The Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) is invoked several times in the work of Giorgio Agamben, often in passing to stress a point, as when discussing the political relevance of désoeuvrement (KG 246); to develop a thought, as in the articulation of the medieval idea of imagination as the medium between body and soul (S, especially 127–9); or to explain an idea, as in the case of the artistic process understood as the meeting of contradictory forces such as inspiration and critical control (FR, especially 48–50). So while Agamben does not engage with Dante systematically, he refers to him constantly, treating the Florentine poet as an auctoritas whose presence adds critical rigour and credibility. Identifying and relating the instances of these encounters is useful since they highlight central aspects of Agamben’s thought and its development over the years, from the first writings, such as Stanzas, to more recent texts, such as Il fuoco e il racconto and The Use of Bodies. The significance of Agamben’s reliance on Dante can be divided into two categories: the aesthetic and the political. The following discussion will address each of these categories separately, but will also emphasise the philosophical continuity that links the discussion of the aesthetic with that of the political. While in the first instance Dante is offered as an example of poetic innovation, especially in relation to the use of language and imagination, in the second he is invoked as a forerunner of new forms of life. Mediality and potentiality are the two pivots connecting the aesthetic and the political.
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