Continuing our occasional blog series on how Dante is referenced in 21st century culture, we call our community’s attention to Ellen Ullman, who commented on David Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, in the New York Times Book Review November 3.
Ullman criticizes Eggers for failing to give us a thoughtful guide to the dystopia into which he plunges his audience: “Readers who enter the Circle’s potential Inferno do not have the benefit of Virgil, Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory, but they do have Mae, a naïve girl with the sensibility of a compulsive iPhone FaceTime chatterer…” says Ullman. She continues the Dante metaphor later in her review: “At each advance into ‘participation’ (or descent into hell, as the case may be), Mae is a tail-wagging puppy waiting for the next reward: a better rating, millions of viewers.”
Eggers’ book is an important one—part of a growing cultural wave of negative commentary about the world wrought by digital technology. We suspect part of the reason it lacks a Virgil-like guide is that whereas Dante dealt in strong, clear, moral blacks and whites (albeit his own morality, not the prevailing moral order of his day), Eggers is at least in part telling us that we are all cogs in the great digital machine and there is no guide or leader—or even clear moral philosophy—to lead us out of this particular dark forest.