“Can the idea of the spiritual innocence of life in the simplicity of character also be formulated collectively in relation to history?” (Eli Friedlander) 1

Profanation and the Guilt History 2

Early on, sacralised power was understood by Pasolini as a violent alienation and differentiation of the profane everyday life. Since the 1960s, he saw everyday self-sufficiency and the lifestyles of pre-industrial communities – such as they were exemplarily rendered into language in Pasolini’s Friulian poetry – as being threatened by what was later commonly referred to as biopolitics, and what Pasolini, using terms such as “contamination”, viewed as an anthropological or cultural “genocide”. That his negative diagnostic of the times amounted not only to a pessimistic verdict, but also always possessed an affirmative-productive moment, can be confirmed if we examine Pasolini’s œuvre there, where it is fundamentally determined by political, technical and historical antagonisms that are independent of his biographical details. When these antagonisms emerge and prove to be actualisable, his work is, it seems to me, still relevant for the present era. In the following pages, I will therefore investigate the connections between, on the technical side, the sequence-shot and montage, and, on the historical-philosophical side, everyday life and world politics, from the standpoint of a profanation capable of unseating power, and with a focus on Pasolini’s only experimental film, La sequenza del fiore di carta (The Sequence of the Paper Flower, 1968). This short film not only has a special status within Pasolini’s filmography, it also marks a critical turning point from a tragic to a pessimistic/comic tone in his profanatory cinema.

In Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), Pasolini’s first films, the main characters were conceived of as martyrs and allegories for their own impotence. The allegorical figure of Accattone makes a passion-journey in the Roman Borgata only because this path itself follows a dramaturgical predestination borrowed from the Christian tradition, ends in tragic death and is only differentiated from the Gospels through a drastic connection to the present (his pauperist-realist “history of guilt”). 3 Pasolini’s films Accattone, Mamma Roma and, most clearly, Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel of Matthew, 1964) do not only correspond to the conflation of Christianity and Marxism, which had defined post-war Italian auteurist cinema since, at the latest, Curzio Malaparte’s Il Cristo proibito (1951), in their “reoccupation” 4 of “political theology”, but actualise a profane realism on the basis of an anthropological interrogation of the happy life, which has a persuasive afterlife in reinventions of the sub-proletarian dialectics of innocence and guilt in rare films such as Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997) – just think of a character in the film, Jarrod Wiggley, who is thrown into a world, where he is poisoning cats, but also forced to take care of his grandmother. Furthermore, in contrast to Malaparte’s account, Pasolini “saves” the passion-story for his later “Allegories of the Profane on Foreign Soil,” 5 quite remote from Catholic Italy, in the desert landscapes of North Africa and the Near East, which in The Gospel of Matthew already preludes in the form of the creole mass played over the opening credits. In the fragments of his St. Paul script (1967), the early Christian vision finally becomes the utopia of a community on the soil of modernity: Rome turns into the New York of Allen Ginsberg, and Jerusalem becomes the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre, and hence “the world in which […] Saint Paul lives and works is therefore the world of 1966 or ’67.” 6 On the basis of these experiences with the possibilities of filmic-narrative profanation, La sequenza del fiore di carta represents the key cinematic postscript to Pasolini’s engagement with the New Testament.

Everyday Life and World History

In the summer of 1968, Pasolini shot a ten-minute sequence-shot on the Via Nazionale. As the character Riccetto, Ninetto Davoli, whom he had discovered in 1964 as an extra on The Gospel of Matthew, runs down the famed Roman main street, occasionally dances, hitches rides with drivers, and, in the end, loses his life, as an allegorical figure of a guilty-innocent consciousness. His innocent way of life is permanently watched over by an invisible God, and finally punished. This punishment is given by Pasolini as the only divine answer in the allegory of political innocence. This comparative representation of innocence and the demonstration of power takes the form of a question to which the film does not give an unambiguous answer: if everyday life and history can no longer be reconciled with one another, how should the experience of this rupture be represented?

