A collection of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s observations and aphorisms on religion, politics and culture, based on transcripts of unpublished interviews held over a six-year period and revised by the controversial Italian poet, novelist, filmmaker and all-around political-cultural celebrity, in which Pasolini, who once notoriously proclaimed his sympathy for the “working class” policemen in their clashes with spoiled “middle class” students, expresses his eccentric views on America, Third World nationalism, China, Russia, a pope or two, his favorite filmmakers and poets, hippies, NATO’s involvement in the attempted coup d’état in Italy in 1964, etc.
Almost a Testament: Encounters with Pasolini1 - Peter Dragazde
Pier Paolo Pasolini himself described the reflections and observations compiled over the course of a series of encounters with the English journalist Peter Dragazde as “a spiritual and intellectual testament”. “For us foreigners,” Dragazde said, “Pasolini was someone who represented an unknown Italy. The English newspapers and magazines that I worked for were always asking me for interviews with Pasolini, but they hardly ever published them because his declarations and his style were barely translatable. Although I did not share many of his political opinions and personal attitudes, I kept in touch with him, mostly because I had been an admirer of his poetry from the beginning. These encounters, in which my wife also participated, took place in his apartment in the EUR district, at restaurants in the Campo del Fiori neighborhood and the Plaza Farnese or on the set when he was directing his films. During the six years of our friendship, Pasolini developed the habit of calling me rompiscatole [pest], because I never stopped asking him questions for interviews that were almost never published. At our last encounter I showed him all the notes I had collected that I wanted to use to write a long article about his life and his work. Pasolini took the notes, reorganized them, typed them, added a few corrections in his own handwriting and, after returning them to me, told me, laughing: ‘This is almost a spiritual and intellectual testament. If anything happens, Dragazde, publish it. I think that some people might find it interesting’.”
With respect to the conditions imposed on the Russian intellectuals, I find myself in a particular state of mind: the state of mind of someone who has been condemned by the Italian courts more or less for the same reasons (four months in prison for “disrespecting religion”, a crime in a still-fascist legal code, in one of my films, La Ricotta). Furthermore, I do not count myself among those who have forgotten that the U.S. courts condemned Pound; or that many American intellectuals have had to go into exile for being suspected of Marxism, that is, of activities against the state. For Russia, of course, the situation is more serious: not so much due to the severity of the sentences as to the fact that the state, instead of self-destructing in accordance with the wonderful ideology of Marx, became ever more powerful, by way of the bureaucracy, militarism, the police, etc. What the Chinese call revisionism ultimately softens the relation between (state) production and the consumers (government employees), but by no means softens that horrible institution that is always and everywhere the state (power).
CULTURE IN RUSSIA
Many of my friends are Russian writers. For many of them, I feel not just friendship but the highest esteem. It seems to me, however, that official Russian culture (I am referring specifically to literary culture) is inane, boring, sedentary, conformist, sentimental and rhetorical. Obviously, just as there is another American culture, I assume that there also has to be another Russian culture. I would not want it to be that of Bulgakov, however.
It is a culture of the complacent, everyone equal, all petty bourgeois and all integrated. The Catholics are proud of their Catholicism; the secular, of their secularism. The vanguards are instances of snobbism and (fortunately for the vanguardists, who are still so naïve as to be able to believe in such things) the power of the written word! We must not forget that Italy is culturally provincial. And we must not forget what Goldmann says about the “homology” between a society and the literary works it produces. There is some life in the cinema (which is, semiologically, a system of signs that is not national but international; therefore, directors are less conditioned by the pettiness of their national environment than writers).
THE GREAT POETS
In Italy, the greatest poet is Sandro Penna (while one of the worst is Salvatore Quasimodo). Among the Americans I like the early Ginsberg. I like others, too, who have recently died: Dylan Thomas, Machado and Kavafis.
WHY SAINT MATTHEW
I was in Assisi, staying in accommodations provided by a religious community, where I was to attend a debate on my first film. On that very day, without any prior notice, Pope John XXIII came to Assisi, which provoked a circulatory collapse in that small city. I was forced to remain imprisoned in my room and postpone my departure. On the nightstand by my bed there was a copy of the New Testament. I began to read it, from pure boredom. After two pages I had already decided that I was going to shoot what ended up being my The Gospel According to Matthew. It was a traumatic experience, a sudden illumination. But now I know that even if I had made a more carefully deliberated choice, I could not have chosen anything but the Gospel of Matthew. For it is, of the four Gospels, the most revolutionary.
