Pier Paolo Pasolini | A Desperate Vitality

Richard Avedon | Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966



(Draft, in a cursus in present-day jargon, of what has just transpired:
Fiumicino, the old castle, and a first real idea of death.)

As in a film by Godard: alone
in a car speeding down the motorways
of Latin neo-capitalism — returning from the airport —
[where Moravia stayed behind, a pure soul with his bags]
alone, “racing his Alfa Romeo“
in sunlight so heavenly it cannot be put
into rhymes not elegiac
— the finest sun we’ve had all year —
as in a film by Godard:
under a sun bleeding motionless
the canal of the port of Fiumicino
— a motorboat returning unnoticed
—Neapolitan sailors covered in woolen rags
— a car accident, a few onlookers gathered round …

— as in a film by Godard — romanticism
rediscovered in a time
of neocapitalist cynicism and cruelty —
behind the wheel
along the road from Fiumicino —
there’s the castle (what sweet
mystery for the French scriptwriter,
this papal colossus in the troubled, endless,
age-old sun, with its battlements
over hedges and plantation rows in an ugly landscape
of peasant serfs) …

— I am like a cat burnt alive
crushed by a tractor-trailer’s wheels,
hung by boys from a fig tree,

but with eight
of its nine lives still left,
like a snake reduced to a bloody pulp,
a half-eaten eel

— cheeks hollow under despondent eyes,
hair thinning frightfully at the crown,
arms now skinny as a child’s
— a cat that won’t croak, Belmondo
“at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo”
who in the narcissistic logic of the montage
steps outside of time and inserts
in images that have nothing do
with the boredom of hours on end …
or the afternoons’s slow resplendence unto death …

Death lies not
in not being able to communicate
but in no longer being understood.

And that papal colossus, not without
grace — memory
of land concessions from the nobles,
innocent gifts, as innocent
as the serfs’ submission —
in a sun that
over centuries
over thousands of noontides
was the only guest here,

that papal colossus, huddling
with its battlements amid coastal groves
of poplar, watermelon patches, dykes,

that papal colossus sheathed
in buttresses the sweet orange color
of Rome, crumbling
like a Roman or Etruscan structure,

is about to be no longer understood.




(In a jump-cut, without fade-in, I show myself enacting —
with no historical precedent — the “culture industry.”)

I, the voluntary martyr … and
she across from me, on the couch:
shot/reverse shot, in quick flashes,
“You” — I know what she’s thinking, looking at me —
then a homegrown Italian MS,
also à la Godard — “You’re a kind of Tennessee!”
this cobra in her little wool sweater
(a subordinate cobra,
slithering in magnesium silence).
Then aloud: „Could you tell me what you’re writing now?”

“Verse! I write verse! Verse!
(goddamned idiot,
verse you would never understand, since
you know nothing about metrics! Verse!)

That’s the important part: no longer in tercets!
I’ve gone straight back to the magma!
Neocapitalism has won, and I’m
out on the street
as poet, ah [sob]
and as citizen [another sob].”

The cobra with the ballpoint:
“And the title of your work?” “I don’t know …
[He’s speaking softly now, as though intimidated, playing
the part the interview, which he accepted, has forced him
to play: how little it takes
to shrink
his snarl
to the sulk of a mama’s boy on death row]
— maybe … ‘Persecution‘
or … ‘A New Prehistory‘ (or just ‘Prehistory‘)

or …
[and here he bristles, recovering
the dignity of civic hatred]
‘Monologue on the Jews‘ …”
[The conversation
sags like a languid arsis
in a muddled octosyllable: magmatic!]
“And what’s it about?”
“Well, its about my … I mean your, death.
Which lies not in not being able to communicate [death],
but in not being understood …

(If the cobra only knew that this
is just some flimsy thought that came to me
on the way back from Fiumicino!)
They’re almost all lyric poems whose arrangement
of time and place
derives — how strange! — from a ride in a car …
meditations at forty to seventy miles per hour …
with quick pans and tracking shots
— before and after —
of important monuments or groups
of people, spurring
an objective love … in the citizen
(or motorist) …”
“Ha, ha” — [it’s the cobress with the ballpoint laughing] — “and
who is it that doesn’t understand?”
“Those who no longer belong to us.”




Those who no longer belong to us!
Swept away to other lives, along with their
innocent youth, by a new breath of history!

I remember it was … for a love
that invaded my brown eyes and respectable
trousers, my house and country, the morning

and evening sun … on fine Saturdays
in the Friuli and … on Sundays … Ah! I can’t
even utter that word of virgin passions,

that word of my death (glimpsed in a dry ditch
teeming with primroses
between tree rows numbed by the gold, behind

darkened cottages against a sublime blue sky).

I remember how, in that monstrous love,
I would actually howl in sorrow
for the Sundays when the sun shall shine

“upon the sons of sons!”

