Dante’s Interpretive Journey

Franke, William Dante’s Interpretive Journey. 261 p. 6 x 9 1996 Series: (RP) Religion and Postmodernism Series

Dante’s Interpretive Journey proposes a theory of the existential, theological structures of interpretation by which our lives in language are constructed.  It brings the theological hermeneutics of Dante’s poem into contact with modern philosophical hermeneutics as developed particularly by Heidegger and Gadamer.  It explores a variety of theories of interpretation, medieval and modern, in an attempt to open original insights into the nature of interpretation, notably its existential ground and openness to transcendence in directions traditionally conceptualized in terms of religious revelation.

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Short Description:

Critically engaging the thought of Heidegger, Gadamer, and others, William Franke contributes both to the criticism of Dante’s Divine Comedy and to the theory of interpretation.

Reading the poem through the lens of hermeneutical theory, Franke focuses particularly on Dante’s address to the reader as the site of a disclosure of truth. The event of the poem for its reader becomes potentially an experience of truth both human and divine. While contemporary criticism has concentrated on the historical character of Dante’s poem, often insisting on it as undermining the poem’s claims to transcendence, Franke argues that precisely the poem’s historicity forms the ground for its mediation of a religious revelation. Dante’s dramatization, on an epic scale, of the act of interpretation itself participates in the self-manifestation of the Word in poetic form.

Dante’s Interpretive Journey is an indispensable addition to the field of Dante studies and offers rich insights for philosophy and theology as well.



Introduction: Truth and interpretation in the Divine Comedy
1: Historicity of Truth
2: Truth through Interpretation and the Hermeneutic of Faith
3: Interpretive Ontology: Dante and Heidegger

Ch. 1: The Address to the Reader
1: The Ontological Import of the Address to the Reader
2: Reader’s Address as Scene of the Production of Sense
3: Truth, Sendings, Being-Addressed: Deconstruction versus Hermeneutics or Dialogue with Derrida?
4: A Philological Debate: Auerbach and Spitzer
5: Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the Fiction of Philology

Ch. 2: Dante’s Hermeneutic Rite of Passage: Inferno IX
1: Blockage
2: Passage
3: Ambiguities
4: Appendix: Hermeneutics, Phenomenology, and the Meaning of a Modern Understanding of Dante

Ch. 3: The Temporality of Conversion
1: Interpretation as Ontological Repetition and Dante’s Fatedness
2: Ecstatic and Repetitive Temporality
3: Phenomenology of Fear/Anxiety in Inferno I
4: Dantesque Allegory and the Act of Understanding

Ch. 4: The Making of History
1: Relocating Truth: From Historical Sense to Reader’s Historicity
2: Reality and Realism in Purgatorio X
3: Some History (and a Reopening) of the Question of the Truth of the Commedia

Ch. 5: Resurrected Tradition and Revealed Truth
1: Dante’s Statius
2: Hermeneutics, Historicity, and Suprahistorical Truth

Recapitulatory Prospectus: A New Hermeneutic Horizon for Religious Revelation in Poetic Literature?

Core Bibliography of Recurrently Cited Sources

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“. . . these may very well be some of the most important pages written on Dante in the last decade, if not the last half century.  As Franke undertakes his rigorous theoretical definition and exploration of the terms that will continue to preoccupy him throughout his book, the reader is privileged to follow, from sentence to sentence, the workings of an outstanding philosophical intellect applying itself, at the highest level, to a text that eminently deserves but rarely receives such treatment. The case for Dante’s simultaneous historicity and contemporaneity, for what Franke calls ‘the synergism between interpretation theory and Dante’s interpretive practice’ (p. 4), is made here with a force and a precision that raise it to the level of genuine eloquence. . . . The introduction—like the rest of the book—should be read and pondered by anyone who cares about Dante, or poetry, or history, or theology, or interpretation, or truth, or, quite simply (and in the philosophical dialect dear to Franke), our human being-in-the-world.”