AM I WRITING POEMS?
No, I have not written any poetry for two or three years. The truth is that I did not expect this to happen. I began to write poems when I was seven years old, and I wrote them without interruption until two or three years ago. Why do I no longer write poetry? Because I no longer have an audience. I do not see whom I could carry on a dialogue with by using that sincerity that is typical of poetry, a sincerity which can even be cruel. For years I believed there was an audience for my “confessions” or my “testimonies”. But now I realize that this audience does not exist; with your friends you do not need to express yourself by way of poetry: one expresses oneself by existing. The exaggerations, the excesses, and the ideas of each individual are expressed by living. Poetry requires the existence of a society (that is, an ideal audience) that is capable of entering into a dialogue with the poor poet. Such a society does not exist in Italy. Good, warm-hearted people still exist here (especially where newspapers and television have not yet penetrated) and there is a tiny elite of educated and disillusioned bourgeoisie. But a society that one could communicate with via poetry does not exist. (I say this because a poet must have illusion, but when he has lost it he must not pretend that he still has it).
All formal religion, in the sense of official institutionalized religion, is not only not needed to make the world a better place, but even makes it worse.
DEEPLY HELD BELIEFS
Religion as such and as it now exists is an old phenomenon of the rural world of peasants and artisans, that is, of a non-industrialized world. In our present situation, religion is a phenomenon of the Third World. An Indian peasant or Arab herdsman is certainly more religious than a bourgeois Catholic or a Protestant capitalist.
(In Italy, over the last five or six years, the number of applicants for admission to religious orders and the priesthood has declined by fifty percent. Why? Because Italy is industrializing and the classic world of the peasants is disappearing. One cannot help but observe, however, that the religious vocation is undergoing a boom in the United States, which is precisely the most industrialized country in the world. But it is not just the religious vocation that is undergoing a boom: the beat phenomenon, hippies, etc., are also phenomena of a religious nature. This means that the industrial world is also beginning to express its own religious spirit, one that is nonetheless substantially distinct from the classical religious spirit. Protest, for example, is replacing acquiescence and resignation; freedom is replacing repression, etc.).
What can be said about Vietnam that has not already been said and that would therefore not be stupid? I am one of those people who hardly ever talk about Vietnam. Generally, when I do speak of Vietnam, I only do so to say that there are worse things than Vietnam. For example, the conservative press and television. I feel a great deal of respect for the marines that Johnson (as if in a dream, Moravia says) has sent to die in Vietnam, but I am compelled to shout: “Long live the Vietcong!”
I am suspending all judgments about Castroism as long as I have not seen with my own eyes (or as long as a creditable witness has not provided me with evidence) that there are forced labor and reeducation camps in Cuba.
COMMUNISM AND RELIGION
The coexistence of communism and religion is conceivable in a society like Italy, for example. Why? Because Italy is not yet a completely industrialized country (the South is virtually part of the Third World) and thus, for the peasants and the remaining artisans, religion is a natural and sincere phenomenon. Even the Italian bourgeoisie, whose origins are quite recent (almost all our grandparents were peasants: in 1870, when Italy was unified, ninety percent of the population of Italy was illiterate), still experience, with a rural mentality, religion as a necessity. Of the eight million communist voters, a large proportion not only has a Catholic mentality, but also attends Mass. Secularism in Italy is an aristocratic phenomenon, cultivated by bourgeois elites within the European context.
The cold war and anti-communism in Italy are therefore two quite stupid things, and the dialogue that was initiated by John XXIII was already in the air and was a practical reality. All the rest was a legacy of fascism.
For the countries that are totally industrialized and possess important bourgeoisies with long histories (England, the United States), the question takes on a very different aspect. Secularism (which is the religion of liberalism) is very widespread, even among the working class. Thus, religion (Protestantism, the traditional religion of the bourgeoisie) has undergone liberalization; there are very few communists. The question of “dialogue” is not relevant; or it is in any event a question relating to foreign affairs.