La sequenza del fiore di carta marks this rupture both allegorically and technically. The local Roman life-world, which continues unabated during the sequence-shot, is penetrated by images of world history, much like everyday life is penetrated by natural disasters. Riccetto, however, is unaware of this penetration. Instead, he follows the prescribed, symbolic path of the Via Nazionale, without questioning this trajectory. In other words, neither the detour of recognition nor a way out of the political situation in 1968 exist for the subject Riccetto, thrown into this situation. That, for Pasolini, the street was nonetheless an important site of potential reflection, can be seen in his theoretical essay on “The Cinema of Poetry” (Il Cinema di Poesia), published only a few years earlier. In this text, the street functions as the paradigm for the “written language of reality” 7:

A solitary walk in the street, even with stopped up ears, is a continual conversation between us and an environment which expresses itself through the images that compose it: the faces of people who pass by, their gestures, their signs, their actions, their silences, their expressions, their arguments, their collective reactions […] billboards, signposts, traffic circles, and, in short, objects and things that appear charged with multiple meanings and thus “speak” brutally with their very presence. 8

Although Riccetto’s promenade takes place in such a legible “environment”, he precisely does not read reality as a “written language” of history. For him, the life-world does not speak of a historical present, but is an everyday environment, behind which nothing else is concealed. Riccetto’s historical guilt thus consists in the fact that, in the summer of 1968 he is not a political subject capable of representing any kind of resistance in joyful innocence. Instead, he saunters along the Via Nazionale without any thought or responsibility.

La sequenza del fiore di carta formulates thus a second question that remains relevant: what does it mean when a specific “written language of reality” loses its legibility for certain subjects in society, or when these subjects refuse, in spite of their relationship with this legibility, to examine and recognise the historical course of modernity? Pasolini presents both questions – firstly, on the rupture between everyday life and history, and secondly, on the possible consequences that can be drawn from this diagnosis – in the form of an allegory, because, it seems, he himself has no answer to hand. In the following passages, a gradually built-up analysis of the film will also lead to a reading of this allegory that could give an answer to these questions. First of all, however, we should show the extent to which the entwining of sequence-shot and montage rests on the experience of an aporia, which seems to consist in the notion that the happiness promised by sacred-uninterrupted “reality” in all forms of capitalism proves to be incapable of being fulfilled after the profane experience of lived history.

Allegory of Innocent Guilt 9

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

Let us make an initial attempt to highlight the key allegory of the film more precisely: in the beginning of the film, sitting on the rim of the Fontana delle Naiadi, we see Riccetto. Ready to jump to his feet, he is impatiently beating a rhythm on his knee with his hands. His gaze is directed to the left, following a black limousine, which crosses the field of vision parallel to the screen and divides the view vertically. Riccetto gives the limousine a short but rather unimpressed look. The programmatic character of this opening sequence, lasting only a few seconds, is additionally strengthened by the first cut, but it is also made more enigmatic, as Pasolini now shows a world map with Africa in the centre. Everything suggests that Pasolini here is recalling the geopolitical segregation of the world, since a little later he shows, with a shot of the moon, another model for the representation of the Earth.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

Tellingly, the sequence-shot dominating the film only begins after the world map is shown; and does so with a view from the other side of the street. While Riccetto crosses the Piazza della Repubblica, filled with small, typically Italian automobiles, he tosses a coin in the air five times. This simple game of chance is, on the one hand, an expression of his frivolity, but on the other hand it is also symbolic of his later fate: Guilt/Debt. Strikingly, a black bystander next to Riccetto – almost motionless, as if he had been turned into stone – looks at length into the camera. Since the early 1960s, Pasolini had projected a metaphorical hope, which he initially ascribed to the Roman and Neapolitan sub-proletariat, onto the “concept” of Africa:

