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INTERDEPENDENCE: Joseph Luzzi’s Memoir, “In a Dark Wood” Excerpt 2

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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No other words could capture how I felt during the four years I struggled to find my way out of the dark wood of grief and mourning. And yet it was only because of his exile that Dante was able to write The Divine Comedy, when he accepted once and for all that he would never return to Florence. Before 1302, the year he was expelled, he had been a fine lyric poet and an impressive scholar. But he had yet to find his voice. Only in exile did he gain the heaven’s-eye view of human life, detached from all earthly allegiances, that enabled him to speak of the soul.

Dante and Virgil in Hell by Jean-Leone Gerome Source: www.slate.com

Dante and Virgil in Hell by Jean-Leone Gerome
Source: www.slate.com

At the beginning of The Divine Comedy, as Dante finds himself lost in the selva oscura—the dark wood—he sees a shade in the distance. It’s his favorite writer, the Roman poet Virgil, author of The Aeneid and a pagan adrift in the Christian afterworld. By way of greeting, Dante tells Virgil that it was his lungo studio e grande amore—his long study and great love—that led him to the ancient poet. Virgil becomes Dante’s teacher on ethics, willpower, and the cyclical nature of human mortality, illustrated by his metaphor of the souls in hell bunched up like fallen leaves. Virgil is his guide through the dark wood, just as The Aeneid gave Dante the tools he needed to curb his grief over losing Florence, whose splendor would haunt him as he wandered through Italy looking for a home during the last twenty years of his life.

That’s beauty’s terrible calculus, I would come to learn: its hold over you becomes stronger after you’ve lost it.

Did you know that Luzzi’s also a professor? Here’s his take on Italians and Italian Americans:

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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