I would weep in my cot in Carsarsa,
in a room that smelled of urine and laundry
on Sundays resplendent unto death …

Incredible tears! not only
for what I was losing at that moment
of splendor in heartrending stillness,

but for what I had yet to lose! When new
youths — whom I couldn’t even imagine,
so like the ones now dressed

in thick white socks and English blazers,
flower in the lapel, or in dark
fabrics for weddings, prepared with filial care —

would people Casarsa with future lives
but leave it unchanged, with its stones and
its sun covering everything in dying golden water …

In an epileptic fit of murderous
pain, I protested
like one imprisoned for life, shutting myself up
in my room

— without anyone’s knowing it —
and screaming, mouth
stuffed with blankets
blackened with iron burns,
those precious family blankets
on which I nursed the flowers of my youth.

And one afternoon or evening, I ran
down the Sundays streets, after the game,
to the old cemetery behind the railroad tracks,
to perform and repeat, until I bled,
the sweetest act there is in life,
myself alone, atop a little mound of earth,
some two or three graves
of Italian or German soldiers
nameless on the wooden crosses,
buried there in the previous war.

Then that night, between dry tears
the bloody bodies of those wretched strangers
dressed in olive drab

came in swarms over my bed,
where I slept naked and drained,
to soil me with blood until dawn.

I was twenty years old, not even, eighteen,
nineteen … and already a century had passed
since I was alive — an entire life

consumed in sorrow at the thought
that I could only ever give my love
to my hand, or to the grass in the ditch

or the mound of earth of an untended grave …
Twenty years old, and a life, with its human
history, its cycle of poetry, was already over.




(Resumption of interview, with some confused explanations
on the role of Marxism, etc.)

(Ah, for me this time on earth is but a visit!)

But let’s get back to reality.

[She’s here, face visibly worried though tempered by good breeding,
waiting on the “gray set,” in keeping with the rules of good French
Classicism. A Léger.]

“In your opinion,” she asks reticently,
nibbling her ballpoint, “what is the role
of the Marxist?” And she gets ready to take notes.

“With … the discretion of a bacteriologist .. I’d say [I stammer,
overcome by death wishes]
it’s to shift human masses as great as Napoleon’s or Stalin’s armies …
with billions of adjuncts …
in such a way that …
the mass that claims to preserve
[the Past] will lose it,
and the revolutionary mass will gain it,
rebuilding it in the act of winning it …
It’s the Instinct of Preservation
that makes me a Communist!
This shift
is a matter of life and death, down through the centuries.
To be made ever so gently, like the captain
of the army corps of engineers, who,
when unscrewing the safety on an unexploded bomb,
could either, in that instant, remain alive on earth
(with its modern buildings round the sun)
or be struck forever from its surface:

the inconceivable disproportion
between the horns of the dilemma!

A shift
to be made very gently, neck craned,
bending forward, hunching over,
biting one’s lip or squinting hard
like a bocce player
who with body English tries to control
the path of his toss, to coax it
towards a solution
that will determine life through the centuries.”




Life through the centuries …
So that was
the meaning — compressed
in its brief segment of wailing —
of that faraway train last night …

Then train wailed
disconsolate, as though surprised to exist
(and also resigned — for every act
in life is a segment, already marked, in the line
that is life itself, clear only in dream)

and as the train wailed — inconceivably far away,
beyond the Appias and the Centocelles of the world —
that act of wailing
joined with another act: a chance union,
monstrous, delirious
and so private
that only beyond my line of vision, perhaps
even with eyes closed, could I ever imagine it …

The act of love. My own. But lost in the misery
of a body miraculously granted,
lost in the effort to hide itself, in the panting
by a gloomy railroad track, trudging through the mud
in a countryside farmed by giants …

Life through the centuries …
like a falling star
beyond the sky of gigantic ruins,
beyond the domains of the Caetani and the Torlonia,
beyond the Tuscolanas and the Capannelles of the world —
that mechanical wail said:
life through the centuries …

And my senses were there to listen.

I was stroking a tousled, dusty head,
blond as life demands,
shaped as destiny wants,
and a coltlike body, agile and tender
in rough clothing that told of a mother:
I was performing an act of love,
but my senses kept listening:

life through the centuries …

Then destiny’s blonde head disappeared
through a hole,
and in the hole was the white sky of night,
until against that patch of sky appeared
another head of hair, another nape,
black, perhaps, or chestnut: and I
in a cave lost deep in the heart
of the Caetani or Torlonia domains
among ruins built by seventeenth-century giants
on vast days of Carnival, I
with my senses kept listening …

like through the centuries …

Then in the hole, against the whiteness
of the night that stretched beyond
the Casilinas of the world, destiny’s
head appeared and disappeared several times,
with the sweetness of a Southern mother
and then a drunken father, still the same
little head, tousled and dusty, or perhaps already
groomed as the vanity of common youth would have it,
while I
with my senses kept listening

to the voice of another love
— life through the centuries —
rising ever so pure in the sky.