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

The concept of “Africa” – Pasolini wrote in his preface for the anthology Letteratura Negra (1961) – is an extremely complex subproletarian condition that is not yet utilized as a real revolutionary force. Perhaps I am best able to define this concept if we identify Africa with the entire world of Bandung, Afro-Asia, which saying clearly, begins at the peripheries of Rome […]. 10

While the contingent nature of the sequence-shot in La sequenza del fiore di carta does not allow for an unambiguous establishment of meaning, it does give the lie to an only apparently intact present, and emphasises, through details laden with significance, the sequence’s oneiric character. The black bystander, shown on the Via Nazionale in 1967-vintage Technicolor, does appear realistic to us, but he also has a “phantasmatic” effect. This semantic latency in some ways corresponds to the empathy evoked in Riccetto’s daydream. 11 The lateral tracking movement reinforces the shot’s oneiric character, as the camera withdraws from Riccetto and takes its distance from him. This is made clear when Riccetto wants to light a cigarette and asks a street worker for a light. This “genre picture” – which proves to be a “montage in the frame” in Béla Balázs’ sense of the term – will only become a figure of reflection when the sequence distances the shot through camera movement. This moment of distanciation is perceived as a differentiation of reality and daydream. It is at this point that a superimposition is first used in the film.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

Fluttering flags penetrate the sequence-shot, followed by marching soldiers, political summits, mass demonstrations, a Krupp-Ardelt factory, a courthouse scene, and the American president Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as vice-president of the United States from 1961 to 1963 and succeeded John F. Kennedy as president following the latter’s assassination. The anticipatory sense of this superimposed montage becomes evident in my following argument.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

The famous photograph of the dead Che Guevara was disseminated in the Italian press in October 1967. If we make a comparison of the shifts in media: going from Freddy Alborta’s original photograph to the manipulated, re-framed images in the daily press and its superimposition in the film, it gradually becomes clear that while the act of montage initially manipulates the viewer, it ends up reinforcing the oneiric potential of the images, in connection with the sequence-shot and its relation with the continuity of reality. 12

Pasolini Pasolini Pasolini

A photo-montage of the dead Che Guevara in the Italian press, a detail from the original photograph by Freddy Alborta (1967) and a detail of the superimposition in La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

Out of necessity, Pasolini had already turned to the technique of superimposition for the famous dream sequences at the end of Accattone (1961). Editing “found footage” into a film, however, only became used as a filmic language in La Rabbia (1963). There, too, Pasolini had worked with superimpositions in a few instances, but the images related not so much to the destiny of an individual character as to Italian society in general. La sequenza del fiore di carta thus represents a synthesis of the experiences with Accattone and La Rabbia, insofar as Riccetto’s naively experienced life-world and the parallel world of politics perpetually remain counter-posed to each other within the film, due to the “bichromatic” oscillation between Technicolor and black-and-white images. 13

Pasolini

Accattone (Pasolini, 1961)

In his joyously lively daydream, Riccetto is more realistic than the dreaming Accattone, whose story still bears the narrative forms of the tragic novels Ragazzi di Vita (1955) and Una vita violenta (1959). In La sequenza del fiore di carta, Pasolini hones a comic allegorisation of reality. This is personified in Riccetto, and its chief attribute is the red paper flower.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

The abyssal nature of this comic allegory of the flower is made clear when Riccetto dances with it in the street, and the sequence-shot is interrupted for the first time by a cut. The anticipation of this scene has, therefore, a primarily unsettling effect, because the sound is abruptly switched to silence, thereby producing an acousmatic void as an omen of death, much as Pasolini had done with the dream-sequence in Accattone. 14 A little later, Riccetto walks past a billboard emblazoned with the word “sordità” (deafness), which refers back to the palpable silence of before, while also anticipating Riccetto’s ignorance towards the transmundane voice of God. 15

