[Marxism] The gospel according to Pasolini (Le Monde Diplomatique)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Mar 13 11:32:34 MST 2006


("Pasolini's starting point for this theme, as always, was a physical
observation: the underclass of the Roman outskirts had begun to dream
of acceptance into the norm. They were dressing like bourgeois
students - jeans and long hair - and using the same slang. The third
world, including Italy's own third world, the mezzogiorno, was trying
to fit itself into the mould of western pseudo-universality. The
mainstream seemed to be imposing its unique, exclusive model with the
help of that instrument of homogenisation, television, which Pasolini
hated. He described this process as "the brutal, totalitarian
levelling of the world" and condemned "the degrading order of the
horde". The new power of the market and media was quietly succeeding
where fascism had failed, reducing people to a mass of passive,
alienated consumers.

("This depressing vision has become ever more accurate over the last 
30 years. Pasolini believed that resistance must be as much personal as
political. The only way to confront this new order is to defend our
own individual separateness, to be as wary of conformity in rebellion
as of the powers that be.")

=====================================================
Selections on Pasolini in the Cuban media:
At 20, Pasolini was arrested by the Gestapo in his native Bologna 
for belonging to the Communist Party. In 1943 he escaped from a 
prison camp and after the war appeared in Rome writing poems and 
essays influenced by the Marxist, Antonio Gramsci.

He was always, as some referred to him, "an uncomfortable intellectual", 
which along with his declared homosexuality made him a target for a 
recalcitrant right-wing which did not forgive either his movies or his 
penetrating public reasoning against the established order. 
http://www.walterlippmann.com/pasolini.html
=====================================================

Le Monde diplomatique 
-----------------------------------------------------
March 2006 
`IT IS INTOLERABLE TO BE TOLERATED' 
The gospel according to Pasolini 
___________________________________________________________

The 30th anniversary of the murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini 
revived interest in his work. The writer and filmmaker was 
a maverick and rebel who foresaw both the domination of 
mainstream culture and the commodification of 1960s dissent. 

by Guy Scarpetta 
___________________________________________________________

The 30th anniversary of the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, brutally murdered
on 2 November 1975 near the beach at Ostia, close to Rome, was marked by
many publications, testifying to the fascination that this film director,
poet, novelist and critic still inspires (1). 

The unsolved mystery of his end generated a myth of Pasolini the persecuted
heretic, "angel of evil", the last great cursed genius. But it is time to
move beyond the cliches and see him for what he really was: a formidable and
unique example of a politically committed thinker, working in an astonishing
variety of media. The idea of the intellectuel engagé, once so beloved of
the French, is now an unfashionable concept, especially among those whose
undeclared aim is to defend the status quo. So it is important to explain
how it applies to Pasolini. He was not a partisan intellectual, defending a
political group's particular line. Nor did he fit Antonio Gramsci's
categorisation of the organic intellectual, whose role is to promote the
cultural hegemony of a historical bloc seeking power. Nor was he a Jean-Paul
Sartre figure: a campaigning thinker purporting to understand and explain
the meaning of history, and subordinating personal expression to collective
struggle. 

Pasolini undoubtedly saw himself as a defender of the poor, the downtrodden
and the repressed. For him the task of the thinker was to subvert the values
of the dominant class; its whole conception of the world could be brought to
crisis point through the exploration of the unsaid, by going beneath the
surface of established representations. In this endeavour, the established
views of leftwing politics should receive the same treatment as those of the
ruling class. The intellectual should bring to light what the social and
cultural consensus of the time suppressed, although never at the expense of
his own individuality. 

Pasolini had been a committed communist as a student. He never completely
rejected this position, but sought constantly to overcome or move beyond
what he called progressive conformism. So while official, institutional
Italian communism focused mainly on the organised, urban working class,
Pasolini turned his attention to peasant communities and the underclass
living on the outskirts of Italian cities. The same instinct lay behind his
interest in the third world, where he saw a new consciousness already
emerging "in forms that run against both Marxist rationalism and bourgeois
rationalism". He also admired the Black Panthers for "throwing their bodies
into the struggle", along with other movements of the radical American left
he felt had broken free of classical revolutionary schemata. 

Pasolini applied his unconventional and heterodox interpretation of Marxism
to all his cultural and artistic work as well as his theoretical writings.
He was quick to realise when the progressive postwar culture that emerged
from the struggle against fascism had run out of steam: "The era of Brecht
and Rossellini is over," he wrote. But that did not mean embracing the
purism and formalism of 1960s literary avant-gardes, such as the Gruppo 63
poets in Italy. He disapproved of their abstract, inoffensive, purely
linguistic concerns, and dismissed them as prisoners of a petit bourgeois
lifestyle. Behind their anti-naturalist proclamations lay "terror in the
face of reality". Pasolini's key contention was that political and
intellectual commitment had to come from direct experience. It necessitated
a certain way of life, throwing the whole self, emotionally and physically,
into the surrounding reality. This spirit is everywhere in Pasolini's work:
in his lyrical, ambiguous, and shocking poetry, in his novels and films. 

For Pasolini, the cinema was a form of writing more directly in touch with
reality, a means of translating the real into a language. It was also a
means of denaturalising reality, cutting life's single long take into shots
and sequences. Even his most neo-realist films, such as Accattone (1961),
are characterised by slight pauses between lines of dialogue and lingering
shots intended to stick in the mind as tableaux. His films are, in this
sense, explicitly fetishist. This attitude is the foundation of what is
undoubtedly one of the most audacious and striking bodies of cinematic work
ever produced, an authentic cinéma d'auteur (or as he liked to call it, a
cinema of poetry). It is also full of contradictions: at once primitive and
mannerist, realist (in its warmth and its way of showing body language) and
hyper-cultivated. Pasolini was always drawing elements from centuries of
painting, literature and music into his impure mixture. 

