Pier Paolo Pasolini Pasolini, Pier Paolo (Vol. 106) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Pier Paolo Pasolini 1922–1975

Italian poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, critic, editor, short story writer, screenplay writer, film director, and actor.

The following entry presents criticism of Pasolini's work through 1997. For further information on his life and career, see CLC, Volumes 20 and 37.

Although recognized outside his country primarily as a filmmaker, Pasolini was well known in Italy for the strong and controversial views on Marxism and religion he presented in his poetry, novels, and essays. Over the course of his career, his observations on Catholicism, communism, and the existing social order alternately pleased and angered conservatives and leftists alike. Central to Pasolini's life and works were his despair over Italy's impoverished conditions and his anger over the indifference of the materialistic bourgeoisie. Joseph P. Consoli, writing in Gay & Lesbian Literature, observes, "Without a doubt, the author's homosexuality, or as the Italians call it, inversion, contributed to Pasolini's predilection to view his subject matter from nonconforming, contrary, yet innovative, perspectives."

Biographical Information

Pasolini was born March 5, 1922, in Bologna, Italy. His father was a career army officer, a fact which forced political awareness upon the boy at an early age. His childhood and early adult experiences in the poverty-stricken village of Casarsa, located in the province of Friuli, inspired his lifelong identification with the poor. Pasolini was called to military duty in September 1943 but escaped after just a week and returned to Casarsa, where he was strongly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci, the leading theoretician of Italian communism. Pasolini took a teaching position in a public school while engaging in frenetic intellectual and artistic pursuits, writing and publishing poetry in the Friulian dialect; these activities became his forms of resistance against Nazism and Fascism. In 1949, Pasolini was arrested and accused of "the corruption of minors and committing obscene acts in a public place." The charges were eventually dropped, but the ensuing scandal—Pasolini lost his teaching position and was expelled from the Italian Communist Party—forced him and his mother to move to Rome, where he became immersed in the slum life of that city.

Pasolini was murdered the night of November 1-2, 1975; his death is considered an ironic end to a life spent absorbed in and concerned with the violent nature of contemporary society. Reports of his death often conflict, but most sources agree that the young man convicted of the crime struck Pasolini with a board and then ran over him with his own car. What is still debated is the killer's motive: some say he was an innocent boy who panicked when Pasolini propositioned him; other reports indicate that he was a street hustler who was picked up by Pasolini and then killed him, while still others theorize that the killer was an assassin sent by one or more of Pasolini's political enemies to murder him under embarrassing circumstances.

Major Works

Pasolini has been called one of the most notable poets to have emerged during post-World War II Italy. He wrote his earliest poetry in the northern Italian peasantry's native Friulian language in the hope of creating a literature accessible to the poor. Pasolini rejected the official Italian language, believing it had been created by and for the bourgeoisie. These early poems appear in his first booklet of verse, Poesie a Casarsa (1942), and in an expanded and revised version, La meglio gioventu (1954). These works center on his renunciation of Catholicism and his endorsement of Marxism. Other early poems, along with some experiments in the tradition of religious poetry, are collected in his second volume, L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (1958). The poetry of Le ceneri di Gramsci (1957; The Ashes of Gramsci) and La religione del mio tempo (1961; The Religion of My Time) reflects, among other beliefs, Gramsci's idea of a "popular national literature." Pasolini's later poetry, Poesia in forma di rosa (1964) and Poesie (1970; Poems), is more autobiographical and confessional, yet the political concerns central to the majority of his works are still evident.

Pasolini's experiences in the Roman slums and his impressions of urban poverty inspired two novels: Ragazzi di vita (1955; The Ragazzi) and Una vita violenta (1959; A Violent Life). These highly controversial novels were largely responsible for Pasolini's notoriety. Here again, Pasolini rejected formal, official language in favor of dialect, in this case "a harsh, often crude and obscene, minimized Roman street vocabulary," Consoli explains. The Ragazzi centers on a group of youths whose poverty has led them to a life of violence, crime, and indiscriminate sex. Rejecting the official language of the bourgeoisie, Pasolini liberally utilizes Roman dialect and slang. Though free of authorial intrusion, the work is considered an indirect attack on the Italian establishment; its depiction of Italian young people was particularly shocking. Harshly realistic in its explicit language and political implications, The Ragazzi angered many factions of the community and resulted in Pasolini's prosecution for obscenity, of which he was acquitted. A Violent Life is the second book of his unfinished trilogy on street life. Similar in theme and milieu to The Ragazzi, A Violent Life was praised abroad for its realism and the characterization of its protagonist. After his death, two previously unpublished autobiographical novels, Amado mio and Atti impuri, were published under the title Amado mio in 1983. These works explore Pasolini's homosexuality and his emotional torment over what he saw as the disintegration of Italian society.