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

Whereas in the beginning we could see a map of the world, Pasolini now shows “the Earth seen from the moon”, La terra vista dalla luna, as he called his contribution to the Italian omnibus film Le streghe (1967). 16 The superimposition of the globe with the Via Nazionale suggests that there can never be a world picture without the Earth, without this relationship being recognised and presented as such. Viewed from the moon, there is no geopolitics, no “work” and not even any unemployment, but viewed from the Via Nazionale these things are all there is. Everyday life is omnipresent. From both perspectives, however, history becomes inessential, and it is this loss of historical consciousness that is, in Pasolini’s view, the fundamental problem.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

Pasolini’s thinking thus revolves around a dialectic of the two spheres, which, between technical-mediatic, anthropological and onto-theological perspectives, are barely distinguishable at the site of their articulation. Hence, the politico-theological exegesis is introduced at the precise moment when the sound-and image-track shows the bombing of Vietnam superimposed on the sequence-shot. The transition itself follows by way of an option inherent to the sequence-shot, in which the sky is initially reflected on the front windscreen of a bus before being filmed by Pasolini without any intermediary.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

The soundtrack also makes this transition clear, as it includes a choral passage from Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, which had already appeared in Accattone and The Gospel of Matthew. To strains of an English cover of Fruscio Di Foglie Verdi – a song, which Audrey Nohra and Ennio Morricone wrote for Trio Junior, and which later appears in Italian in Teorema (1968) – Riccetto dances through the street with his red paper flower. His body literally reacts only to this type of music. By contrast, he is deaf (sordo) to the more profound ethos of Bach’s Passion.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

After the plurivocal choral passage comes to an end, the “Voice of God” – polyphonically declaimed by Graziella Chiarcossi, Aldo Puglisi, Bernardo Bertolucci and Pasolini himself – begins to speak. This voice, as the medium of the highest power, attempts to involve Riccetto in a conversation about morality. After this fails, it ends up demanding only a sign of attentiveness. Riccetto, however, obliviously shrugs his shoulders and, preferring to make his journey easier, continues hitching rides. In the windscreen, we can see the reflection of the sky as the metonymy of the invisible divine omnipotence, which later even walks past him in the form of a cleric – but this also goes unheeded by Riccetto.

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

The photograph of a decapitation highlights the thrice repeated phrase “Morire, morire, morire”, spoken by Pasolini in a declamatory style recalling La Rabbia, but even this final words of God appear not to be understood by Riccetto. Indeed, even the significance of his own death sentence escapes him. Accompanied by the sound of explosions and gunfire, the film concludes with footage of a massacre. Riccetto dies in a similar position to that of the Vietnamese people seen in the photograph. Next to him lies his red paper flower, as the attribute of his innocence and perhaps also as a symbol of the Italian left’s powerlessness; just recall the use of the absolute metapher of the “paper flower” in Gustav Landauer’s early critique of Marxism: “the absence of all spirit, the paper blossom on the beloved thorn-bush of capitalism.” 17 In the background, we can no longer hear a requiem, but a blasé voice whistles the melody of the Morricone song, before the film ends, without any closing credits.

Hildebrandt Image 13 Hildebrandt Image 14

Two stills from La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

4. The Montage of History as Daydream/Trauma

In La sequenza del fiore di carta, Pasolini technically generates the allegorical legibility of the film through entwining the sequence-shot and montage by means of superimposition. In 1966, he had still insisted to Jean-André Fieschi that there were no sequence-shots in his early films, but almost only frontal camera angles. 18 Even if this claim should be taken cum grano salis, it points to the decisive paradigm of montage as a critical means of filmic profanation. It is particularly important that Pasolini ascribes the sequence-shot to a lack of position, and relates the cuts in montage to critical intervention. Pasolini fundamentally distinguishes between two forms of subjectivation: an innocent and naïve subject without any responsibilities, embodied by Riccetto, and a critical attitude with a historical consciousness, but without access to everyday life or a lived present, embodied in the figure of the inactive “intellectual” that has been recurrently problematised by the Italian neo-Marxism from Gramsci up to Fortini. The technical distinction between the sequence-shot and montage, which is here placed in an analogy with everyday life and history, had been previously introduced by Pasolini in his Observations on the Long Take. This brief theorisation of the sequence-shot, published by Pasolini at the same time that he began preliminary work on La sequenza del fiore di carta, is the crucial interpretative key for an understanding of the allegory present in the film. Pasolini’s text opens with a surprising example: “Consider the short sixteen-millimeter film of Kennedy’s death. Shot by a spectator in the crowd, it is a sequence shot, the most typical sequence shot imaginable.” 19

