Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rome 1967 (Photo: Franco Vitale/Reporters Associati & Archivi/Mondadori Portfolio)

"There was no boundary in that light between man and man”

Pier Paolo Pasolini was born on March 5 one hundred years ago. "Right now, I am apocalyptic. I see before me a dreadful world, one that is becoming more and more horrible. I have no hopes.” Yet he continued writing until his final days... why?
Simone Invernizzi

"For a while, when I was young, I believed in the revolution just like the young people today. Then I began to believe in it a little bit less. Right now, I am apocalyptic. I see before me a dreadful world, one that is becoming more and more horrible.” This is how Pier Paolo Pasolini, interviewed by Enzo Biagi in 1971, responded to the question "what kind of world do you dream of?". And he went on to add: "The word ‘hope’ has been excised from my vocabulary.”

In the last years of his life - he died on November 2, 1975 - Pasolini appeared increasingly gloomy and disillusioned. He perceived before front of him the signs of an "anthropological revolution" that, like a deadly disease, was hitting Italy, which came out of the economic boom richer, but emptied, soulless.
"When you walk on their streets you are struck by the uniformity of the crowd,” he wrote in Corsair Writings, a 1975 collection of articles. He describes a "cultural genocide" that particularly affects young people, who “feel the degrading anxious yearning of being equal to everyone else with respect to consumption, to being happy, to being free.” It is, however, a false equality that is exterior and not interior, built around pre-established forms and models of life imposed by the new power of consumer civilization, through the homogenizing violence of television propaganda and fashion: faces are sadder, full of anguish, and "never has diversity been such a frightening fault as in this period of tolerance" (Corsair Writings, July 11, 1974).

These are pages that have been quoted a lot, and that we will hear time and time again during this year in which we celebrate the centenary of the birth - March 5, 1922 - of one of the greatest Italian intellectuals. Pasolini is among the first to denounce the dehumanizing consequences of progress, the silent violence of "hedonistic ideology" and its repressive tolerance, already theorized by Marcuse. These are pertinent pages because globalization has only exacerbated these dynamics, and because we can see that the violence of ideology today expresses itself in the most tragic ways.

Pasolini was hopeless, yet he continued to write, until his final days. He was he not in silent resignation. Why? How did he manage to denounce homologation without being overwhelmed by it? What allowed him to point out what no one seemed to perceive? And to painfully feel that which everyone seemed to accept? Certainly not an ideology, belonging to a church or a party, because he, comparing himself to St. Paul, described himself as follows: "I have always fallen far from the horse: I have never been boldly in the saddle (like so many powerful people in life, or many miserable sinners): I have always been fallen, and one of my feet is caught in the stirrup (...). I can neither get back up on the horse of the Jews and the Gentiles, nor fall for good onto the ground of God" (Letter to Fr. Giovanni Rossi, December 27, 1964, in Letters 1955-1975).

"I have always fallen far from the horse": Pasolini's life is marked by a lacerating restlessness, his feeling of being in exile, perpetually "homeless", as he confesses in capitals in the visionary Poema per un verso di Shakespeare [Poem for a verse of Shakespeare], almost as if he wished to shout out loud:

the door, and I went out... There in front of me now is that
damned house of God locked from the inside,
giving me an unpleasant sense of nausea,
and, behind it, the boring History to which I could return.
And instead, homeless - aaaaah, now I'm screaming, AAAAAAH....

It is an existential loneliness that is beautifully portrayed in a page of La Divina Mimesis, a rewriting of Dante's Comedy that remained unfinished. In the second canto Pasolini-Dante advances into a city suburb, "where the evening light fell like a storm."

"There was no boundary in that light between man and man, between those who, down there in the wonderful and humble kingdoms of life, plains, hamlets, cities let themselves go to the triumph of being there (...).Only I was outside such glory, such melancholy. And a flaming point of tears cut into my chest with a steady pain from the most distant years of life . I alone , defined by a boundary : a disproportion , incredible , between this little me and all the rest of the world , so large, inexhaustible even in nostalgia!” (The Divine Mimesis)

But it is precisely the "a disproportion incredible between this little me and all the rest of the world so large" that shapes the poet Pasolini's gaze on things and people, so loved and so unattainable. His eyes, steeped in nostalgia, saw deeper, beyond appearances. "To some extent I take things as miraculous," he confessed to Biagi in the interview cited above, "My worldview—in an always amorphous way, let’s say—is not strictly in accordance with any religion, but is somehow religious”; it is "a sort of veneration that comes to me from childhood, an irresistible need to admire nature and men, to recognize depth where others see only the lifeless, mechanical appearance of things" (Pasolini rereads Pasolini).

From this "religious" gaze springs the acute judgment, yet so full of pity, of Corsair Writings. It is Pasolini himself who reveals that "In order to understand the changes that people undergo, you must love them” (Corsair Writings, February 1, 1975) and, we would be tempted to add, to reckon with that "flaming point of tears " that cuts into the chest. The "heart" rebels against the apparently unstoppable mechanisms of Power. This is what allows Pasolini to feel the tragedy of consumerism not with the detachment of the intellectual, but "on his own skin."

"Like hens selected for breeding , Italians have immediately absorbed the new anti - sentimental , irreligious ideology of the power,” which corrupts relationships and generates violence. Indeed, what makes political massacres feasible in practice, after they have been coldly conceived? "It's terribly obvious: the lack of a sense of the sacredness of the life of others, and the end of all feeling(s) about one's own."
And what explained the phenomenon of the new criminality that newspaper reports were full of? "This, too, is terribly obvious: it is the ability to consider the lives of other persons to be worthless and to consider one’s own heart as nothing but a muscle." For this reason, Pasolini concludes, "I therefore think that—without losing faith in our humanistic and rational intellectual tradition—we must no longer be afraid—as was the correct attitude in the past—of not casting enough discredit on the sacred, or of having a heart" (Corsair Writings, March 1, 1975).