Communism and religion can therefore coexist in the pre-industrial countries, in those where communism and religion are concretely opposed as two distinct ideologies. In the industrialized countries (capitalist or socialist) such coexistence is nothing but a theoretical affair, because in reality an objective and historical coexistence of these two forces does not exist.
To conclude, I would like to say, however, that the opposite of religion is not communism (which, although it has taken from the bourgeois tradition the secular and positivist spirit, is basically very religious); the opposite of religion is capitalism (merciless, cruel, cynical, purely materialist, the cause of the exploitation of man by man, the incubator of the cult of power and the dreadful hotbed of racism).
I am not a pacifist by nature, but by choice.
THE THEATER AND CINEMA
There are (and always will be) crooks who produce commercial plays and movies for the purpose of entertainment (and to make money), and there are (and always will be) imbeciles who make movies and write plays for the purpose of education (without making any money). In reality, real independent cinema [cinéma d'auteur] and theater are produced neither to entertain nor to educate.
A GOOD MOVIE
There is only one essential factor that defines a good movie: the fact that something real takes place on the screen.
GOOD AND EVIL IN ART
Art is a concept: it is a stylistic system within a linguistic system. It is a message within a code. This entails many compromises. Of course, the purest form of art is the absolute silence of the poets who do not write.
SUFFERING AND ART
With respect to this issue, I would not say that suffering is necessary (because if I were to do so I would be pronouncing a rule and therefore availing myself of a rhetoric of consolation), but that it is inevitable.
I feel the same way about salon communists as I do about the salon: shit.
THE WORLD TURNS LEFTWARDS
We can legitimately inquire concerning two opposed phenomena: 1) Why is the world situated on the right [of the political spectrum]? 2) Why is the world turning towards the left? I do not know whether, in the immediate future, it will remain on the right or will continue to turn towards the left. In any case, one could say that on the right, there are, or were, Franco, Salazar, the Greek colonels, the Italian ultramontanists, the English and French neo-capitalists—even the most advanced ones—Johnson, all of rural America and, in addition, all the rich people of the world (Arab kings, Indian Maharajas, Sicilian latifundists, etc.; along with their servants: conservative intellectuals, democracy vacated of all content, lobbyists….). On the left, on the other hand, there are all the peasants and herdsmen of the Third World (almost two-thirds of humanity), the blacks of the United States, the American New Left, the children of the English and French capitalists, an insignificant number of intellectuals and, little by little, the working classes of world neo-capitalism, including those of Castile and the region of Athens.
At the head of those who are still on the right there is no one, except the ugly face of an advertisement that represents an obnoxious and filthy prosperity; at the head of those who are moving towards the left there are the Vietcong, living and dead, the red guards and the men of the Soviet Union (who are now on the march).
Capitalism is at the present time the agent of a great internal revolution: it is transforming itself, by way of a revolution, into neo-capitalism.
In contradiction of everything I just said, it may be said that the neo-capitalist revolution presents itself as the competitor of the global forces that are moving towards the left. In a certain sense, it is also situated on the left. And, incredibly, by moving towards the left (in its own way) it is tending to absorb everything that is moving towards the left. Faced with this revolutionary, progressive and standardizing neo-capitalism, one experiences an unprecedented sense of the unity of the world.
And why does this happen? Because neo-capitalism coincides with the complete industrialization of the world and with the technological application of science. All of this is the product of the history of humanity: of all men, not of this or that specific population. And in fact the various nationalisms will display a tendency, in the near future, to homogenization under the pressure of this essentially international neo-capitalism. This will take place in such a manner that the uniformity of the world (which at this time can only be intuited) will be an effective uniformity of culture, of social forms, of goods and of consumption.
Naturally, I hope that, in the competition that I am referring to, neo-capitalism is not victorious, but that the poor prevail. Because I am an old-fashioned man, a man who has read the classics, a man who has gathered the grapes from the vineyards, who has contemplated the rising and the setting of the Sun over the fields, amidst the ancient and faithful neighing of the horses, amidst the holy bleating of the sheep; who, after having lived in small cities that bear on their splendid visages the mark of ages of artisanal production, in which even a farmhouse or a stone wall is a work of art, and a stream or a hill are enough to mark the boundaries between two different styles and to create two different worlds. (I therefore have no interest at all in a world standardized by neo-capitalism, that is, by an internationalism that is engendered, by means of violence, by the needs of production and consumption.)
