Pier Paolo Pasolini was the first of two sons born to Carlo Alberto and Susanna Colussi Pasolini. Carlo Alberto Pasolini, though from an aristocratic Bolognese family, was reduced to poverty and became a soldier. Until his death in 1958, his life was a dream of military and Fascist ideals, and after his discharge from the military, he became an alcoholic. It was rather with the petite bourgeoisie background of his mother’s family of the Friuli area (in the northeastern corner of Italy, bordered by Austria and Yugoslavia) that the poet identified. Susanna Colussi, who had inherited her Hebrew name from a great-grandmother who was a Polish Jew, was a schoolteacher and already thirty when Carlo Alberto Pasolini married her.
Carlo Alberto Pasolini’s wife and two sons accompanied him wherever he was stationed in Northern Italy. The marriage was turbulent and marked by frequent temporary separations, and Susanna channeled all her love into her relationship with her sons, especially her older son. Indeed, the relationship between Pasolini and his mother, whom he would one day cast as the Virgin Mary in his film Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964; The Gospel According to St. Matthew, released 1964), was animated by an unequivocally incestuous tension. When the two of them moved to Rome without Carlo Alberto in 1945, Susanna took a position as a maid to support her son’s literary aspirations. The image of his “artless, eternally youthful mother” pervades all the poet’s work.
In high school in Bologna, after his inevitable exposure to the poetry of Carducci, Pascoli, and D’Annunzio, one of Pasolini’s teachers read to him a poem by Arthur Rimbaud. Later, Pasolini claimed that his conversion away from Fascism dated from that day; he also wrote that after Rimbaud, poetry was dead. William Shakespeare was another early discovery, and Pasolini’s reading of Niccolò Tommaseo’s compilation, I canti del popolo greco (1943; songs of the Greek people), did much to awaken Pasolini’s appreciation of the folk culture of his mother’s Friuli. Shakespeare, Tommaseo, and Carducci constituted Pasolini’s personal triad, recognized as such in “La religione del mio tempo” (the religion of my time). He came early under the spell of the Provençal trobar clus as well, and he considered himself a disciple of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado.
In the winter of 1942-1943, Susanna moved back to Friuli to avoid the bombings in the larger cities. Most of the following year, which Pasolini called the most beautiful of his life, was spent there with his mother and brother. That September, he was drafted, but a week later, on the day of Italy’s truce with the Allies, he escaped into a canal as his column of recruits was marched to a train en route to Germany. In April, 1944, his brother Guido went to the mountains to join the Osoppo-Friuli partisan division. He and some comrades were captured by the Communist Garibaldi Brigade, politically tied to Marshal Tito’s fighters and favoring the incorporation of Friuli into the emerging nation of Yugoslavia; the comrades were later slain. The death of Guido was deeply traumatic to Pasolini and embarrassing to him as the Communist he would soon become.
Pasolini taught briefly in a private school, became involved in the local...
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