During the last fifteen years of his life, Pasolini made films in which he sought to combine his socialist sensibilities with a profound, nondenominational spirituality. His films were often anti-Catholic in their implications and controversial for their explicit sexual subject matter. Among his best-known films are Accattone (1961), adapted from Una vita violenta; Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964; The Gospel According to Saint Matthew); Teorema (1968; Theorem); and Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975; Salò: 120 Days of Sodom). Pasolini films traverse a constantly changing range of styles and contents, and his handling of the medium was at times coarse and graphic. He used nonprofessional actors and avoided many standards of the industry, choosing his subject matter from classical legends, tragedies, political diatribes, and other unconventional sources.

Critical Reception

Critical reaction to Pasolini's work generally extends beyond its value as literature or film, considering also its implications for political and religious thought. "Pasolini was first a thinker, and then an artist," Consoli remarks, relating a comment from Stefano Casi, who said that despite the many genres in which he worked, "In reality only one definition can render with precision the area of cultural diligence attended to by Pasolini: intellectual." Critics tend to look for meanings and messages beyond the actual storylines of Pasolini's work, often interpreting them as evidence of his stance for or against a particular theory, practice, or governing body. The often conflicting messages of his various works led many to define him as indefinable: Edmund White described Pasolini as "a sort of Marxist and, off and on, a Communist, but his politics were too personal, too shifting and too adversarial to fit into any orthodoxy." Also common in critical discussion of Pasolini's work is the subject of obscenity: the graphic nature of much of his work is seen by some as crucial to its message and by others as gratuitous. Some critics have linked this issue with Pasolini's tendency toward impassive recording of events. Robert Crichton found "an almost perverse misplacement of emphasis" in The Ragazzi, noting that "pages are devoted to stealing six or eight cauliflowers and a paragraph or two to burning a boy at the stake." These critical themes followed Pasolini when he began to explore filmmaking, a transition which brought new complaints as well. Critics were divided over condemning Pasolini for his lack of technical skill or seeing his directorial style as brilliant in its simplicity. John Bragin wrote, "In contrast to most first films Accattone is completely free of technical experiment. It evokes the same tone of sanctity as much of Pasolini's poetry by its direct, frontal presentation of events and characters." Pasolini's third film, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, won the approval of the International Catholic Office of the Cinema (OCIC), which awarded the film its Grand Prix in 1965, "thus making it clear," Maryvonne Butcher stated, "that they considered this picture to be, of all pictures produced in the year, the one which contributed most to the development of spiritual and human values, as well as being outstanding for its technical and artistic standards."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Poesie a Casarsa (poetry) 1942
Poesie (poetry) 1945
Suite furlan (poetry) 1947
Poesie dialettale del Novecento [with Mario dell'Arco] (essays) 1952
Le ceneri di Gramsci [The Ashes of Gramsci] (poetry) 1954
Ragazzi di vita [The Ragazzi] (novel) 1955
L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (poetry) 1958
Una vita violenta [A Violent Life] (novel) 1959
Passione e ideologia (1948–1958) (poetry) 1960
La religione del mio tempo (poetry) 1961
Accattone [Beggar] (screenplay) 1961
Il sogno di una cosa [A Dream of Something] (novel) 1962
L'odore dell'India [The Scent of India] (travel journal) 1962
Mamma Roma (screenplay) 1962
Il Vangelo secondo Matteo [The Gospel According to Matthew; edited by Giacorno Gambetti] (screenplay) 1964
Poesia in forma di rosa (poetry) 1964
Poesie dimenticate (poetry) 1965
Potentissima signora [with Laura Betti] (poetry) 1965
Ali dagli occhi azzurri [Roman Nights and Other Stories] (short stories) 1965
Uccellacci e uccellini [The Hawks and the Sparrows] (screenplay) 1966
Edipo re [Oedipus Rex; edited by Gambetti] (screenplay) 1967
Teorema (novel and film adaptation) 1968
Medea (screenplay) 1970
Poesie (poetry) 1970
Trasumanar e organizzar (poetry) 1971
Empirismo eretico [Heretical Empiricism] (essays) 1972
Calderon (play) 1973
Tal cour di un frut: Nel cuore di un fanciullo (poetry) 1974
La nuovo gioventù: Poesie friulane, 1941–1974 (poetry) 1975
Trilogia della vita [Trilogy of Life] (Il Decameron, I racconti di Canterbury [Canterbury Tales], Il fiore delle Mille e una notte [Arabian Nights]) (screenplays) 1975
Scritti corsari (essays) 1975
Le poesie (poetry) 1975
Petrolio (unfinished novel) 1992

