At the last song of Purgatory, Beatrice said to Dante: « Do not speak like a man who dreams anymore ».i If Dante complies with this injunction, the rest of the Divine Comedy can be interpreted as a reference document, as far from the dream as from fiction.
In the immediately following song, which happens to be the first song of Paradise, Dante makes this revelation:
« In the heavens that take most of the light I was, and I saw things that neither knows nor can say again who comes down from above; for when approaching its desire our intellect goes so deep that the memory can no longer follow it there ».ii
Dante didn’t dream, one might think. He really saw what he said he saw « in the heavens », he didn’t make up his visions at all, and he was able to tell us about them after coming down « from up there ».
His memory has kept the memory of light, depth and desire, even if the memory is always behind the spirit that goes, and if it cannot follow it in all conscience, in exceptional, unheard of, unspeakable moments.
Without preparation, the spirit suddenly rises into heavens, sees the light, desires it, sinks into the depths, goes into the abyss.
On the way back, stunned, blinded, without memory, the intelligence begins to doubt what it has seen. Was it only a dream?
In the same song, Dante elliptically explains the true nature of his experience:
« In his contemplation I made myself like Glaucus when he tasted the grass that did it in the sea, the parent of the gods. To go beyond the human cannot be meant by words; that example is enough for those to whom grace reserves experience »iii.
To say « going beyond the human », Dante uses the word trasumanar.
Glaucus’ herb, what was it? Hashish? One of those herbs that are used in shamanic concoctions? Sôma? Haoma?
« Going beyond » implies a disruption. « Overcoming the human being » means leaving humankind behind, leaving it in its supposed state of relative helplessness.
Translated more literally, and playing on the common origin of homo and humus, the word trasumanar could be translated as a sort of ontological, metaphysical « transhumance« .
Like a transhumance out of human nature, an exodus out of inner Egypt, forged by millennia.
This is also the recent dream of « transhumanism ». The accession to a supernatural, a trans-natural, trans-human other state of nature.
The body or soul reaches an extreme point, and with a single pulse they are driven out of themselves, to reach an « Other » state.
Which « Other » state? There are many answers, according to various traditions.
Teilhard de Chardin described this leap towards the Other as a noogenesis.
Akhenaten, Moses, Zoroaster, Hermes, Jesus, Cicero, Nero, Plato, had a brain similar to ours. What did they see that we don’t?
Materialists and skeptics do not believe in visions. Nothing has really changed for thousands of years. But materialism, skepticism, « realism », lack explanatory power, and do not take into account the deep past nor the infinite futures.
Life has evolved since the oyster, the mussel and the sea urchin, and it continues to rise. Where is it going?
The question becomes: when will the next mutation occur? In a few million years? In a few centuries? What will be its form: biological, genetic, psychological? Or all this together? A tiny but decisive genetic mutation, accompanied by a biological transformation and a mental rise, a psychological surge?
The planetary compression is already turning to incandescence. The anthropocene crisis has only just begun. Environmental, societal, political, the crisis is brewing. It remains to mobilize the deep layers of the collective unconscious. There are many warning signs, such as the death drive claimed as such.
The growing forms of an immanent neo-fascism that can already be diagnosed in our times represent a warning.
They indicate the birth of the death drive, the need to bypass the humankind, to leave it behind, perplexed by fears, blinded by false ideas.
Glaucus’s grass, Dante’s trasumanar, will take on other forms from the 21st century onwards. Which ones?
Poetry, the one that reveals, always gives lively leads.
« As the fire that escapes from the cloud, expanding so hard that it no longer holds within itself, and falls to the ground against its nature, so my spirit in this banquet, becoming greater, came out of itself and no longer knows how to remember what it did. »iv
Lightning falls to the ground, and Dante’s spirit rises to heaven. Dante no longer remembers what he does there, but Beatrice guides him in his self-forgetfulness. « Open your eyes, » she said, « look how I am: you have seen things that have given you the power to bear my laughter. »
Dante adds: « I was like a person who feels like a forgotten vision and who strives in vain to remember it. »
I would like to highlight here a crucial relationship between vision, laughter and forgetting. Beatrice’s laughter is difficult to bear. Why? Because this laughter sums up everything Dante has forgotten, and evokes everything he should have seen. This happy laugh of the beloved woman is all she has left. This laughter is also what is necessary to find the thread. Not all the poetry in the world would reach « a thousandth of the truth » of what that « holy laugh » was, Dante adds.
Dense, Dantean laughter. Opaque, obscure. This laughter reopens the eyes and memory.
There are other examples of the power of laughter in history. Homer speaks of the « unquenchable laughter of the gods »v. Nietzsche glosses over Zarathustra’s laughter. There are probably analogies between all these laughter. They burst like lightning without cause.
Dante says, in his own way: « Thus I saw superabundant light, dazzled from above by fiery rays, without seeing the source of the lightning. »
He sees the lightning bolt, but not its source. He sees the laughter, but he has forgotten the reason. He sees the effects, but not the cause.
There is a lesson in this thread: see, forget, laugh. The transhuman must go through this path, and continue beyond it. Laughter is the doorway between memory and the future.
Since his Middle Ages, Dante has warned modernity: « We now preach with jokes and jests, and as long as we laugh well, the hood swells and asks for nothing ».vi
The hood was that of the preachers of the time, the Capuchins.
Nowadays hoods have other forms, and preachers have other ideas. But the jokes and jests continue to fly. And we laugh a lot these days, don’t we?
The transhuman hides away, probably far beyond all these laughter.
i Dante, Purgatory, XXXIII
ii Dante, Paradise, I
iv Dante, Paradise, XXIII
v Iliad I, 599, et Odyssey VIII, 326
vi Dante, Paradise, XXIX