Pasolini, freedom

The above quote from Pasolini, whom I was reading a good deal of two or three months back, did not leave my thoughts for a long time. Nonetheless, there is something sinister to me about Pasolini. When I was younger, I was often approached by gay men in ways that ranged from obtrusive to openly aggressive; this rarely bothered me, because I didn’t fear for my safety, and because – for reasons likely as much genetic as moral – their advances did not disgust me; but in retrospect, it is clear to me that what interested many of these men was closer to exploitation than love. Pasolini is one of a large group of people who might be described as “aesthetic communists,” whose objections to capitalist modernity derive less from concern for the happiness and prosperity of the proletariat than from an erotic inclination toward the degraded and downtrodden, and even toward violence as such, under the guise of an appreciation of authenticity, and whose distaste for the free market’s tawdry fruits betokens an aristocratic bent (as Gombrowicz notes of liberalism in general in his diaries). As I watch, for a second time, Comizi d’amore, I wonder what is so admirable in Pasolini’s subjection, on camera, of members of all classes of Italian society to intrusive sexual questions, particularly as the relationship of interviewer to interviewee so clearly recapitulates the asymmetrical status relations Pasolini allegedly opposed; and the self-consciousness, embarrassment, and perplexity of the respondents recalls a favorite passage from Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard:

It was outrageous, he said, to ask him such a stupid question. Your question is quite simply stupid, he said. She could surely not expect an intelligent answer to such a stupid and insolent question. I think you’ve struck the wrong note, he said, making to get up from his chair, as though he wanted to leave the Auersbergers’ Gentzgasse apartment at once and without further ado, having had enough of this insolent questioning. However, seeing the hostess return with the coffee, he sat down again in his armchair, saying as he did so that he did not have to answer stupid questions like that. Such a tasteless question, he told the astonished Jeannie, would naturally get no answer from him. What impertinent nonsense about my coming to the end of my life! said the actor from the Burgtheater. What impudent presumption! How rude to confront me with your stupidity!

I do not know what it was like to have lived under fascism, or the peculiar psychological pressure it must have induced, especially in a person like Pasolini; I cannot imagine, to take an example from Pasolini’s life, the sophistry required to maintain faith in a dogma whose doctrinaire followers had murdered my own brother. Our appreciation of projects like Pasolini’s springs from a reactive and perhaps misguided Schadenfreude, a joy at seeing bubbles burst and the straight-laced forced to face up to their so-called hypocrisy. I return to those words of Samuel Johnson:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

We long to be free, and freedom must be, in some sense, a basic good, but it is also indisputable that freedom as such is an aporia, that what exists in its stead is a range of minor freedoms made possible by distinct political orders; and when I think of many aspects of the idea of freedom in its current incarnation in the west, whose citizens show themselves increasingly blithe  prevail about the superficiality of their sexual cravings, their love of lucre, their disdain for the good, and their detestation of the poor, I cannot help but think that along with hypocrisy, a certain kind of earnestness has also been lost, and that the ideal objects of freedom have grown more vulgar.

 

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