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Referentially Empty Signs and Semiotic Plenitude

The notion of lyric self-reflexivity even more radically transforms the concept of the sign. Not just empty of extra-linguistic content, the lyric sign is a form of plenitude and a fecund reality in itself. The sign in Paradise becomes an “idea that gives birth by loving” (“idea I che partorisce amando”). This phrase occurs in the context of a declaration of the selfreflexive nature of the Creation, mortal and immortal, made in the mirror image of its Creator:

Cid che non more e cid che pud morire non e se non splendor di quella idea che partorisce, amando, il nostro Sire;

che quella viva luce che si mea

dal suo lucente, che non si disuna

da lui ne da 1’amor ch’a lor s’intrea,

per sua bontate il suo raggiare aduna, quasi specchiato, in nove sussistenze, etternalmente rimanendosi una.

  • (XIII.52-60)
  • (That which never dies and that which can die

is nothing but the resplendence of that idea

to which, by loving, our Sire gives birth;

for that live light that so derives

from its emitting source, that does not separate

from it nor from the love that in them inthrees itself,

through its goodness gathers in one its radiance, as if mirrored, in nine substances, eternally remaining one itself.

This passage is one of many anticipations of the imagery of divine selfreflection that culminates in the final canto of the poem. It is in crucial respects a reprise of the Trinitarian self-reflexive logic of love driving the inner dynamic of divinity in its intrinsic self-relatedness outward toward its creative act. The Trinitarian self-love that spills over into Creation (“Looking at his Son with Love,” etc., X. 1-6) was examined already in Part I, section 4. The Trinity serves as model for how signs, through their formal self-relatedness, can engender by internal self-relation their own meaning and fulfillment. The bird images that flutter across and stud the heaven of Jupiter can be seen to work in this manner as vivid and winged emblems of signs (section 8). The sensorial plenitude of the sign is a theme developed especially in that (sixth) heaven replete with semiotic wonders. Likewise, in Canto VI, self-reflective dynamics of form become incarnate in richly imaged narrative that subíales Roman history into the vicissitudes of the “sacred sign” (“sacrosanto segno”) of the imperial eagle. As with the Holy Trinity, self-reflection issues here in historical incarnation.

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