There's been something else bugging me at the back of my mind and this is something else I've looked up. I think he may also be referring to The Waste Land. Eliot also refers to that part of the Inferno in his poem. And apart from the fact that Fante actually uses the phrase ("you go on through the waste land"), there are some marked echoes when reading the poem. I can't say that I really understand it - I got a copy when it was referred to in Fierce Invalids - and have been obliged to read about it too to try to make sense of it. But here are, for example, some lines that stand out:
I will show you fear in a handful of dust…
Fear death by water…
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn…(this line especially, with the references to fog in ATD)
I had not thought death had undone so many.
I was neither living nor dead.
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
(From “What the Thunder Said”. Kind of interesting that the passage in ATD says: “It came to me like crashing thunder”)
And this bit reminds me of Vera –
"Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid – troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours"
There’s a lot more too. The destruction of the cities. The idea that there is no guiding faith or enlightenment spiritually, spiritual death. There is also the theme of impotence and that sex does not lead to fulfilment or renewal. I think this is why Vera has the scar and the dead flesh specifically in her loins, and why Arturo experiences impotence, which also is alluded to in The Waste Land. Sex in the poem is pretty fleeting, meaningless and destructive, and there is this bit:
“what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prurience can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed…
I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison"
It seems to me that this could easily apply to Arturo, absorbed in himself and his fate, and that lack of connection with others, how the sex is meaningless and unfulfilling.
"Luck... inspiration... both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment."