There can be no doubt that if Dante had gone on to compose canto 34 of Paradiso (adjustment made to the numerical format of the Commedia, i.e. 34+33+33=100), that would have been the world’s greatest poem of silence.
One of the major topics in the Commedia are the limits of representation. Dante explores this time and again in all three canticles. In Paradiso 33 he reaches the outermost limit of poetic representation, the nec plus ultra of human art. Previously, he had compared himself, not without ambiguity, with Ulysees, had hoisted the sails of his ‘little boat’, and gone all around the orbs significandi, proving his skill and turning the sign into referent, the art into fact. At the very end of his journey, where the Celestial Rose and the three circles of light in the Empyrean preclude even the possibility of post-representation, the poet detonates his vision into silence. It does not represent the end of being, but the end of representation. Our tools can carry us only this far.
Botticelli understood this, and so did Wittgenstein, I think – in his own way. As is well-known, Botticelli illustrated his commentary of the Commedia with a series of drawings. Reaching the end of the Paradiso, he left the last drawing blank, except for the figures of Dante, St Bernard and the Virgin, all in the background. The rest of it, foregrounded, is silence(d):
Now imagine a slightly different end to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (6.54-7):
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