Pasolini: Corsair writings

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Alfonso Berardinelli*

Preface to the book by the Italian filmmaker recently published in Brazil

Pasolini's emergency political essay

The invisible conformist revolution, the “cultural homologation”, the “anthropological mutation” of the Italians, of which Pasolini spoke with such ferocity and suffering from 1973 to 1975 (the year of his death) were by no means invisible phenomena. Was he the only one who saw them? Why, then, did his speeches sound so ill-timed, irritating, and scandalous? Even the less rude interlocutors disapproved, at the same time, and as always, of his passionate obstinacy and his ideological schematism.

What Pasolini said was, in short, widely known. Sociology and political theory had already addressed such matters. The critics of the idea of ​​progress, of mass society, of total commodification, had long ago said all there was to say. Wasn't the new left, moreover, perhaps born out of these analyses? What sense did it have now, play the role of apocalyptic? It was, for Italy too, a normal and predictable catastrophe due to normal and foreseeable capitalist development.

Why was Pasolini so insistent about his personal case? Crying over the past was absurd (when would an ideologue, a politician, a social scientist dare to cry over something?). Going back was impossible. Dwelling so irrationally on the “prices to pay” to move forward was inopportune and unmanly. The only thing possible was, perhaps, to organize a revolutionary struggle against Power and Capital, which had now become totally multinational: or to try to control and “civilize” their unstoppable and, in the end, positive dynamics. Thus, the articles that Pasolini wrote on the first pages of the Corriere della Sera (then directed by the innovator Piero Ottone), a bourgeois, employer and anti-worker newspaper, could not but provoke irritated reactions, gestures of disdain, repudiation and even contempt.

Especially those who remember, even vaguely, the polemics present in the newspapers of those years, when rereading the corsair writings you might be amazed. Not only because of the intelligence and sociological imagination of Pasolini, who knows how to extract this global vision from an empirical base limited to his own personal and occasional experience (but, moreover, from which all the “sociological” knowledge of the great novelists of the past derived, from Balzac and Dickens onwards, if not from their ability to see what they had before their eyes?).

In no specialized and professional semiologist has semiology, which Pasolini names with great respect but which he uses very discreetly, bear so much fruit. The reader is amazed, above all, by the inexhaustible inventiveness of his essayistic and polemical style, by the wild energy and Socratic cunning of his rhetorical and dialectical art, by his “psychagogy”: he knows how to make intellectual prejudices emerge very clearly ( of class, of caste) and, frequently, the somewhat petty and persecutory obtuseness of his interlocutors, who always seem to be wrong; or, if they are partly right, their reason becomes strident and irritable, as well as cognitively inert. While Pasolini was trying to reveal something new, they were only defending already acquired notions.

The fact is that, for Pasolini, sociological and political concepts became physical evidence, myths and stories of the end of the world. Thus, finally, Pasolini found the way to express, represent and dramatize his anguish theoretically and politically. Only at that moment was it possible for him to rediscover a space that he felt he had lost in previous years and to directly use his own autobiographical reason to speak in public about the present and future destiny of Italian society, of its ruling class, of the irreversible and violent end of a secular history.

However, the physical evidence of the disappearance of a world, which should have been, and indeed was, before everyone's eyes, seemed invisible to most eyes. In the summary, violently schematic description of these physical evidences, Pasolini was one-sided, unfair. At times, he seemed blinded by visions of it. There was an invincible strangeness that seemed to make the faces of the new young people “all the same” (as the faces of distant peoples whom we have not yet learned to look at, to love, “look the same”). But the meaning of the argument was clear: what made a young fascist indistinguishable from a young anti-fascist, or a proletarian couple from a bourgeois couple, was the end of classic fascism and anti-fascism, the end of the old proletariat and the old bourgeoisie . It was the advent (the Advent) of a new human model and a new power that erased the previous physical and cultural face of Italy, radically changing the social and human basis of the old institutions.

It is strange that Pasolini took issue with the abuse of the term “System” by the movement of 68. He himself, when the movement was precipitating into a regressive condition, formulated, in his own terms, a violent and global denunciation, summarily outlining the contours of an “omni-invasive” social system. He started with details that were absolutized, highlighted and enlarged (the haircut, a slogan advertising, the disappearance of fireflies). The picture, as in all biased analysis, became distorted. However, this biased deformation gave an extraordinary efficacy and provocative coherence to his speeches. And it also gave a new image of society as a whole, as a System.

Certainly, the cultural “homologation” of which he spoke with obsessive and didactic insistence, that is, the reduction of Italians to a single and exclusive despotic model of behavior (New Middle Class or total New Petty Bourgeoisie), was not a process that had already arrived. to the end. But soon it would be. It was this radical and total transformation that immediately made all previous categories of judgment old, meaningless and falsified. Fascism and anti-fascism, right and left, progress and reaction, revolution and restoration were becoming purely terminological and consolatory oppositions: good conscience of left intellectuals. The reality was different, he was “outside the Palace” (as he will say in the Lutheran Letters), outside the current debates among intellectuals.

Italian history had a sudden acceleration: “At a certain moment, power felt the need for a different type of subject, who was, above all, a consumer”. The Center had annulled all the peripheries. The new society realized, for the first time in Italy, the total power, with no alternatives, of the middle class. A nightmare of uniformity, in which there was only room for consumer “respectability” and the idolatry of commodities. A definitive cultural “genocide” was thus carried out. With no need for coups d'état, military dictatorships, police controls and ideological propaganda, the faceless New Power pragmatically appropriated everyone's behavior and everyday life. Differences in wealth, income, and rank had ceased to create qualitative differences in culture, distinct human types. The poor and powerless did not aspire to have more wealth and more power, but wanted to be, in everything and for everything, like the ruling class, culturally made the only existing class.

