“SCORES FOR A PARTICULAR CHEMICAL ORCHESTRA”: THE ‘COMMEDIA’ AND THE MATTER OF SOUND IN OSIP MANDELSTAM’S ‘CONVERSATION ABOUT DANTE’
“Conversation about Dante
Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture
Italian Language and Literature
This paper discusses the implications of the wide-ranging use of sound in Osip Mandelstam’s 1933 essay “Conversation about Dante,” a landmark in the twentieth-century reception of Dante. With a special focus on the sound mo-tives incorporated in Mandelstam’s description of the Commedia, the Con-versation is analyzed as a study in the receptiveness of the reader, as it is acti-vated by the poetic speech of Dante in a call-and-response relation. At the same time, the paper explores issues of individuation, as reading through sound brings the reader back to his or her historicity and presentness, and of trans-formation, as the mutability of sounds brings about an experience of poetry as an ongoing metamorphosis. In this perspective, the vernacularization of poetry in the Commedia is conceived of by Mandelstam as the rediscovery of the aesthetical and ethical potential of our bodily, local, and contingent existence.