Pasolini

Zapruder Film © 1967 (Renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Because Abraham Zapruder, present in downtown Dallas on 22 November, 1963, the day of the Kennedy assassination, “simply filmed from where he happened to be, framing what he, not the lens, saw,” then, as Pasolini concludes: “the typical sequence shot […] is a subjective perspective.” 20 Zapruder embodies in his position as an amateur-cameraman the same “flesh-and-blood subject” (un soggetto in carne e ossa), 21 which, in the form of the character Riccetto, dances around Rome in La sequenza del fiore di carta, as an allegory of guilty innocence. “The sequence shot” – according to Pasolini – “is always in the present tense. […] And that present […] is the tense of the various subjective sequence shots, shot from the various points of view where witnesses happened to be with their organs or instruments.” 22

Pasolini

La sequenza del fiore di carta (Pasolini, 1968)

The innocent guilt of Riccetto, on the level of the individual, corresponds from a sociological perspective to Zapruder’s unconscious act from within American society in 1963. Zapruder’s film lacks any conscious positioning. It is only after 29 seconds that the camera, held by an amateur in the middle of the crowd, notices that it is not filming the parade but the assassination of the president. The sequence-shot is thus, as far as the camera is concerned, the technical form of that innocence that in La sequenza del fiore di carta is allegorically represented as irony. Taking the form of a sequence-shot, the Zapruder film is hence, for Pasolini, “only” a “potential film”. What it lacks is, in Pasolini’s view, the decisive intervention of montage. Only montage enables, according to Pasolini, the present to be placed in relation to the past. Only the monteur, or the cutter, has what it takes to be a narrator, but, and this is where everything comes full circle, it is “a narrator who transforms present into past.” 23

This model is complicated when, towards the end of the text, Pasolini expands the analogy between the sequence-shot and the present, and montage and history, to take in the opposition between life and death, observing that:

Death performs a lightning-quick montage on our lives; that is, it chooses our truly significant moments (no longer changeable by other possible contrary or incoherent moments) and places them in sequence […] Montage thus accomplishes for the material of film […] what death accomplishes for life. 24

Joan Copjec has dismissed Pasolini’s comparison between montage and death as an elliptical conflation of two disparate levels of ontology. According to Copjec, the intentional decision or “gaze” of an author is not comparable with the event of death. 25 Pasolini’s argument, however, can be understood through an unorthodox reading of Heidegger as an existentialist argument. Pasolini had, in an initially unpublished excursus in Observations on the Long Take, characterised the “endlessly long, despairing sequence-shots in Godard” to a “challenge to death” (“sfida alla morte”). 26 In this very excursus, Pasolini notably relates this “sfida alla morte” to Heidegger’s Dasein (he uses the German term), in order to allude to Heidegger’s conception of Dasein as care, as “being towards death”. The sequence-shot mediatises “being towards death” in its thrownness, but it is only montage that apprehends film’s possible being and transforms it into a form or a “figure” 27, through which the dialectic of everyday life and history, to use Deleuze’s words, can enter into the “camera-consciousness”. This interpretation is complicated, not least because Pasolini does not directly derive the term from Heidegger, but through the intermediary of the Czech philosopher Karel Kosik, who in the 1960s had propagated a phenomenology-inflected variant of Marxism comparable to the theories of Herbert Marcuse. Kosik had been introduced to Italian readers by Enzo Paci as early as 1961. In 1964 he gave a lecture on The Dialectics of Morality and the Morality of Dialectics at the Gramcsi Institute in Rome, where Pasolini lived at the time, and the two came to know one another in 1965 during a conference of the Czechoslovak writers association (Svaz českosloveských spisovatelů) in Prague. In the same year, Dialectics of the Concrete was published by Bompiani, in which Kosik referred, alongside Hegel, Marx and Gramsci, above all to Heidegger, and developed a praxis-related, existentialist Marxist theory of everyday life. 28 The passages on the everyday and history, in particular, can be linked, in view of La sequenza del fiore di carta, with Pasolini’s theory of dialectical montage:

