A Beastly Comedy Canto 1.15

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Cracks are beginning to form. I remember clearly the day I recorded this canto, how upset I was afterwards, how frightening everything felt when going out and just seeing ordinary things, kids on their bikes, cars. It’s the moment when the book gets really dark, not that it was fluffy romance to begin with (but there will be time for that too). The next 19 cantos will see the pilgrim descending further into his own psyche, as we’re seeing the toll that comes with witnessing horrible things. The focus is not so much on the descriptions of atrocities but how the pilgrim reacts.

I’ve come to think of characters as holes that the reader fills in, and the writer provides an outline. The character is defined by how others react to it, not so much what kind of physical descriptions I write. And vice versa: the description of events may not even be that important if you see the psychological damage. The rest is imagined by the reader, and it’s up to their imagination how horrible the scene becomes. In this case we do hear the speeches of a demon, and descriptions of the meat market, but the focus is starting to shift elsewhere. Otherwise the horror would be just too much to bear. At least this way it’s up to the reader.

And of course the horrors witnessed are making the pilgrim question his quest, his motivations, even what is the thing he calls himself. Trauma commonly has that effect. You have to wonder what these emotions are, how to handle them, how you relate to the world, what is the self that feels, acts, tries to move forward even when the emotions forbid you to go any further but your brain knows that there’s only one way to progress: to keep on walking.

And what is Dante’s motivation in all this? It will be touched upon later, but oh! how cruel it is to subject the poor little pilgrim to all this. To force somebody to become a witness. It is not as bad as inflicting torture, but as it piles up, it’s not far from it. Yet what do we do voluntarily when consuming the media, the news and entertainment every day, becoming numb to similar scenes? And if what is happening in this canto is happening to other mammals, we might not blink an eye. Maybe the true horror is the willful ignorance. Does the scene describe a greater evil than what is happening in the world just because there’s a demon who despises his victims?

I still feel uneasy thinking about all this, but it’s an important topic. The verses shake my ideas about what punishment means, and how people consider it their right to kill other animals for food, what kind of logic is behind that. And of course there is the question of the sin committed, the parents selling their children to prostitution, slavery or even something worse. It is upsetting not only because the deeds are ghastly but because we don’t really know what to do about it, how to deal with such evil, how to even comprehend it.

There’s evil in the deed and evil in the punishment, and two wrongs don’t make a right. But one of the things I wanted to explore was people’s desire for vengeance, and how cruelty may start to seem like justice. An early reader wondered about the point of everything described here, and that is indeed the issue. Where do we draw the line? When does it start to feel like vengeance loses its point? Here, earlier, later? I have no one answer, and it’s more important that I tried to provide a way for readers to discover their own values and limits within these verses.