Maryvonne Butcher (review date Fall 1965)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Greatest Story Ever Told … by a Communist," in Film Comment, Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall, 1965, pp. 22-24.

[In the following review, Butcher asserts that "The Gospel According to St. Matthew is incomparably the most effective picture ever made on a scriptural theme."]

Almost from the beginning of the commercial cinema, it was discovered that the religious film, preferably a religious epic or spectacular, was one of the most foolproof formulas for box-office success. From the earliest Quo Vadis or Ben Hur, the religious picture has packed them in and even in this materialistic age still does.

Those interested in religion, and...

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Pier Paolo Pasolini with James Blue (interview date Fall 1965)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pier Paolo Pasolini: An Interview with James Blue," in Film Comment, Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall, 1965, pp. 25-32.

[In the following interview, Pasolini discusses how he approached his film The Gospel According to St. Matthew and explains his use of non-professional actors.]

[BLUE:] I have been wondering what I should ask you. Often I ask questions of directors that seem a little stupid, you see, but I don't want to avoid those, for finally the stupid questions are the ones to which I most want reply. I know that it will be difficult—I don't think I would be able to answer very well concerning my own films—but I hope that your replies help me to arrive...

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Robert Crichton (review date 10 November 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ragazzi Will Be Ragazzi, and Sometimes They'll Be Scugnizzi," in The New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1968, pp. 4, 44.

[In the following review, Crichton criticizes The Ragazzi, asserting that "there is a sensation of the writing being fashioned because the style is fashionable, that it is an artifice, not an art, a stylization and not a style."]

Thirteen years ago, when this book was published in Italy, it set off a storm of controversy. There were those who wished to do to the author what was done to Mussolini: up by the heels in some vacant lot in the shabby outskirts of town, Pasolini country. American readers today will be puzzled about the...

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Olga Ragusa (essay date 1969)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Gadda, Pasolini, and Experimentalism: Form or Ideology?" in From Verismo to Experimentalism: Essays on the Modern Italian Novel, edited by Sergio Pacifici, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 246-69.

[In the following excerpt, Ragusa compares the works of Pasolini and Carlo Emilio Gadda and explores each writer's relationship with experimentalism.]

The subject of this essay is threefold—threefold precisely in the sense which the title implies of simply juxtaposing the names of two writers and a concept rather than relating them more closely at a deeper level. To do full justice to the complex development of Carlo Emilio Gadda, to the equally complex...

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John Bragin (essay date January 1969)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poetry as a Compensation," in Film Society Review, Vol. 4, No. 5, January, 1969, pp. 12-18.

[In the following essay, Bragin discusses examples of Pasolini's work in the genres of the novel, film, and poetry.]

Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna in 1922. His father was a government official and Pasolini travelled constantly as a boy, mastering many of the Northern Italian dialects. He attended the University of Bologna until the war forced him to flee to his mother's home in Casarsa, where he remained until 1949, writing his first fiction. In 1949 he moved to Rome, where he taught literature. Because of his poor financial status he was...

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T. O'Neill (review date March 1969)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pier Paolo Pasolini: Biciclettone," in Modern Languages, March, 1969, pp. 11-3.

[In the following review, O'Neill discusses Pasolini's Biciclettone as an introduction to the themes and style found in his other novels.]

One of the most interesting and original personalities of postwar Italian literature is Pier Paolo Pasolini, poet, film director and critic, and novelist.

Such is the complexity and development of the spiritual and intellectual capacities of Pasolini, such is the difficulty of language in his novels, written to a great extent not in Italian but in the Romanesco 'gangster' dialect of the capital's slums, that it is...

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Times Literary Supplement (review date 21 July 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Not Forgetting the Artist," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3673, July 21, 1972, p. 833.

[In the following review, the critic states that Pasolini's "Empirismo eretico is the record of the intellectual activity of an individual struggling with a protean culture which changed form just as he seemed to be about to comprehend it."]

