Pier Paolo Pasolini Between Regression and Failure


9-10 May 2014 – Université de la Sorbonne – Maison de la recherche – 28, rue Serpente – 75006 Paris

Concept and Organization: Sara Fortuna (Rome), Manuele Gragnolati (Oxford/Berlin), Christoph Holzhey (Berlin), Davide Luglio (Paris)

A cooperation between the Equipe Littérature et Culture Italiennes (ELCI, EA 1496) de l'Université Paris-SorbonneICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, and l’Università degli Studi Guglielmo Marconi, with the support of l’École doctorale IV and the Conseil Scientifique de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne.

Pasolini’s vehement attack on contemporary liberal and hyper-technologized Neocapitalism was related to a criticism of rationalism and its socio-political as well as linguistic and aesthetic manifestations. The hypothesis that this conference aims at exploring is that such criticism draws on two central notions in Pasolini’s work, namely regression and failure. To what extent does Pasolini appropriate and revalue these notions and transform them into indispensable modes for (re)thinking the present and for continuing to be critically engaged in the artistic, intellectual and political sphere?

The notion of regression is present throughout Pasolini’s career, but it takes on several forms ranging from the search for an originary, maternal language in the first Friulian poetry to the formulation of free indirect speech as an instrument for accessing the subaltern classes, from the choice of cinema as the non-mediated language of reality to that of myth as a symbolic condition prior to the logos, from the criticism of homologation brought about by contemporary Neocapitalism to the provocative nostalgia for those pockets of society uncontaminated by power and progress that still existed under the first years of Fascism. Through such forms of regression, Pasolini pursued primarily the dream of a language that is more “real”, i.e., other, uncorrupted by culture, and before or outside the Western model of linear and progressive history in which the “primordial force of man” gets lost. For Pasolini, the poet is precisely one who interprets such alterity and is in history in order to bear witness to a poetic truth outside of it and opposed to it. In his last years, Pasolini was led towards political stances that, unlike the previous ideals inspired by Marxism, were rather connected with a provocative and forceful form of anti-modernity. Paradoxically, this refusal of the paradigm of modernity – development, consumerism, linguistic and socio-cultural uniformity etc. – seems to represent one of the most interesting tenets of Pasolini’s oeuvre, in particular when considered in conjunction with its deliberate intent of failure.

In contrast with the notion of regression, that of failure began to appear in Pasolini’s work only from the mid Sixties onwards as the programmatic choice of situating oneself outside any aesthetic or ideological canon, endorsing for instance what is unfinished rather than what is complete, what repels rather than what attracts or reassures, what seems unacceptable rather than what elicits approval. Thus, from Pilade to Petrolio, from Trasumanar e organizzar to La Divina Mimesis and Porno-Teo-Kolossal, Pasolini staged the connection between an interpretation of failure as the existential possibility of not compromising oneself with power and the regressive movement of textuality and its lack of cohesion. Such a choice proposes a new, paradoxical form of engagement that seems to anticipate some recent formulations of queer thought and praxis: first of all the concept of (homo)sexuality and masochism as ex-centric positions fostering a criticism of the hetero-normative order of sex, gender and (re)production; and, then, the endorsement of an “other” temporality, neither teleological nor directed towards the future but, rather, circular, repetitive, and inverted.

If one can read Pasolini’s notion of failure in a dialogue with Leo Bersani’s reflection on masochism, Lee Edelman’s re-elaboration of the death drive and critique of “reproductive futurism”, and Jack Halberstam’s “queer art of failure”, to what extent do Pasolini’s different formulations of regression allow for a queering of regression, even if regression seems to depend on a linear temporality? And can one consider the intersection of regression and failure as a strategy related to certain formulations of feminist, post-colonial and de-colonial thought? In what sense can it be productive to connect critically certain aspects of Pasolini’s anti-dialectical stance with a particular anti-modern thought, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Walter Benjamin, from Georges Bataille to Jean Genet and Roland Barthes? Must one say, as Georges Didi Huberman has recently proposed, that Pasolini’s apocalypticism is the sign of a desperate regression that constitutes a nihilistic closure and the extinguishing of all political imagination? Or shouldn’t the anti-modernity of the late Pasolini be, instead, read in conjunction with the Nietzschean notion of amor fati that Antoine Compagnon indicates as the point of arrival of the protest carried out by anti-modern thinkers such as Julien Gracq and Barthes? These are just some of the possible questions that the Paris conference would like to ask in order to explore the modes in which regression and failure interconnect dynamically in Pasolini’s oeuvre and contribute to shape its richness, be it from the point of view of politics, aesthetics, desire, or gender.