Well, not the whole of it, but a 2021 short story of that title – just 40 pages – “The Renaissance” by Richard Emerson. A personal and poetic story of personal rebirth, a thought journey set in place and in history.
Firstly, I have to declare that from the start, up to the arrival in Florence, my overwhelming reaction was “I am that man” which might also explain the sense in on-line discussions on related topics of being pretty closely aligned on philosophical matters. It also means that from this point on, this is more personal reflection than review:
Reading (and note-taking) in a public places is exactly my style too. To this day I mostly read in pubs and cafes. Experiencing real-life is never a distraction, it’s important context – until someone engages you in conversation, not that that happens to Emerson here. But even then a “What are you reading and why?” can be a welcome synthesis to the reading I find. Reminded me of years working away from home in Cambridge.
That said, for the first of the three parts, there is no actual reading, just an unread book by his side as preparatory notes are made and thought. An unread book as a friendly companion, one worth giving house-room as Eco recommends in his library of unread books, oft mentioned here. The same unread book – also in three parts – was by my side up until 2021, the 700th anniversary of it’s author’s death in Florence. Appreciating that a book is important and valuable is one thing, but understanding why and how you need to actually read it does require mental preparation. Awaiting the right moment. I personally had several false starts until that moment.
The thought journey – in time and place – is the main thread, one we share as I’ve said, starting with the sense of “something missing in foundational principles” whilst finding oneself like Dante in a thick and dark forest with only glimpses of the the shining mountain in the distance.
Florence is an important place where our paths may have crossed, and many of Dante’s metaphors have been plundered by others since, Robert Pirsig’s intellectual high-ground, Robert Frost and G K Chesterton good fences and gates in the forest.
The meme of using Rafael’s School of Athens as his cover image is a clue to which characters from Dante’s story Emerson identifies with. The end of Inferno, with our protagonists breaking out from hell into view of the stars without having to renegotiate the levels through which they had descended has suggested to others an alternative cosmic geometry. Geographically intriguing also that Emerson’s home town square is only a train-ride from Florence, we too arrived by train, from Pisa airport. I was more focussed on Galileo than Dante on that occasion, looking up at the Uffizi ceiling:
As Virgil led Dante, so Dante can lead us on that journey, recognising that a perhaps surprising component of that missing foundational principle is in internalising ancient literature and in soaking-up the places that created it. Next time, I really must visit the Dante house.
A recommended read. You too might surprise yourself by becoming reborn as part of a bigger tradition.