For Dante, the vernacular of lyric, whose ‘sweet new style’ was turned from the incipiently wandering language of women and of exile by the Stil Nova poets, was a matrix of potential resistance, radical mobility, and human dignity. Written during Dante’s own exile from Florence, De Vulgare Eloquentia seeks to consolidate a vision of a unified national language by claiming an exilic vernacular as the exemplary speech of the citizen. In this sense it is a deeply conservative text, a precursor to the imposition of standardized national languages carried out much later by European colonial regimes through-out the world, through control of education, print media, health and healing practices and other such quotidian standards. At the same time De Vulgare Eloquentia’s textual radicality unties its own political will, revealing in its ambivalence how vernacular counter-language is at the core of collective resistance and political self-invention.My first observation is: why can't she write in the vernacular? She uses the "always already" kind of locution in this essay, along with other stylistic tics that signal a comfort with a theoretical discourse whose main feature is its distance from real speech.
Secondly, the twin move of claiming radical and conservative qualities to a text in the past is something I'm quite suspicious of. Dante could not have anticipated colonialism or other things of which his essay is supposedly a precursor. His Tuscan became the default for modern "Italian," and we can blame him for that, I suppose, since it was partly because of the success of the commedia, though it seems a boring thing to blame him for. But then he has to be rescued from this supposed conservatism by a hidden and spurious radicality, that is equally irrelevant to his own context. I don't think there is ambivalence here: rather, it is our ambivalence projected back on him. We want our canonical figures to be a bit stodgy, so we can resist them, but also a bit transgressive, so we can keep reading them. That's fine, but there's no point in projecting that ambivalence back on them. They just were who they were.
Of course, my critique that she talks about the vernacular but has not imagined a way to embody these ideas in a vernacular language is a cheap gotcha move too.
Despite this, I like the idea of a prosody of the citizen, and wish I had thought of it first. It is a very smart essay about which you should make up your own mind.