—Steven Botterill (editor-in-chief of Dante Studies), Comparative Literature vol. 50, No. 2 (Spring, 1998), p. 179
Reviewed by:

James Torrens, Christianity and LIterature 45.3/4, Spring/Summer (1996): 416-18  online review pdf

Steven BotterillComparative Literature 50/2 (1998): 178-81  online review

Giuseppe Cavatorta, Lectura Dantis 20-21 (1997): 103-106

Stanley BenfellReligion and Literature 31/2 (1999): 87-93

Joseph Luzzi, Italica 74/3 (1997): 412-13

Brian Horne, Literature and Theology 11/1 (1997)

Edward Donald Kennedy, The Comparatist 22 (1998): 204-05

Stephanie Paulsell, Religious Studies Review 24/3 (1998)

Elizabeth Mazzocco, Rivista di studi italiani 16/2 (1998): 554-555

Manfred Lenzen, Deutsches Dante-Jahrbuch 73 (1998): 214-15

John Dally, Journal of Religion 79/2 (1999)

John A. Scott, The Modern Language Review, April 1, 1999

Ronald L. Martinez, Speculum January 1999

Paolucci, Choice

Marcellina Trocarelli, Letteratura Italiana Antica 4 (2003): 524-26


Unpublished reviews by:

Giuseppe Mazzotta  (see, however, Speculum, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Jan., 1999), pp. 187-189

Donald Marshall

Thomas Altizer

David Wood


Cited and/or discussed in:

Dante: Da Firenze all’aldilà (Atti del terzo Seminario dantesco internazionale, Firenze, 9-11 giugno 2000),ed, Michelangelo Picone (Florence: Cesati, 2001), p. 76     (My Italian interventions:  pp. 121, 280)

Jennifer Margaret Frazer, Rite of Passage in the Narratives of Dante and Joyce (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002)

John Took, Dante’s Phenomenology of Being (Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press, 2000)

Guy Raffa, Divine Dialectic: Dante’s Incarnational Poetics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000)

Amilcare Iannucci,  “Already and Not Yet: Dante’s Existential Eschatology,” in Dante for the New Millennium, ed. Teodolinda Barolini and H. Wayne Storey (Fordham University Press, 2003),  p. 438.

Giuseppe Ledda, La guerra della lingua: Ineffabilità, retorica e narrative nella Commedia di Dante (Ravenna: Longo, 2002)

Christine O’Connel Bauer, Dante’s Hermeneutics of Salvation: Passages to Freedom in the Divine Comedy
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007)

Rewriting Virgil in the Commedia

Daniel J. Pinti

Christian Moevs

Christian Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

James Miller, Dante and the Unorthodox: The Aesthetics of Transgression (Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005), pp. 423-24

Sherry Roush, Herme’s Lyre: Italian Poetic Self-Commentary from Dante to Tommaso Campanella (2002)

T. A. Hipolito, “Ancient and Modern in Dante’s Vita Nuova,” Renasence (Winter 2003), p. 16

Else Jongeneel, “Art and Divine Order in the Divina Commedia,” Literature and Theology (2007)

Gregory B. Stone, Dante’s Pluralism and the Islamic Philosophy of Religion (New York: Palgrave, 2007), p. 285.

David Gibbons, Metaphor in Dante (Oxford: Legenda, 2002)

John Took, Dante’s Phenomenology of Being (Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press, 2000)

Winthrop Wetherbee, The Ancient Flame: Dante and the Poets (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2008)

Jeremiah Alberg, A Reinterpretation of Rousseau: A Religious System, Forward by René Girard (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007)
_____________, Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses: Reading Scandalous Texts (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2012)

Raffaele de Benedictis, Worldly Wise: The Semiotics of Discourse in Dante’s Commedia (New York: Peter Lang, 2011), pp.

Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle,  “Closure in Paradise: Dante Outsings Aquinas,” MLN 115, no. 1 (2001): 1-12.
[‘For the ontological import of the address to the reader, see William Franke, “Dante’s Intepretive Journey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 37-81. He specifically and correctly notes Dante’s opposition to Aquinas’s denial of “ontological efficacy and depth to poetic language,” p. 58.’]

Susan Schibanoff, Chaucer’s Queer Poetics: Rereading the Dream Trio (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006)


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