Pasolini’s seductive utopian vision

Cover00Adam Thirlwell at Bookforum:

Everything Pasolini did, he did as a poet. But what was it, precisely, that Pasolini did? Born in 1922, he began his career writing poetry in Friulian, his native language. Then he moved to Rome, where he wrote novels, this time exploring a dense Roman argot. And then came the movies of the ’60s and ’70s, including Mamma Roma, Teorema, and the trilogy of adaptations from Boccaccio, Chaucer, and the Arabian Nights, ending in his masterpiece of degradation, Salo. His atmosphere was constant scandal, and he added to that scandal with his essays in the high-end newspapers: small doses of acerbic thinking. But although he might have enjoyed using crazily various modes, he also had a certain style. In his movies, he loved fusing the hieratic with the everyday. And in his writing, too, he liked combining two things that don’t usually go together: a classical form or tone that could absorb its squalid subjects. His best poetry is a kind of diary written in long slabs and sequences—he called these poems poemetti, longer than a poesia, shorter than a poema—meditations on whatever he was thinking about, where the syntax is strung out along the terza-rima form (Dante’s meter!) in a papery festoon of thinking.

What Pasolini was thinking about, perhaps, is what now makes him seem—like so many products of the radical ’60s and ’70s—slightly dusty, as if from a time capsule. The deep aim of all his writing was as messy and outdated as utopia.

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