He applied tragedy to the urban underclass in Accattone and Mamma Roma
(1962). In Oedipus Rex (1967) and Medea (1969), he revived the myths of a
barbarous, pre-classical Greece. He restored to the Christ narrative its
violence and subversive import in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew
(1964). With Theorem (1968), Hawks and Sparrows (1966) and Pigsty (1969) he
constructed bizarre parabolas, mixing grace with obscenity to shatter
conformism. He looked at bourgeois culture's popular antecedents in The
Decameron (1971) and The Canterbury Tales (1972), and at its oriental
counterpart in Flowers of the Arabian Nights (1974). In his last film, Salò,
or the 120 D ays of Sodom (1976), he projected the Marquis de Sade's stories
of sexual brutality on to the dying days of Italian fascism. The enigmatic
beauty of these films retains all its disturbing power. 

Pasolini is sometimes described as a reactionary. He was not. He did,
however, hold certain views that most of the modern or progressive community
saw as indefensible. He disapproved of the 1968 student movements and was
against abortion. But it is clear with hindsight that his contributions to
these debates were mainly exercises in provocation. He wanted intellectuals
of the conformist left, including his friends Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino
and Umberto Eco, to reveal the inoffensive, politically correct foundations
of their "progressivism". 

More generally, though Pasolini idolised Arthur Rimbaud, he did not espouse
Rimbaud's view that "one must be absolutely modern". He used nostalgia,
drawing support from the forces of the past to combat the destructive
elements of the present. His work is shot through with nostalgia for real
and imaginary pasts; for nature, for the maternal, for lost innocence, for
rural life with its cultural and linguistic diversity threatened by
progress. The same instinct colours his explorations of pre-bourgeois
culture in Boccaccio and Chaucer and of the Orient in the Arabian Nights. It
is consistant with his attraction to the third world and Rome's underclass. 

Though more a progressive than a reactionary, Pasolini was not afraid to
resist progress where it meant more oppression, conformism or uniformity.
What distinguishes him from today's neo-reactionaries is his talent for
transforming nostalgia into a critical force. The conservative aspects of
his attitude are more valid now than in his time, when he was often
isolated. To stand against modernity today can be revolutionary, since the
neo-liberal consensus describes the direst backward steps, especially in
social policy and welfare, as "modernisation". 

Pasolini now appears prodigiously ahead of his time in his understanding of
how bourgeois culture perniciously absorbs and transforms all humanity to
extend and strengthen its domination. To challenge this phenomenon had been
part of the intention of the Trilogy of Life (The Decameron, The Canterbury
Tales and Flower of the Arabian Nights), in which he celebrated the
guiltless sexual freedom of a popular world not yet subject to bourgeois
puritanism. But not long after their release, he felt obliged to repudiate
them, when he realised that sexual freedom had lost all its subversive
power. The 1970s establishment had fully digested the sexual revolution and
realised that it could even promote permissiveness: now that everyone was a
consumer, sex was a product like any other. No longer taboo and therefore no
longer sacred (Pasolini saw the commercialisation of human activities as
profanation), sex had been absorbed into the new conformism of consumption. 

Pasolini, being gay, was particularly sensitive to these issues. He dreaded
the absorption of homosexuality into the norm, writing: "It is intolerable
to be tolerated." Far from wishing to belong to any gay community, Pasolini
saw homosexuality as a challenge from society: "They have always condemned
not so much the homosexual as such, but the writer whose homosexuality has
not been cowed, not driven into conformism." There is a more far-reaching
observation behind Pasolini's attitude: economic power and media power had
been conjoined, and the masters of the world were also masters of its
representation. This has moved the people of the world ever closer to the
status of a planetary middle class, uniform and profane. 

Pasolini's starting point for this theme, as always, was a physical
observation: the underclass of the Roman outskirts had begun to dream of
acceptance into the norm. They were dressing like bourgeois students - jeans
and long hair - and using the same slang. The third world, including Italy's
own third world, the mezzogiorno, was trying to fit itself into the mould of
western pseudo-universality. The mainstream seemed to be imposing its
unique, exclusive model with the help of that instrument of homogenisation,
television, which Pasolini hated. He described this process as "the brutal,
totalitarian levelling of the world" and condemned "the degrading order of
the horde". The new power of the market and media was quietly succeeding
where fascism had failed, reducing people to a mass of passive, alienated
consumers. 

This depressing vision has become ever more accurate over the last 30 years.
Pasolini believed that resistance must be as much personal as political. The
only way to confront this new order is to defend our own individual
separateness, to be as wary of conformity in rebellion as of the powers that
be. 
________________________________________________________

Guy Scarpetta is a literary critic; his most recent book is `Variations sur
l'érotisme' (Gallimard, Paris, 2004) 

(1) Forthcoming in English is Pier Paolo Pasolini and Death, edited by
Bernhard Schwenk and Michael Semff, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2006. The first
approved translation of Pasolini's repudiation of the Trilogy of Life can be
found in an expanded edition of his Heretical Empiricism, New Academia,
Washington DC, 2005. 

Translated by Gulliver Cragg 

______________________________________________________

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2006 Le Monde diplomatique 

<http://MondeDiplo.com/2006/03/16pasolini>






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