Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An Introduction

Electronic Arts entered the arena of great literature by releasing adapting into video game format a classic poem: “Dante’s Inferno,” which features the Italian poet as an action hero. Early press about the game wonders how one transforms a poet into an action hero. The game’s designers themselves struggled with this question, apparently, as Jonathan Knight told USA Today, “The historical Dante is not action-oriented." So, Knight has said, Dante had to be pumped up somehow: “One of the conceits of the poem is that Dante is always fainting…. That wouldn’t work for an action game.” As a poet and scholar, I want to learn more about this transformation from poet to action hero.

How does a poet become an action hero? Over coffee, I ask my wife; a wrinkled brow and cross looks are returned. While building block towers on the floor, I ask my son; he smashes the towers then toddles out of the room, being only one year old and lacking the vocabulary to respond to such a complicated issue. I ask the dog on our walks; he is more interested in finding discarded fast food wrappers or cat poop to eat than my inquiries. I ask this question in the mirror when I’m shaving; “Stop this and get a cool-looking five o’clock shadow like academic-action-hero Indiana Jones,” my reflection responds. (My wife then says I look scruffy and unkempt.)

Getting no answers in my everyday life at home, I’ve decided time has come to engage a larger audience by delving into the Dante video game. The first problem here is that I already know the answer: How do you make a poet an action hero? Well, for this poet (the one writing this, not Dante), you stick him in a beanbag chair with a handheld controller, outsized bags of cheetos, and a case of Mountain Dew (preferably in completely undrinkable-looking red sort of color with a tricked-out faux-metaphoric name such as “Firestorm Crimson”). The second problem is that I’m not really engaging a larger audience; instead, I am activating insomnia by staying up all hours of the night slaying sinners or demons or whatever it is one does in EA’s “Dante.”

So this blog comes in to get an audience and to get my thoughts in order. The plan is that here I’ll write about my experiences reading the original poem (actually, not the original poem, but Robert Pinsky’s translation) as I make my way through the X-box version of the Inferno. Like Dante stepping into Hell in 1300 at age 35 (don’t ask how old I am, but it’s close to Dante’s age during the time this poem takes place), I don’t know exactly what I’ll find, or learn, but I’m hoping this blog is the beginning of an essay. Consider this a kind of notebook version, or rough draft. Who knows, Julie Powell wrote a blog about cooking with Julia Child’s cookbook, which turned into a movie. Maybe these words will lead to the silver screen, with Amy Adams starring as me.


  1. Does it actually pull screen shots with text from a certain translation? That's really the only way to make it acceptable.

    Dante though...not really an aggressive character. He was really just an observer. How does that come across in the game?

    Melinda has probably realized that this blog is just a cheap trick to justify playing a video game for a ridiculous amount of time.

  2. This is interesting. I almost feel like playing Zelda which is a story of the adventure of a hero (whose age is never determined and fluctuates as time passes). Link (although you can aptly change his name to your own desire) also faces the challenges of evil forces. Maybe someone should honor this hero by writing a poem...yet maybe a short story.

    Tell Melinda not to give you the crooked brow too much, it could leave a permanent line. Yet you could blog about it if it were to occur.

  3. God speed GL (sorry, but "Gary" just doesn't seem too action-hero-y of a name)! I'm here if you need any cyber-hero help. I'm known as "The Collagist" -- I cut and rip and paste people into new scenes in which they seem strangely misplaced!

  4. Gary,
    I am reading House of Leaves for a small impromptu book club; somehow, given the themes and hell-like nature of the house, I think I'd like to tackle Pinsky's version of Dante as well. Will you let the readers of this blog know where you are in your reading, along with your responses to it, so that we, too, can take part? Kind of like Oprah's fan club who reads along with her, only not. (Cyn from Cinti, since you probably don't know who poetprof is--even I forgot!)