Is one born a genius or is the genius created by society? Before anything else, man is born. Then, during the first years of his childhood, he experiences certain painful traumas or pleasant sensations, which finally end up determining his entire life. A genius (I hate this word) is determined by the fears or the pleasures (both extremes) that he experienced as a child. The part of the genius that is “created” consists in those practices (tenacious, hidden, unconscious, obsessive and irrepressible) that are directed towards recreating childhood pleasures or erecting barriers against childhood fears.
Is sexual freedom necessary for creation? Yes. No. Or maybe yes. No, no, of course not. But … yes. No, probably not. Or, yes? Oh, wonderful promiscuity! (Oh, wonderful chastity!)
MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
A single individual who proposes to do something to “make the world a better place” is a cretin. Most of those who publicly work for “improving the world” end up in jail for fraud. Besides, ultimately the world almost always successfully integrates heretics. For example: beatifications and canonizations…. Let us assume that John XXIII is canonized: there he is, frozen, integrated, transformed into a religious relic, exorcised. And there can be no doubt that John XXIII contributed to making the world a better place. But if someone had asked him: “Excuse me, are you helping to make the world a better place?”, Pope John would have laughed at him, or maybe he would have told him to go to the devil; and surely, after having said this, he would have said, smiling: “I do what I can.”
In reality, the world never improves. The idea of making the world a better place is one of those alibi-ideas with which guilty or obtuse consciences are consoled (including under the latter category also the communists when they speak of “hope”). So, one way to be of use to the world is to say loudly and clearly that the world will never be a better place, and that the ways in which it improves are meta-historical: they take place at the moment when someone speaks the truth or performs an act of intellectual or civic courage. Only the (impossible) sum of these words and acts could produce a concrete improvement of the world. And this would be paradise and death.
The world can indeed get worse, however. And that is why we have to struggle constantly: and to struggle, furthermore, for a minimum goal, that is, for the defense of civil liberties (when they have been obtained by previous struggles). Civil rights are constantly under threat, constantly in danger of being abolished. It is therefore necessary to fight to create new models of society in which the minimum program of civil rights is guaranteed. An authentically socialist society, for example.
Yes, the time of traditional communism is over. For three reasons: neo-capitalism with its new model of technological civilization; the Third World, with its old peasant society; and China, which wants to become a technological society without passing through the petty bourgeois stage.
Today, the class struggle is no longer the classical one of days past (the last example was Cuba, whose revolution is extraordinarily similar to that of Russia in 1917). What happened? The workers are increasingly more captivated by the “quality of life” typical of total industrialization and consumer society (with the myth of technology), while the peasants, who have participated in the wars of national liberation in all the former colonies of the world, have more social and class consciousness than they did in the past.
Right now, Catholicism is occupied above all with the question of survival. With the 50% decline in new applicants to the religious orders and the priesthood, and the closure of the dioceses in the former colonies (recall the episode of the lower Sudan), the Catholic Church has understood that in order to survive it has to simultaneously: a) be the Church of the Third World; that is, return to its peasant and humble origins; and b) be the Church of the industrialized world, capitalist or communist, which implies completely novel religious demands. These are two absolutely contradictory projects.
What is it about violence in itself that I find attractive? What a difficult question! How can I know my unconscious? If I were to know it then it would no longer be unconscious! Psychoanalysis has instilled us with the accursed habit of “judging” others on the basis of their unconscious (as if we were experienced psychoanalysts!). For example: someone is run over by a car, poor man, and then everyone joins in the chorus: “What can you do, if he was run over it is because deep down he wanted to be run over, so much the worse for him!” Consciously, I can say the following: that I believe in the maternal myth of goodness and leniency, and it is this myth that I seek to embody in my way of life. However, this myth of mine has suffered so many setbacks and disappointments in my real life experiences, that I have not been able to avoid rising up in indignant rebellion. And since leniency and goodness, in order to exist, must be intrepid (my mother told me so, perhaps not in so many words, but with her heart), the lenient and the good, when they rebel, must persist to the end. Thus, the version that I give of my violence is very idyllic: it is, in any event, about a unique and exclusively intellectual violence.
