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Notes on Comizi d’amore for possible paragraph in Trilogia Della Vita chapter in Cinema And The Meaning [strikethrough] Of “Life”

Pasolini had already begun to historicize sexuality through cinematic means in Comizi d’amore (1963,) a film of interviews with Italians from various classes and regions about erotic mores. If a genealogy seeks to mobilize values by historicizing them, thereby dispelling the glamor of seemingly natural self-evidence, the genealogist must identify the values in order to put into in question. Comizi d’amore establishes the values that dominate the sex lives of Italians in 1963 by considering the silences of Pasolini’s interview subjects as well as their answers.

Pasolini’s decision to interview people grouped according to class and region allows him to begin denaturalizing the values pertaining to sexuality in the very act of documenting them. The values expressed by the interviewees vary with the region and class of the subjects and cannot appear as self-evident universals to the audience of Comizi d’amore. The film’s ethnographic categories make it clear that social relations determine values related to sex. Sexual mores appear as the effects of economics and physical surroundings, not for example, as the commandments of a god. Pasolini emphasizes differences based on income and location can be found throughout the film, though they might be clearest for some audiences in a segment which contrasts responses to the Legge Merlin, a 1958 law that made bordellos illegal, among Neapolitans and Sicilians.

Pasolini’s presentation of sexual values as a series of antagonisms reflects his understanding of ideology in general as the result of class conflict and his long standing commitment to regionalism.  Comizi d’amore articulates tensions, making the existence of an “Italian people” seem dubious. Audiences should hear a complex irony in Pasolini’s voice when, near the end of the film Pasolini, asks Alberto Moravia whether the novelist thinks he had captured the “real Italy.” Any notion of the real Italy dissolves in the variation between the values, the differences among the settings for the interviews, as well as the audible distinctions among regional dialects and accents. The film could serve as an illustration of Gilles Deleuze’s by now cliché  formulation “the people are missing.” If one were to continue to understand Comizi d’amore through the lens of Deleuze’s Cinema II: The Time Image, the film might even be said to call an Italian people into being through the more or less falsifying fabulations of the interview subjects. More plainly, a collective image of Italians emerges only from the contradictions among the all of the responses harvested by Pasolini.

When Pasolini asks Moravia whether Comizi d’amore captures the real Italy, Moravia responds that only bourgeoisie remained silent out of fear that of the possible social damage incurred by their answers. The capitalist class resists genealogical procedures because their ideology and habitus rely on the naturalization of values and the practices they justify. An obvious seeming national and linguistic unity linked to a coherent system of sexual values support the economic interests of the bourgeoisie.

Another silence structures the film in addition to the capitalist class’s: when Pasolini inquires about attitudes towards homosexuality, no one says, “I’m gay.” That silence unifies Italians more strongly than anything else in the film. Regional dialects, class and attendant differences in attitudes about sex divide the Italians Pasolini encounters, but not a single one professes queerness. In a film signed by a gay man who lived as openly as possible, that form of national unity can only be understood takes on a strong critical power.  Although Pasolini himself was out and his homosexuality was well known, he does not avow it in the film, probably in order to avoid conflict with his subjects and to encourage them to speak. Today, pathos saturates the film when we listen to the interview subjects moralize about homosexuality in response to Pasolini’s questions and realize that the interviewer has no voice in his own film and cannot be included in “the real Italy” except at the price of his silence. The section on homosexuality bares the title “”Disgust or Pity,” indicating the two poles of Italian response to gays.  If Comizi  d’amore calls an Italian people into being, it is a homophobic one.

The poles of disgust and pity are not those of the Trilogia Della Vita (1971-1974), in which various forms of homosexuality are practiced more or less openly. Even if such practices are judged by characters or religious systems within the films, the narrative agency of the Trilogia does not judge them.

Between Comizi D’amore and the Trilogia Della Vita Pasolini passes from contemporaneous to historical sexualities. Comizi d’amore  investigates sexualities, or attitudes towards sexualities which were actual in Pasolini’s lifetime. The Trilogia imagined past sexualities as potentials for the present. The Trilogia adapts three texts from pre-capitalist periods, seeking an alternative to commodified sexuality. This does not mean that Pasolini considered pre-capitalist sexualities to not involve economic exchange, but that it participated in a different form of economic exchange.

At the time when he shot the Trilogia,  the aim of Pasolini’s genealogical method was to understand the past as a means for changing the present as well as a means of explaining the present.

 Pasolini only used the technique of the potentialized past for a short period. In the mid 1970s, around the time of the neoliberalism’s onset, an “anthropological mutation” occurred. He came to believe that if sexuality has become intolerably degraded in the present it must have already been capable of such degradation in the past. The genetic tendency toward what Pasolini would call “racism,” “anthropological mutation” and “anthropological genocide” can already be found in the films of the early 1960s, especially Comizi D’amore and Mama Roma.

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