Pier Paolo Pasolini is best known internationally as a film director, but he is also a novelist and poet of considerable talent and a notorious publicist and intellectual provocateur. Much of his non-fictional writing is devoted to the task of explaining and theorizing his artistic activity proper. Thus he has written at...

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Andrew Sarris (essay date 17 November 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini Leaves a Literary Legacy," in Village Voice, Vol. XX, No. 46, November 17, 1975, p. 127.

[In the following essay, Sarris discusses Pasolini's career and gruesome death.]

Pier Paolo Pasolini, the 53-year-old film director, was murdered last week near Rome. His confessed killer, 17-year-old Giuseppe Pelosi, says that he rejected Mr. Pasolini's sexual advances, beat him unconscious with a piece of wooden fencing, and then ran over him in Pasolini's own sportscar.

The gruesome murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini was more violent and more senseless than anything he had ever conceived in his films. He died on the edge of an abyss he had...

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T. O'Neill (essay date December 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pier Paolo Pasolini's Dialect Poetry," in Forum Italicum, Vol. IX, No. 4, December, 1975, pp. 343-67.

[In the following essay, O'Neill traces the influences, themes, and stylistic devices of Pasolini's dialect poetry.]

Perhaps the best synthesis of the world of Pasolini's dialect poetry is that given, unconsciously, by the author himself in the important 1952 essay on La poesia dialettale del Novecento, talking of the Triestine poet, Giotti:

Una povera storia, infinitamente più nuda e deserta che nei crepuscolari, poiché nella sua angoscia non c'è compiacimento o ripensamento da favola decadente, ma come un...

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Teresa de Lauretis (essay date Fall/Winter 1980–81)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Re-Reading Pasolini's Essays on Cinema," in Italian Quarterly, Vol. XXI and XXII, No. 82-3, Fall/Winter, 1980–81, pp. 159-66.

[In the following essay, de Lauretis asserts that "for Pasolini cinema is precisely writing in images, not to describe (portray) reality or fantasy, but to inscribe them as representations."]

That Pier Paolo Pasolini was a man of contradiction, and a figure in excess of its cultural ground, is worth repeating. Time and again the "scandal of contradiction" has been found to mar his politics and his poetics, his personal and public life—though not, ironically, his death. For tragic irony composes and resolves all contradictions,...

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Norman MacAfee (essay date Fall/Winter 1980–81)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'I Am a Free Man': Pasolini's Poetry in America," in Italian Quarterly, Vol. XXI and XXII, No. 82-83, Fall/Winter, 1980–81, pp. 99-105.

[In the following essay, MacAfee discusses the relationship between Pasolini's poetry and American culture and art.]

Pasolini's Italian poems were made as civil poems, in bright contrast to the then still dominant mode of poetic discourse, hermeticism—whose style was, I think, a function of its poets living under the growth and success of fascism. Pasolini's Italian poems, from 1954 to his death, are discourse appropriate to a post-fascist society, and fully use a climate of freer speech. Pasolini's long civil poems link...

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Wallace P. Sillanpoa (essay date January 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini's Gramsci," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 96, No. 1, January, 1981, pp. 120-37.

[In the following essay, Sillanpoa analyzes the relationship between Pasolini and the writings of Antonio Gramsci.]

When discussing those who perhaps most influenced the thought of the late Pier Paolo Pasolini, poet, novelist, critic and filmmaker, one critic recently spoke of 'il suo Gramsci." Implied in this possessive is the highly personal interpretation that Pasolini attached to the example and writings of Antonio Gramsci, revolutionary political theorist whose famous notebooks survived their author's death in 1937 after eleven years of Fascist imprisonment....

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Edmund White (review date 27 June 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Movies and Poems," in The New York Times Book Review, June 27, 1982, pp. 8-9, 14.

[In the following review, White discusses Enzo Siciliano's biography of Pasolini, Pasolini's work, and Pasolini's similarities to Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima.]

Pier Paolo Pasolini was violently murdered near Rome on Nov. 2, 1975. He was only 54 years old, but he had managed to produce a lifetime of work in several genres. The publication of a translation of the first biography of him, by Enzo Siciliano, and a volume of translations by Norman MacAfee of Pasolini's best poems remind us what an extraordinary man he was.

He had gained fame first as a poet in the...