MY ATTACK ON PIUS XII
I attacked Pius XII for the same reasons that the Church attacked him some years later (the last straw: deposing Cardinal Ottaviani).
MY FAVORITE FILMMAKERS
Dreyer (a sacred plenitude of faces and objects); Buster Keaton (formal perfection); Murnau (the world’s best movie is The Last Laugh); Mizoguchi (great like Giuseppe Verdi), Renoir and Tati (the only filmmakers who knew how to compose the poetry of the petty bourgeoisie); Bergman (not the feudal Bergman, but the bourgeois Bergman of Winter Light); Godard (how can you not love him?); the good films by Fellini; and Charlot (the greatest pleasures of the cinema). I will add, to complete the picture, that I do not like any of the idols of Cahiers du Cinéma, i.e.: neither Hawks, nor Hitchcock, nor Ford. And I detest Eisenstein.
I am a Marxist who chooses religious themes. That’s a good one! Is there a monopoly on religion now as well? So this is the conclusion of forty years of awful propaganda and McCarthyism! Many of the most deeply religious men of our century have been communists. I am thinking, for example, of Gramsci (the founder of the PCI). They fought from pure altruism and devoted their lives to a single ideal (which some would undoubtedly define as an ascetic one), for the sake of which they have risked imprisonment, torture and death. You will understand that when I say religious I am not referring to belief in an organized religion.
For the communists are almost all secular and positivist. But they have inherited their secularism and positivism from bourgeois civilization (the great bourgeois civilization that first carried out the liberal revolution and then the industrial revolution). What happened then is that, for the bourgeoisie, secularism and positivism have remained unaltered (the patrimony above all of a bourgeois elite), while nationalism and imperialism, born as the direct consequence of capitalism, soon pushed the bourgeoisie halfway towards the old clerical positions: it then cultivated a religion based on mere material interest, one that was hypocritical, state sponsored and even bloodthirsty (consider the Czarist and Francoist clergy). Thus, the legitimate question is not “Can a communist be religious?”, but “Can a bourgeois be religious?”
DO I BELIEVE IN GOD?
I have defined myself as an unbeliever since I was fourteen years old. For the first time, over the last few months, I have conceived an idea of God, although an immanent and scientific one.
The way I arrived at this conclusion is very curious. I was always interested in linguistic problems, although I limited my research to the Italian language, and in Italy I pass for an interesting, if misinformed and eccentric, linguist. Finally, I was seized with a passion for linguistic research on the cinema. It was therefore inevitable that I should turn to semiology, the science that holds that systems of signs are infinite, and not just linguistic.
I have come to the conclusion that the cinema, by reproducing reality, creates a perfect semiological description of reality. I also concluded that the system of signs of the cinema is practically the same system of signs that applies to reality. Therefore, reality is a language! What we have to do is practice a semiology of reality, not of the cinema! But if reality speaks, who is speaking and who is being spoken to? Reality speaks with itself: it is a system of signs by which reality speaks with reality. Is all of this not Spinozist? Is this idea of reality not similar to the idea of God?
Both the attempted coup d’état in Italy in 1964, as well as the successful coup d’état in Greece, are events that were generated within the sphere of NATO. In Italy, the journalists from L’Espresso who published the names of some of the authors of the coup were arrested and put on trial. The Catholic party (the Christian Democratic Party), however, has with the help of the Socialists paralyzed the parliamentary investigation. Evidently, there is no willingness to shed light on the international responsibility for the coup.
We intellectuals (in this so very serious matter) have been conspicuous due to our absence. It is true: at dinners and at meetings, we vilify our political class, that bourgeoisie whose reflection it is, and more generally this little, marginal, provincial, indifferent and miserable country called Italy. And what about us? What are we doing? Are we hardly any better? What is it that has caused us to be absent and silent? Fear? Prudence? Mistrust? Laziness? Ignorance? Yes, all of these things.
