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The structure of the Dantean monologue, built on a system of organ stops, can be well understood with the help of an analogy to rocks whose purity has been violated by the intrusion of foreign bodies. Granular admixtures and veins of lava point to one earth fault or catastrophe as the source of the formation. Dante’s lines are formed and colored in just such a geological way. Their material structure is infinitely more important than the famous sculptural quality. Let us imagine a monument of granite or marble the symbolic function of which is not to represent a horse or rider but to disclose the inner structure of the very marble or granite itself. In other words, imagine a monument of granite which has been erected in honor of granite and as though for the revelation of its idea. You will then receive a rather clear notion of how form and content are related in Dante.

—Osip Mandelstam, “Conversation about Dante” (Razgovor o Dante), trans. Clarence Brown and Robert Hughes, in the superfine Selected Poems (New York: New York Review of Books, 2004).

 

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