The everyday and history interpenetrate. Intertwined, their supposed or apparent character changes: the everyday no longer is that for which routine consciousness takes it, in the same way as History is not that as what it appears to routine consciousness. Naïve consciousness considers the everyday to be a natural atmosphere or a familiar reality, whereas History appears as a transcendental reality occurring behind its back and bursting into the everyday in form of a catastrophe into which an individual is thrown “fatally” as cattle are driven to the slaughterhouse. The cleavage of life between the everyday and History exists for this consciousness as fate. 29

In the excursus in the Observations on the Long Take, Pasolini also cites Kosik on the “religion of everyday life” (religione della vita quotidiana), by which Kosik understands the “separation of the everyday from History” 30, which he equates with war. Segregation here points, in the sense of Kosik’s “religion of everyday life”, to the paradigm of the sacral, as defined by Benveniste and extensively elaborated by Agamben. How, however, does this connect with the film, and, in particular, its act of profanation through montage? La sequenza del fiore di carta was initially conceived of as a contribution to the omnibus film Vangelo ’70, which was later released in cinemas as Amore e Rabbia. All the directors in this film had to base their episodes on the precept of two Catholic journalists, Puccio Pucci and Piero Badalassi, who had suggested that parables from the Gospels could be cinematically conveyed to the present day. 31 In a letter to Godard from Rome in October 1967, Pasolini had sketched out his idea for the opening credits, where he had envisaged prefacing the five films with an additional prologue, in which all five directors would have discussed the ways they had referred to this idea. Pasolini planned a gathering of the filmmakers in a television studio with a crucifixion scene or some other kind of unspecified sacrilege. 32

A detailed sketch of this prologue, going by the title of “Pace e Rabbia”, is particularly important for our understanding of La sequenza del fiore di carta and Observations on the Long Take, written at the same time as the film was made (1967), because, on the basis of a theological subtext, it hones Pasolini’s considerations of montage and its ability to give presence to heterogeneous materials:

Here we have a film-element which depicts the Beatitudes (the twelve Anaphora of the Gospel of Matthew). Such a piece should consist partly of fiction and partly of montage. The material to be edited together could be both photographic and cinematic. […] The meaning of “Pace e rabbia” is quite simple: to illustrate, using images of modern world, who the true personalities are: the poor, the sick, the subjugated, etc. Of course, such an illustration will neither be conventional nor simply pietistic; on the contrary, it will in a certain sense be scandalous, and along with the religious meaning it will have a political meaning. The words of Christ will be interpreted as being extremely relevant to the present day, almost as if they anticipate the precise situation in which we find ourselves, today, in 1967, with all our problems, from the conditions of Blacks (negri) in America to the Vietnam War and the relations between rich and poor nations etc. etc.. To give two examples: those who Christ calls the pacifiers (operatori di pace) or, in other translations, pacifists (pacifici), will be illustrated with images of demonstrations against war, participants in peace marches, with their placards, their clothes, their lifestyle (the New Left in America, the European peace organisations, etc.). Those, who Christ says have a hunger and thirst for justice (affamati e assetati di giustizia), will be illustrated with photographs; but unfortunately these photographs are of the graves of socialists and communists who gave their lives for the ideal of justice. The politicisation of benediction will, however, be neither partisan nor total; a wide margin will be reserved for people who live history like a dream: the innocent (innocenti), the ignorant (inconsapevoli), pure and simple living beings. 33