(A fascist Victory)

She looks at me sadly.
“And so … you … — [a worldly, greedy smile,
conscious of its greed and the charming
ostentation — eyes and teeth flashing —
of her slightly hesitant and childish
self-deprecation] — you are very unhappy!”

“Yeah (I have to admit),
I’m in a state of confusion, Miss.

Rereading the typescript of my book
of poems (this one, which we’re talking about)
what I saw there was — ah, if only it was
just a jumble of contradictions, reassuring
contradictions .. No, what I saw was
a soul in confusion …

Every mistaken feeling
makes you absolutely certain of that feeling.
Mine was to think I was …
healthy. Strange! Telling you this
— you who by definition, with that lipless, doll-like
face of yours, cannot understand
— I know realize, with clinical clarity,
the fact
that I, myself, have never been clear at all.
It’s true that sometimes, to be healthy
(and clear), it’s enough
to think it … However
(write! write!) my present
confusion is the result
of a Fascist victory
[new, uncontrollable, unfailing
death wishes]

A small, minor victory.
And easy, too. I was alone:
with my bones, a shy, frightened
mother, and my will.

The point was to humiliate a humiliated man.
I must say they succeeded,
and without even much effort. Maybe
if they’d known it would be so simple,
they would have gone to less trouble, and less of them at that!

(Ah, I’m using a generic plural, you see: Them!
with the madman’s complicitous love of his illness.)

The upshot of this victory, in any case,
matters little: one less signature
of importance in the pleas for peace.
Well, a parte objecti, it’s not much.
A parte subjecti … never mind.
I’ve already spoken too much,
aloud as never before,
about my pain as a crushed worm
raising its little head and struggling
with repugnant naiveté, etc.

A Fascist victory!
Write, write. Let them know (them!) that I know:

conscious as an injured bird
that gently dies but never forgives.”




Never forgives!

There was once a soul, among those
still waiting to descend into life
— so many, poor souls, and all the same —
a soul in the light of whose brown eyes
and in whose modest forelock, combed by a mother’s idea
of masculine beauty,
there burned a longing for death.

He saw it at once, did the one
who never forgives.

He took this soul, called it to his side
and like a craftsman,
up there in the worlds that precede life,
laid his hands in its head
and uttered the curse.

The soul was clean and innocent,
like a boy at First Communion,
wise with the wisdom of ten years of life,
dressed in white, in a fabric chosen
by a mother’s idea of masculine grace,
a longing for death in his warm eyes.

Ah, he saw it at once, did
the one who never forgives.

He spotted his endless capacity for obedience,
and his endless capacity for rebellion,
called him over and performed
— as he looked on him trustfully
the way a lamb looks at its righteous butcher —
a reverse ordination, as
the light went out in his eyes,
and a shadow of pity rose up in its place.

“You shall descend into the world,
be innocent and kind, faithful and fair;
you shall have an endless capacity for obedience,
and an endless capacity for rebellion.
You shall be pure.
For this I curse you.”

I still see those eyes of his,
full of pity — and the faint horror
one feels at those who arouse it —
the eyes of someone watching
another on his way, unknowing, to die,
and who, out of some need that grips those who know and those who don’t
says nothing to him —
I still see those eyes of his
as I headed off
— away from Eternity — toward my cradle.




(Funereal conclusion, with synoptic table — for use
by the lady creating the „piece” — of my career as a poet and
a prophetic look at the sea of future millennia.)

“I entered the world in the age
of Analogics.
I worked
as an apprentice in the field.
Then came the Resistance
and I
fought with the weapons of poetry,
I reinstated Logic and became
a civic poet.
Now it’s the age
of Psychagogics.
I can only write in prophecies
rapt by Music,
in an excess of semen or pity.”


“Though Analogics survive
and Logic has gone out of fashion
(I to her, aside:
nobody asks me for poetry anymore),
(in spite of Demagogy,
increasingly master
of the situation).
That is how
I can write Themes and Threnodies
and Prophecies too;
as a civic poet, oh yes, always!”


“As for the future, listen:
your Fascist sons
will sail on
toward the worlds of the New Prehistory.
I shall stay behind,
as one who dreams his own downfall
on seashores
where life begins anew.
Alone, or almost, on an old coastline
among ruins of ancient civilizations,
Ostia or Bombay — it makes no difference —
with decrepit Gods, and old problems
— such as the class struggle —
dissolving …
Like a Resistance fighter
dead before May ’45,
I shall begin to decompose
ever so slowly
in the harrowing light of this sea,
a poet and citizen forgotten.”





“My God, then , what have you got
to show for yourself? …”
“Me? — [a stammer, treacherous —
I forgot to take my Optalidon, my voice quakes
like s a sick boy’s] —
Me? A desperate vitality.”



The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini
A BILINGUAL EDITION / Edited and Translated by Stephen Sartarelli


Richard Avedon | Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966




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