What attracts me to the subproletariat is its face, because it is clean (while that of the bourgeoisie is dirty); because it is innocent (while that of the bourgeois is guilty); because it is pure (while that of the bourgeois is vulgar); because it is religious (while that of the bourgeois is hypocritical); because it is wild (while that of the bourgeois is prudent); because it is sensual (while that of the bourgeois is cold); because it is childish (while that of the bourgeois is adult); because it is spontaneous (while that of the bourgeois is prudent); because it is kindly (while that of the bourgeois is insolent); because it is vulnerable (while that of the bourgeois is arrogant); because it is incomplete (while that of the bourgeois is calculating); because it is trusting (while that of the bourgeois is hard); because it is affectionate (while that of the bourgeois is ironic); because it is dangerous (while that of the bourgeois is delicate); because it is fierce (while that of the bourgeois is that of a blackmailer); because it has color (while that of the bourgeois is white).
POOR AND RICH
The poor are real; the rich, unreal.
It is said that Paul VI is at a disadvantage with respect to John XXIII because the latter was more likeable. I completely disagree. It was only in a superficial sense that John XXIII was more likeable than Paul VI. In reality, I think that with regard to the meaning of “likeability” [in Spanish and Italian the word comes from the same Greek root as the English word, “sympathy”, which means literally “community of feeling”—Tr.] (community of feelings), I find Paul VI more likeable, because he suffers the same way I do, and acts in that complicated, hard to understand way, full of vigor and contradictions, so typical of intellectuals. What makes me find Paul VI to be a likeable person is his tormented intelligence. The fact that he does not possess external qualities like charm, or more precisely, likeability, only stimulates my affection.
Oh, what can I say about John F. Kennedy! He is the only powerful person, the only politician, whom I would have liked to have known as a friend.
As I have said so many times and in so many places, I do not want to be Italian. I would like to be an American. Naturally, I would be an American of the other America. And finally my way of protest would be free! Absolutely, totally, insanely free! In Italy, even protests are conformist. Liberal protest utilizes a language of the schoolhouse that reeks of the tomb; Marxist protest is preconceived as a formula. There is nothing more beautiful than inventing the language of protest from one day to the next!
THE CINEMA AND REALITY
The system of signs of the cinema is the same as the system of signs of reality. For example: I am looking at the face of a man with very curly hair, bright cheerful eyes and a comical and innocent expression that seems radiate from his flesh. What is this? A man that really stands before me, or is it the opening scene of a movie? Regardless, he speaks to me in the same way, and I understand him by way of the same signs. The real nature of this man is presented to me and expressed in the same way in both real life and on the screen.
I am speaking, of course, of pure cinema, not of commercial manipulations (in which everything can be falsified by the affectations of the director and the actors … but just how far can this falsification go, I ask myself; won’t the truth end up being revealed in the end? If the actor is an idiot who interprets a genius, won’t we end up seeing that he is an idiot?). In order for the cinema to create new things it has to be manipulated as little as possible, whether in the sense of commercialism or that of stylistic experimentalism: the movies of Mekas and those of Hollywood are equally distant from reality.
And only reality can be, or be seen, differently. If a director has a new idea of reality, he will say new things in his films.
TO DE FILIPPO
Eduardo De Filippo is the greatest Italian actor. In his performances, he always speaks in the Neapolitan dialect. Although he does not know this yet, I have been thinking of writing a play for him. Regarding this play I only know four things at the present time: 1) that he will be speaking in Neapolitan; 2) that it will be entitled Mandolini; 3) that the action will take place in China, among peasants and red guards; and 4) that the protagonist is a Chinese man who pretends to be dead and awakes only when he is alone in order to hold a conversation with a rat, and that on one occasion, in order to stretch his legs, he performs a ballet accompanied by the sound of mandolins. Probably, the man who pretends to be dead is the symbol of my opinion on Chinese communism. Will I come back to life? Will I perform a ballet to the sound of mandolins? Will I erase every sign of culture from myself, western or eastern, and recover the cultural virginity of the peasants?
THE AMERICAN SYSTEM
Concerning the American political system I like the form of protest that it tolerates, and which can be summarized in a stirring and marvelous maxim: “Only real democracy can destroy false democracy”.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Translated in August 2013 from the Spanish translation published in: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Palabra de Corsario, ed. Juan Miguel Hernández León, Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid, 2005.
Spanish translation available online at: http://www.circulobellasartes.com/fich_libro/arch_fich_libro_3.pdf
- 1 Published in Gente, November 17, 1975.