Dante and the Sense of Transgression

Posted by on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 in News.

Dante and the Sense of Transgression:  “The Tresspass of the Sign”

Publisher’s Website: Continuum:  New Directions in Religion and Literature Series
ISBN: 9781441160423  (paperback)    9781441136916 (hardcover)

In Dante and the Sense of Transgression, William Franke combines literary-critical analysis with philosophical and theological reflection to cast new light on Dante’s poetic vision.  Conversely, Dante’s medieval masterpiece becomes our guide to rethinking some of the most pressing issues of contemporary theory.
Beyond suggestive archetypes like Adam and Ulysses that hint at an obsession with transgression beneath Dante’s overt suppression of it, there is another and a prior sense in which transgression emerges as Dante’s essential and ultimate gesture.  His work as a poet culminates in the Paradiso in a transcendence of language towards a purely ineffable, mystical experience beyond verbal expression.  Yet Dante conveys this experience, nevertheless, in and through language and specifically through the transgression of language, violating its normally representational and referential functions.  Paradiso’s dramatic sky-scapes and unparalleled textual performances stage a deconstruction of the sign that is analyzed philosophically in the light of Blanchot, Levinas, Derrida, Barthes, and Bataille, as transgressing and transfiguring the very sense of sense.


“Written in elegant and astonishingly readable prose, William Franke’s volume gives a lucid portrait of a fundamental question that lies at the heart of Dante’s Divine Comedy and has resurfaced in contemporary French philosophical reflection: poetic theology as a radical, transgressive mode of knowledge.  In mapping the ground of this fascinating debate, William Franke places Dante at the boundaries of thought and recovers the timeliness of his spiritual vision.  This book is a must-read for historians of religion, Dante scholars, literary critics, and adepts of cultural studies.”   — Giuseppe Mazzotta, Yale University, USA

“Can language meaningfully point us to the divine? Is it possible for us to transcend our humanity to touch the mystery which surrounds it? How might the idolatrous projections of our ego be transgressed? These are just some of the questions provoked by William Franke’s scintillating book. By bringing Dante’s Paradiso and French Theory into mutually illuminating dialogue, Franke invites his readers to explore the outer limits of sense and meaning, and to consider seriously the theological implications of the unknowing at the heart of literary expression. His reflections will spark the interest not only of Dante scholars, theologians and literary theorists, but of anyone interested in probing the connections between literature and theology.” –  Vittorio Montemaggi, University of Notre Dame, USA

“William Franke has brought the harvest of French theory (especially Blanchot, with some Bataille, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and, in an appendix, a good dose of Levinas) to bear upon Dante’s Paradiso, focusing on the notion of transgression. He ably traces the many senses in which Dante’s text, so apparently intent on affirming order, is in fact transgressive, and obsessed dualities, such as between the human and the divine, undone in a trasumanar. . . .  Franke is wonderfully, persistently clear, as precise as one can be in elucidation of French thought. The exercise of reading those texts with and against the Paradiso illuminates both, as well as what is at stake for both literature and philosophy or theology.” – Christian Moevs, Religion and Literature 47/2 (Summer 2015): 166-68

“Overall, Franke’s argument is both balanced and nuanced; he presents Dante as neither reactionary nor revolutionary, but, rather, as devout transgressor. Franke skillfully incorporates other arguments about transgression, such as Giuseppe Mazzotta’s claim that Dante transgresses and transcends ethics in Paradiso to a world “of ludic play and aesthetic performance” (107). Franke also does an excellent job of distinguishing Dante’s thought from French philosophy while addressing the similarities between medieval apophaticism and French deconstructionism. He does not wish to turn Dante into a deconstructionist philosopher, nor does he attempt to transform deconstructionist philosophy into medieval theology. Rather, he puts them into fruitful conversation with each other.” –T. Niebuhr, Christianity & Literature 63 (September 2014 ): 533-536

Franke’s reflections on the relationship between Dante and modern French theory are thought provoking and lead to many interpretative insights. His particular emphasis on the poetics of apophaticism, meanwhile, makes a distinctive contribution to the wider reappraisal of Dante’s theology within contemporary scholarship.” — George Corbett, Speculum 89/4 (2014) 1139-40

“Franke is impressively cogent in placing a broad and complex range of theory into conversation with Dante’s no less intricate writings, explaining their bases and
identifying nodes of contact without sacrificing nuance or anachronistically warping
Dante to his own ends. While he privileges an apophatic reading, Franke does not
disavow the many “positive” or cataphatic elements to be found in Dante. The former
is clearly the text’s intended area of focus, and its conceptual through-lines–medieval theology and French postmodernism–come together to offer a compelling perspective on Paradiso as a revolutionary document of the inexpressible. All in all, Dante and the Sense of Transgression: ‘The Trespass of the Sign” exhibits a worthwhile hermeneutical effort, interweaving Dante’s timeless work with some of the most significant critical thought of the last century.” — PARIS J. B. REID, Yale University,  The Italian Quarterly, XV (2023): 252 (Summer-Fall nos. 237-38)


Interview with Chris Benda–Podcast

******** SYMPOSIUM

Book Symposium in Tokyo, Japan on Dante and the Sense of Transgression:

Transgression and Transcendence: What Makes Religion Radical? International Symposium on Dante and the Sense of Transgression: “The Trespass of the Sign” at ICU (International Christian University), Tokyo, Japan, October 10-12, 2013

ICU conference posterICU conference poster tokyo poster

Dante and the sense of Transgression Order Form 2013.pdf

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