now?" I con-
tinue, "Where?"
    'At last he lowers his head, slowly, and put his
mouth to my ear so that no one can hear us. His
voice is a whisper, rasping: "I live in hell."
    'This leaves me bewildered. Here we are in church,
in a sacristy in fact (even if it is the sacristy of a pa-
ganizing temple)—in a place, in short, as far as pos-
sible from Erebus or the underworld of Lucifer. And
yet he says we're in hell. I fail to understand and
want to pursue it: "Which hell do you mean? The
hellish tourism? The inferno of the war, here in
Rimini? the hell of Rome? Of Italy? Of the world?"
    'He is silent again. At last he moves his hands: he
places them before his stomach, and slowly lifting
them to the level of his heart, as the traces of light in                                            cited in L. S.
his pupils become like glowing coals, he whispers a                                           Rainey, Ezra
suffocated scream. "Here is hell. Here."'                                                                Pound: The Monument
                                                                                                                                    of Culture

                                                                25 August 1997

A Note
on my use of the word 'territory'— territorio, zona—to in-
dicate the largeness each of us enters upon, which in con-
temporary terms seems to me mapless. We enter a
territory without totalities of God, without totalities of
spirit, Hegelian or otherwise, and without totalities of
materiality on the record of Marxist practice in the 20th
century. We have, as Lyotard has argued, paid far too
much in terror for our totalities. The contemporary resur-
gence of religion, at least in North and South America, is
exceedingly corrupt, and in its own terms blasphemous.
This aging Roman Catholic looks across at the three great
religions of Abraham—the Christian, the Jewish and the
Muslim—and fears they are dying into violence. It is as if
we were repeating the second century,
    Dante is our contemporary in the
Comedy and our guide
to a poetics of interrogation. The
Comedy is our greatest
poem of interrogation, and the language of the
Inferno, the
Purgatorio and the Paradiso is Ulyssean. Although Dante did
not know the
Odyssey except through Virgil, Odysseus
haunts him even in his dreams.

                                                                                                                                       Revised 25 January 2006