Robert Pinsky on Community and Dante

Renowned Dante translator talks to The Paris Review
Robert Pinsky. Photograph: Eric Antoniou
From Ben Downing and Daniel Kunitz (The Paris Review):
Interviewer: Do you think your fascination with observing communities has been fueled and inflected by working on Dante? The Inferno is, of course, a type of community, albeit a very twisted one.

Robert Pinsky: Just as I don’t see how anybody writing in English who tries to give a character a moment of eloquent self-expression can avoid being influenced by Shakespeare, I don’t see how any writer can write about groups of people in a large, constructed setting without being influenced by Dante. By looking at a group of people and their architectural context, seeing individuals emerge from a kind of cinematic vista, and perhaps having a conversation with one of them, you will be imitating the Comedia even if you’ve never read a line of it—that’s the way cultural powers work. Even the writer who has never read much literature will, out of the very cultural air he breathes, inherit literary gestures. That’s why naive writers sometimes use thee, thy, and thine; they’re in thrall to literature because they’ve read almost no literature.

But nobody can read so much, or study so many monuments of magnificence, as to escape a force field as powerful as Dante’s. So yes, one might find poems of mine that suggest something in the Inferno. But with a work of such magnitude, one that has affected so many other works for so long, it is hard to know if the act of creating an English version is necessarily involved. Dante is like the sun or the ocean: his presence is no surprise. [Read More]

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