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Alexander Stille (review date 24-31 July 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Poet, Martyr, Myth," in The Nation, Vol. 235, No. 3, July 24-31, 1982, pp. 86-8.

[In the following review, Stille analyzes Pasolini's relationship with Italian society and politics.]

Pier Paolo Pasolini, probably the most famous writer of postwar Italy, is best known in America for his lurid X-rated movies Arabian Nights and 'Salo,' the 120 Days of Sodom. An immensely gifted poet, novelist, film director, literary critic and social commentator, Pasolini was a tangle of contradictions—Communist and Catholic, artist and ideologue, celebrity and outcast, homosexual and rigid traditionalist.

No single work can convey his...

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Gary Steele (review date 25 July 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini: Complex Life, Bloody Death," in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 25, 1982, p. 7.

[In the following review, Steele considers a biography of Pasolini written by Enzo Siciliano and a collection of Pasolini's poetry, asserting that understanding Pasolini's work "is a possible, difficult and liberating task."]

In November, 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini's savagely maimed body was found near a shantytown outside Rome. Giuseppe Pelosi, a 17-year-old male prostitute, was quickly arrested, tried and convicted of the brutal murder. Yet a multitude of evidence suggests that Pelosi did not act alone: Pasolini's friends and his biographer assume that he was...

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N. S. Thompson (review date 8 October 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Poet into Man," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4149, October 8, 1982, p. 1105.

[In the following review, Thompson discusses Pasolini's Poems and Enzo Siciliano's biography of the poet and filmmaker.]

As a poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini was an arch-traditionalist; as a man, a "politikon zoon", he was a radical romantic whom disillusion drove to despair. The man frustrated the poet and forced him, first, to relinquish his traditional means in favour of a freer approach to poetry, and later, to abandon his poetry—ostensibly, at least—for the cinema.

The present volume of Poems, as the translators state, represents about a sixth...

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David Robey (review date 7 January 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Boys in Their Mystery," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4162, January 7, 1983, p. 23.

[In the following review, Robey discusses two of Pasolini's novels, Amado mio and Atti impuri, that were published posthumously and asserts that "The two texts are very close in style and subject-matter … and quite different from the author's later work."]

At his death Pasolini left two unpublished novels among his papers, both of them dating from the late 1940s, when he lived in Friuli. Amado mio—scarcely more than a long novella—is the shorter and more polished of the two. Pasolini seems to have continued working on it after he moved to Rome in...

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Judith L. Greenberg (review date Spring 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Les dernières parole d'un impie: Entre-tiens avec Jean Duflot, in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 2, Spring, 1983, p. 267.

[In the following review, Greenberg states that Pasolini's Les dernières parole d'un impie "is part autobiography, part analysis, part remembrance, part explanation, part (self-) justification."]

As Duflot remarks, this series of interviews with Pasolini (including several just prior to his death) is not only in a sense a political and spiritual (and artistic or, better, poetic) last will and testament. Les dernières paroles d'un impie is also an exegesis, by the best possible exegete, of the Passion...

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C. Fantazzi (review date Summer 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Amado mio, in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 3, Summer, 1983, p. 443.

[In the following review, Fantazzi discusses Pasolini's early novels, Amado mio and Atti impuri.]

Preceding the completed novella Amado mio is another slightly longer piece, Atti impuri, which lay in more fragmentary state among the writer's papers. It is fitting that they appear together, for Pier Paolo Pasolini had written a single preface for both of them, which is published in an appendix. The tone of these notes by the author is very hesitant and apologetic, pleading for comprehension of the "abnormal" love presented. In the incomplete pages...

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Naomi Greene (essay date Spring 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reading Pasolini Today," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1984, pp. 143-8.

[In the following essay, Greene discusses Enzo Siciliano's Pasolini: A Biography, Paul Willeman's Pier Paolo Pasolini, Beverly Allen's Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poetics of Heresy, and Pasolini's Poems translated by Norman MacAfee.]

Poet, novelist, critic, essayist, political polemicist, Pasolini was virtually unique among contemporary filmmakers in the variety of his activities. Fortunately, the publication of these recent volumes begins to give the English-speaking world a glimpse into the range of his interests and a context within...

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N. S. Thompson (review date 25 May 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Consumerism Rampant," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4234, May 25, 1984, p. 596.

[In the following review, Thompson discusses the themes present in Pasolini's Lutheran Letters which he states focuses on the moral state of Italy since Mussolini.]

