Homage to Pasolini on the Twentieth Anniversary of His Murder
Mage, John, Monthly Review
Pier Paolo Pasolini, born in Bologna on March 5,1922, and raised in the Friuli region of Venetia, is, in the words of Alberto Moravia, the major Italian poet of the second half of the twentieth century. He was also a filmmaker, novelist, and political journalist of genius. He was murdered twenty years ago, on November 2, 1975.
A teacher and active Communist in the Friuli, Pasolini was accused of "obscene acts" with teenage boys and "corruption of minors" in the summer of 1949. In 1952 an appellate court finally determined that he had violated no Italian law, but by that time his prior existence was shattered. He had moved to Rome in 1950 and, having no work for two years, lived in abject poverty, sustained in every sense by his mother who had fled with him. Slowly he obtained a pittance for freelance writing of criticism and poetry. In 1955 he published the novel Ragazzi di vita [Real Life Kids], immediately prosecuted for containing "pornographic content" that was "contrary to good morals." The book was denounced by the Vatican, and also by the Communist Party (PCI). But the prosecution failed (the judges in their opinion praised the book's "authentic lyricism"), and Ragazzi di vita ended up as a finalist for the 1955 Strega Prize, Italy's leading literary award. For the rest of his life, Pasolini was at the center of Italy's living culture and politics. And this at a time when Italy's culture (particularly its cinema) and politics were for a brilliant moment at the center of the global stage, perhaps to a degree not seen since the sixteenth century. Openly gay and a critical Communist, in 1964 Pasolini utilized the flicker of liberation sparked by Pope John XXIII to make the film The Gospel According to Matthew, said Pasolini: " . . . someone who walks up to a couple of people and says, `Drop your nets and follow me' is a total revolutionary." When, in the wake of 1968, full depictions of things sexual were permitted, Pasolini made the achingly lyrical films Decameron (1971), Canterbury Tales (1972), and Thousand and One Nights (I 974), filled with a nostalgia for noncommodified human relations. He denied the films were an appeal for sexual "liberalization"; said Pasolini: "If my films should happen to contribute to the present form of `permissiveness' I would reject them. In fact, I find such permissiveness planned and programmed by those in power."
In the months before his death Pasolini waged a campaign as a political journalist against the "genocide Marx prophesied in the Manifesto," a consumerist "genocide in the form of the suicide of an entire country." He called for the immediate abolition of television, explaining that "genocide" was the "acculturation by the power of consumerism" through the tool of television, that would soon overcome the difference between fascists and anti-fascists in a common imbecility. This has, of course, now come to pass in the form of the unprecedented Italian electoral victories of the television monopolist Berlusconi's Forza Italia (a political commodity sold like soap) in alliance with the "post" fascists. But the truly awesome prophecy was in Pasolini's final work as a journalist in September 1975; the consumerist degradation of the Italian people, the environmental degradation of Italy ("there are no more fireflies"), is, he wrote, the crime of the Christian Democratic politicians who had governed the country since 1947. …