To these speeches, Italian left-wing culture reacted with indifference, almost always bordering on derision. Pasolini discovered known things and gave more emphasis to them. Or maybe he just wanted to “update” the somewhat worn image of the writer as a public conscience, persecuted victim, wounded soul. In short, protagonism and victimization. Was it really possible, in good faith, to discover only now the “repressive tolerance”, the One Dimensional Man of Marcuse? Or the effects of the mass Cultural Industry analyzed decades earlier by Horkheimer and Adorno? Or, finally, commodity fetishism in capitalist societies?

In fact, from this point of view, in the analyzes of corsair writings there is nothing original. Pasolini, however, knows this very well (the cultural “genocide”, he says, had already been described by Marx in the The Manifest). Everything, in theory, had already been said. But only now were these processes, about which critical sociology had spoken in Germany, France and the United States, reaching their fullness in Italy, with a concentrated and unforeseen violence. For Pasolini it was a personal discovery, a “life and death question”. His cognitive instrument was his existence, the life imposed on him by his “diversity”, by his love for sub-proletarian youth, deformed, body and soul, for development. And this, in the polemic engaged in the pages of newspapers, could only become a greater and almost insurmountable reason for scandal and barely concealed contempt in their confrontations.

The formal intellectualism and politicization widespread in the left-wing culture of those years (from secular-moderate to orthodox or neo-revolutionary Marxist culture) offered Pasolini an unusual cultural advantage. Everyone watched what was happening at the heights of power, and almost no one was able to look their peers and compatriots in the face: masses being led to order, promoting modernity or being mobilized in the cause of communism. The very exasperation of the political shock in Italy between 1967 and 1975 prevented the lack of intellectual scruples and the empirical perception that would have allowed observing the changes in the scenario and in the actors involved in the shock.

On the other hand, Pasolini, even though he was suspicious of the students' movement, had also taken a stand against the accusations he had suffered. In an article published in the magazine Time, on October 18, 1969, we read: “It was a year of restoration. The most painful thing to see was the end of the Student Movement, if we can, in fact, speak of the end (but I hope not). As a matter of fact, the novelty that the students brought to the world in the last year (the new aspects of power and the substantial and dramatic actuality of the class struggle) continued to operate within us, mature men, not only during that year, but, I believe , now, for the rest of our lives. The unfair and fanatical accusations of integration leveled at us by the students were, at heart, fair and objective. And — barely, of course, with all the weight of old sins — we will try not to forget him anymore.” (Chaos, Editori Riuniti, 1979, pp. 215-6)

Despite the conceptual schematism, the book corsair writings remains one of the rare examples in Italy of radical intellectual critique of developed society. If it could not single-handedly replace an uninhibited sociology rich in descriptions (besides, always less practiced by specialists), it managed, at least in part, to save the honor of our literary culture, almost always very mannerist and with restricted ideas. What is also present here in Pasolini is the livid and mournful color of his findings and his refusals, the exasperated tension of his rationality, a disarmed lack of ironic and satirical humor. the strength of corsair writings it is, above all, in the emotional and moral reality of this mourning.

Pasolini was one of the last Italian writers and poets (with his contemporaries Andrea Zanzotto, Paolo Volponi and Giovanni Giudici) inconceivable in a non-Italian, abstractly cosmopolitan scene. That special “eternity”, sacred and mythical, of the landscape, of the Italian social world, as he had elaborated in his work, we find evoked here, above all in the article dedicated to Sandro Penna: “What a wonderful country Italy was during the period of fascism and soon after! Life was as we had known it as children, and for twenty, thirty years, it has not changed: I am not referring to its values ​​[...] but appearances seemed endowed with the gift of eternity. We could passionately believe in revolt or revolution, and yet that wonderful thing that was the way of life would not be transformed. […] They would only improve, precisely, their economic and cultural conditions, which are nothing when compared to the pre-existing truth that governs in a wonderfully immutable way the gestures, the looks, the attitudes of the body of a man or a boy. The cities ended in the great avenues [...].”

This emergency political essay is the true literary invention of Pasolini's last years. It is based on the rhetorical scheme of the requisition, and is the great oratory of accusation and public self-defense of a poet. The same tones of elegy are carried here by the blunt simplicity of the argument. The ideology of corsair writings it is “vocal”, improvised, it moves on polemical improvisation and on a clear architecture of concepts, of naked rational nerves, which support the fragile edifice of discourse with the strength of iteration. All play of tonalities, attenuations, corrections, incisions, lights and shadows disappear. In these new civil or uncivil poems in prose, everything is desperately and rigorously in full light. A new social power, pragmatic and elemental, which crushes everything in its uniformity, is described with equally ruthless uniformity, and with an equally pragmatic and elemental use of concepts, as if by mimetic retortion. Pasolini's essayistic-theatrical genius lies entirely in this stripped and geometric intellectualism that destructively manifests his anguish over the loss of an object of love and the modern desacralization of all the reality.

*Alfonso Berardinelli is a retired professor of the History of Literary Criticism at the University of Cosenza. Author, among other books, of From poetry to prose (Cosac Naify, 2007).

Translation David Pessoa Carneiro.

corsair writings
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Translation, presentation and notes by Maria Betânia Amoroso
Publisher 34, 294 pages.
Text originally published as a preface to the Italian edition of the corsair writings (Milan, Garzanti, 2011) (

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