Pier Paolo Pasolini 1922–1975
Italian poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, filmmaker, critic, editor, and short story writer.
Pasolini has been called one of the most notable poets to have emerged from post-World War II Italy. Although recognized outside his country primarily as a filmmaker, Pasolini is well known in Italy for the outspoken views on Marxism and religion he presents in his poetry. Central to Pasolini's life and works is his despair over Italy's impoverished conditions and his anger over the indifference of the materialistic bourgeoisie. During the course of his controversial career, his observations on Catholicism, communism, and the existing social order have alternately pleased and angered conservatives and leftists alike and have earned Pasolini the title of "civil poet." Frank Capozzi noted, "In Pasolini one finds the lyricism of Pascoli, the aspiration of Rousseau, the revolt and the anguish of Rimbaud, the self-destruction of Genet. His … poems … will always be important for an understanding of post-war society."
Pasolini was born in Bologna, the son of an army officer. His father's long absence as a prisoner of war in Kenya and his brother's execution as a partisan by the Fascists forced political awareness upon Pasolini at an early age. Having begun to write poetry when he was seven, Pasolini attended high school and university in Bologna, though he had lived in various parts of northern Italy during his youth. His childhood and early adult experiences in the poverty-stricken village of Casarsa, located in the province of Friuli, inspired his first book of Friulian dialect poetry, Poesie a Casarsa (1942) as well as his lifelong identification with the poor. Following a brief period with the Italian army, just before the Italian surrender to the Allied forces in 1943, Pasolini returned to Casarsa, where he was strongly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci, the leading theoretician of Italian communism. In the late 1940s, Pasolini earned his doctorate degree and became a state high school teacher. He had kept his homosexuality a secret until a scandal in 1949, stemming from accusations that he had approached a male student, led to the loss of his teaching job and his membership in the Italian communist party. Pasolini escaped with his mother to Rome, where he became immersed in the slum life of that city. Subsequently the lives and views of its underclass youths would become central to his poetry and films. In 1955 Pasolini co-founded the review Officina in Bologna with friends Francesco Leonetti and Roberto Roversi, and
later joined Enzo Siciliano in the Nuovi Argomenti. In 1957 Le ceneri di Gramsci (The Ashes of Gramsci) was published, earning Pasolini a Viareggio Prize. In 1962 Pasolini was arrested on charges that he had insulted the church in his poetry and films. Later, two of his films, I racconti di Canterbury (1972) and Salò o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma (1975), were declared obscene. In 1975, at age 54, Pasolini was murdered in Ostia, outside Rome, by a 17-year-old male prostitute.
Pasolini wrote his earliest poetry, collected in his first book, Poesie a Casarsa, in his native Friulian peasant language, in the hope of creating a literature accessible to the poor. Pasolini rejected the official language because he believed that it had been created by and for the bourgeoisie. These early poems appear in an expanded and revised version, La meglio gioventù (1954) and center on his renunciation of Catholicism and his endorsement of Marxist beliefs. Other early poems, along with some experiments in the tradition of religious poetry, are collected in the volume, L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (1958). The poetry of Le ceneri di Gramsci and La religione del mio tempo (1961) reflects, among other beliefs, Gramsci's idea of a "popular national literature." Pasolini broke away from the preceding generation of Italian poets by composing Le ceneri di Gramsci in terza rima—a subversive return to the traditional verse of Dante, Pascol, and the civic poets of the Risorgimento. Although he eventually abandoned terza rima, he later returned to it in "A Desperate Vitality," in Poesia in forma di rosa (1964). He revised many poems in Friuliano and published them in La nuova giovento (1975). Pasolini's later poems are more autobio-graphical and confessional, yet the political concerns central to the majority of his works are still evident. In his last works Pasolini declared a kind of poetic bankruptcy as he attempted to renounce literature and his origins. Shortly before his death Pasolini repudiated a large part of his own work: "It's already an illusion to write poetry, and yet I keep doing so, even if for me poetry is no longer the marvelous classic myth that exalted my adolescence. I no longer believe in dialectic and contradiction, but only in opposition."
Most critics agree that Pasolini's great contribution was the creation of a "civic" poetry, "the rational argument of a civilized mind." The adjective has also been used to describe Pasolini's verse as "public" poetry, even if there was not necessarily a consensus of acceptance by the public. Critics and intellectuals have considered Pasolini an "organic intellectual," a term used by Gramsci to designate a new kind of militant intellectual, linked to the working class, who worked through the apparatus of the party. The openness in Pasolini's poetry has been seen as a strength by some critics; others have commented on Pasolini's inability to resolve his inner conflicts in his work, and his tendency toward narcissism, egocentrism, and martyrdom. While some critics, noting Pasolini's strong narrative tendency and use of traditional metrics, have read his poetry as a conservative exercise which missed the 1960s avant-garde trend in Italy, Pasolini's poetry has been seen by some as immune to a historically-determined categorization. Stefano Agosti considered Pasolini's poetic language "a diction which is at once total and suspended, entirely involved and critically deferred."