Lecture Review: Pasolini


Fear of an answer, that it crouches in the lecturer’s mouth. The Cinema Studies Colloquium opened only gaps. Every explanation couched itself in these terms. Nothing was settled in locus Pasolini. By moving him to inhospitable plains, in driving the poles further apart, much was accomplished. Turns out there are more than seven hills to roam, more space. Possibly we can all have a mansion here. The winds that are coming are great, the moon the only warmth.

The focus was Teorema, originally a novel. Pasolini turned it into a film with less than a thousand words, a mostly silent drift through bourgeois Milan, centered on a single family. Not much can be done to explain it. The book took these expository steps, even though it precedes the film, and it was abandoned. Can this be said, that a beginning explains its end? Not even Aquinas has an answer.

Teorema the book dissolved into Teorema the film, bringing to the screen a subsistence economy of gaps, cuts, and inexplicable gulfs. The method is reductive, erosive, destructive. Juan Rulfo, in explaining the similar atmosphere of his book Pedro Paroma, said he had to carry the narrative around in his head for years until it was shattered and shuffled enough to fit his sense of its form. But what shattered it? Why was the form different?

In its title the lecture hinted that it might follow Pasolini in his method: “The Obliteration of the Children of the Bourgeoisie in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Vision (Part 1).” Destruction stimulated Pasolini, any violence aimed at generation. Indeed, no “Part 2” is scheduled.

She discussed another film, Porcile, a diptych contrasting a Nazi’s son with a starving cannibal who occasionally assails a victim in a medieval wasteland. The title refers to pork, more specifically capitalist societies which consume, defecate, consume. Such films, even divorced from any theoretical underpinning (any attempts to connect them with sterile Marxist concepts only emphasized this), still speak of irresistible corrosion, of some weight. Who knows what drives it. Medieval cannibalism might not be too far. We can’t account for it any more than we can account for the way books die from exposure. George Oppen, of the poets, forever:

……they feel themselves
The end of a chain

Of lives, single lives
And we know that lives
Are single

And cannot defend
The metaphysic
On which rest

The boundaries
Of our distances.
We want to say

(Of Being Numerous, 26)

Whether or not Marxism is still with us, whether it has acceded to its spectral status or persists as a presence which talks and talks and talks of anything anything anything- (who knows anymore?)- or whether another concept has succeeded it, itself frail and fading, does not seem to matter for Pasolini, the colloquium, or ourselves. What does matter is this visceral sense of some insistent gnawing at the present foundations. It was illumined in the scenes of Teorema which juxtapose the clenched fist of an eerily traumatized beautiful young Milanese girl with small drifting tufts of cottony smoke upon the black sands of Mt. Etna.

By such means Pasolini evokes his idea of the “eruption of the sacred,” that something which strains against the dead walls of the Milanese home, which rages within or against the closed fist of the young girl as she lay in bed surrounded by her sated, clinical family. This is familiar, and it hardly accounts for the effect of those drifting clouds, so close to the rare black ground.

What of the film if its ideas are lost? Would it become nothing? What of Teorema the book if Teorema the film is thus? What of Juan Rulfo’s original narrative if Pedro Paroma is thus? Why did they erode, cut? The lecture too worked in this valence.

If Teorema retains value, it will not be by its sources and referents, whether imaginative, societal, conceptual, or biographical. A work is none of these. They fade, and still some substance persists. Every investigation, the lecture included, works wittingly or unwittingly to exclude itself as a possible explanation. Something becomes fixed and evident only when it is wrong. A film, a book, a lecture can fight this, or use it. They float freely, though still bounded. By the end of the colloquium some hideous interval had been cleared, leaving the desert a little north.

Critical thought, taken in this sense, seems but a cutting of the ropes. Marxism excluded itself by exhausting itself. But something substantive still weighs on us, this thing it indicated. It erupts sometimes from Teorema or the rattling of a trolley at night. It floats freely in the smoke-filled air, shadowing the silver ashes, a makeshift balloon in medieval Russia. The lecture demonstrated the value of an erosive method; “rain also is part of the process” (Pound, Canto LXXIV). The film, turning its back on the book, only accumulates treasure. Those who do not seek the world shall gain it. Those who seek the world shall lose it.

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