Lutheran Letters is a posthumous collection of the provocative articles which Pasolini started writing for the Corriere della sera in March, 1975; a series which spread to the weekly Il Mondo and which he continued up to the time of his death. The last piece in the collection is the address Pasolini was to have delivered at a Radical Party Congress in Florence two days after his body was...

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John Ahern (review date Spring/Summer 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini: His Poems, His Body," in Parnassus, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring/Summer, 1984, pp. 103-26.

[In the following review, Ahern provides an overview of Pasolini's life and poetry.]

It is easy to forget that Pier Paolo Pasolini is a major poet. Between 1950 and his death in 1975 he published four volumes of vigorous criticism—social, political, cultural, linguistic, and literary. Some of these pieces, just a few years after newspaper publication, have already found their way into anthologies. He wrote or directed over two dozen compelling, highly personal movies. He translated Aeschylus and Plautus, and wrote four plays of his own. He edited two anthologies of...

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Anne Rice (review date 3 November 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Violent Life, in The New York Times Books Review, November 3, 1985, p. 38.

[In the following review, Rice states that Pasolini's Marxism is evident in his novel A Violent Life, but asserts that in addition to the political overtones, "Tommaso's story has its own profound and cumulative power; his world boils with life created by Pasolini's relentless use of dialogue and vivid detail."]

It begins as a guided tour of hell. Tommaso, the protagonist of A Violent Life, grows up in a stinking shantytown on the outskirts of Rome shortly after World War II. Half-starved children play in sand littered with human excrement beside a...

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Peter Brunette (review date 30 November 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Focused on the Body," in The New York Times Book Review, November 30, 1986, p. 12.

[In the following review, Brunette lauds John Shepley's translation of Pasolini's Arabian Nights and Other Stories.]

Pier Paolo Pasolini was much more than an avant-garde film director who enjoyed thumbing his nose at middle-class audiences. A theorist of culture and a poet both in standard Italian and in his native Friulian dialect, he was also a writer of powerful and disturbing fiction. His talents in this last field are brilliantly demonstrated in Arabian Nights. The language of these five stories, all published between 1950 and 1965, is lush and overripe, like the...

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Patrick McCarthy (review date 17 April 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Between Sin and Scandal," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4385, April 17, 1987, p. 408.

[In the following review, McCarthy discusses what Pasolini's Lettere 1940–1954 reveals about the themes found in his work.]

This first volume of Pasolini's collected letters covers the period from his undergraduate years, and recounts the apprenticeship, persecution and tribulations of a writer who continues to hypnotize Italian intellectuals. In his Cronologia Nico Naldini has filled in some of the gaps in Enzo Siciliano's biography. Although Siciliano's judgments on Pasolini's life were generally correct, his book lacked detail. Drawing on Pasolini's...

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George Armstrong (review date 23 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Double Trouble," in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 23, 1997, p. 9.

[In the following review, Armstrong calls Pasolini's Petrolio "maddeningly incoherent and self-contradictory."]

Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in 1975 by a 17-year-old male hooker. This book—written between 1972 and 1974—was not published in Italy until 1992. Had the author lived longer than his 53 years, Petrolio would never have been published anywhere. It is the first draft of a book that, as Pasolini said in a letter to his pal, the widely read novelist Alberto Moravia, he hoped would eventually be issued in only a limited edition. This sprawling draft of what...

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Fernanda Eberstadt (review date 23 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Courting Contradiction," in The New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1997.

[In the following review of Petrolio, Eberstadt asserts that "all of Pasolini's most passionate opinions—from the sanctity of poverty to the vileness of heterosexual couples—have been folded together in this messy, harsh austerely intelligent phantasmagoria-cum-political treatise [Petrolio]."]

In 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini—philologist, film maker, poet, novelist and political essayist—was murdered on a wintry beach near Rome by a teen-age hustler with unknown accomplices. Throughout his fervidly productive career, Pasolini had courted contradiction. He was an open...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Consoli, Joseph P. Essay on Pasolini in Gay & Lesbian Literature, St. James Press, 19, pp. 291-94.

Presents an overview of Pasolini's life and career, including consideration of his homosexuality and its impact on his work.


Bongie, Chris. "A Postscript to Transgression: The Exotic Legacy of Pier Paolo Pasolini." In his Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle, pp. 188-228. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Analyzes Pasolini's relationship with the Third World in his work.


(The entire section is 243 words.)