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INTERDEPENDENCE: Joseph Luzzi’s Memoir, “In a Dark Wood” Excerpt 1

11760091_831757146938335_5683535591679855236_nFor me, interdependence also connotes the impact artworks have on our lives and how our responses to them, in turn, effect how others perceive them (i.e. reading a book after reading a review). Earlier this summer I was very aware of this phenomenon at a release party for Joseph Luzzi‘s latest memoir, In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love. Here he interweaves his ever-deepening understanding of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, with his grieving over the tragic car accident death of his first wife in 2007, which also became the premature birthday of his first child. At this event, Luzzi’s second wife, the very accomplished violinist Helena Baillie, played selected excerpts of pieces by the Italian composer Vivaldi that were both poignant and optimistic, and these two creations entwined together were more emotionally resonant than either could have been independently. Given all this cross-pollination, we thought In a Dark Wood would be a perfect fit for this month’s Ideablog theme, interdependence. As always, we welcome your own responses to these posts.
~Victoria C. Rowan, Ideasmyth Creatrix-in-Chief

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“In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.”

The man himself, Dante, lost in a dark wood

The man himself, Dante, lost in a dark wood Source: www.nybooks.com

So begins one of the most celebrated and challenging poems ever written, Dante’s Divine Comedy, a fourteen-thousand-line epic about the soul’s journey through the afterlife. The tension between the pronouns says it all: although the “I” belongs to Dante, who died in 1321, his journey is also part of “our life.” We will all find ourselves in a dark wood one day, the lines suggest.

For me that day came eight years ago, on November 29, 2007, a morning just like any other. I left my home in upstate New York at eight thirty a.m. and drove to nearby Bard College, where I am a professor of Italian. It was cold and wet, the air barely creased by the gray light. After my first class ended, I walked to my office to gather materials and then made my way to a ten thirty a.m. class.

I was joking with my students as we all settled in, when I noticed something unusual out of the corner of my eye: there was a security guard standing at the door.

“Look, they’re coming to arrest me,” I said, laughing. But the beefy security guard was not smiling.

“Are you Professor Luzzi?”

I’ve done nothing wrong, was my first thought.

“Yes—why?”

“Please come with me.”

I edged outside the classroom and saw the associate dean and vice president of the college racing up the stairwell. I started running too, down the stairs and out of the building. There was a security van waiting for me.

Joe, your wife’s had a terrible accident.

The words came from somewhere close, but they sounded muffled, as though passing through dimensions. Time and space were bending around me.

I was entering the dark wood.

See more of Luzzi’s Featured Creative posts on our Ideablog

~~~Joseph Luzzi holds a doctorate from Yale and teaches at Bard. He is the author of My Two Italies, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, which won the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies from the Modern Language Association. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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