A direct link can be drawn from the plans for this prologue for Vangelo ’70 (Amore e rabbia) to La sequenza del fiore di carta. In a conversation with Oswald Stack, Pasolini himself gave a description and elaboration of the way he re-worked the parable of the cursing of the fig tree:

Vangelo ‘70 is supposed to be inspired by parables or bits in the Gospels, so for my episode I chose the innocent fig tree – you remember where Christ wants to pick some figs but because it’s March the tree hasn’t produced any figs yet so he curses it. This is an episode which has always been very mysterious to me and there are several contradictory interpretations of it. The way I’ve interpreted it goes like this: that there are moments in history when one cannot be innocent, one must be aware; not to be aware is to be guilty. So I got Ninetto to walk up Via Nazionale and while he’s walking along without a thought in his head and completely innocent a number of images of some of the important and dangerous things happening in the world pass superimposed across the Via Nazionale – things he is not aware of like the Vietnam War, relations between the West and the East and so on; these are just shadows which pass above him which he does not know about. Then at a certain moment you hear the voice of God in the middle of the traffic urging him to know, to be aware, but like the fig tree he does not understand because he is immature and innocent and so at the end God condemns him and makes him die. 34

Pasolini

Meester van Antwerpen [attributed to], Cursing the fig tree, 1485-1491 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Pasolini’s discussion of the parable of the cursing of the fig tree reminds us that the problematic shown by Kosik’s “religion of everyday life” – the necessary dialectic of the everyday and history, innocent guilt and historical consciousness – can already be found in parable form in the Gospels, but in Pasolini’s film they are simultaneously represented through the superimposition of a sequence-shot and montage, of a “dialectical image.” As was already the case in The Gospel of Matthew or La Ricotta, Pasolini’s interpretation leads to profanation, which directly reacts to the historical context in the summer of 1968, but now no longer finds any response. Instead, it may answer the question raised by the parable of the Gospels as to the mediatic and technical conditions of his present, and hence be reformulated in the form of an allegory tied to the present.

In a 1971 conference on The Gospel of Matthew, Pasolini was asked once again, and for the last time, about his reworking of the parable of the cursing of the fig tree:

It was not a coincidence that Christ chose a plant as a symbol representing the height of innocence, but there is no innocence which will not turn into guilt at a certain point in time. Sartre said: “There are no innocent victims.” The expression is of a radical, absolute moralism, that goes beyond moralism and becomes a religious worldview. Every innocent person must become aware of their historical being and their historical function. Take a black man from a Third World nation that has only recently gained independence. The noble savage, who in his own way lived as innocently as the fig tree from the Gospel, his wild, at one time natural innocence will become an obstacle (intralcio), it will become guilt, and no longer has any right to exist, and so will be condemned, just as Christ cursed the fig tree. 35

Pasolini articulates in the medium of a film, a thesis on the relationship between the everyday and history: everyday life would become sacral, become a “spectacle” 36 through the separation of history, in which it, as an anthropological phenomenon, must assume an ahistorical position. The everyday amateur Abraham Zapruder films, from within the society of the spectacle, the assassination of his president as a pure sequence-shot. Only a historical consciousness – an archaeology of the segregation of history from the everyday – returns us to profane life, whose goal can not, in turn, be history, but lies, as Benjamin wrote, in an “idea of happiness”. 37 In light of La sequenza del fiore di carta, these thoughts can be very concretely grasped: Pasolini’s camerawork is literally always oriented to Riccetto’s idea of happiness, in order to erect the order of the profane on the idea of happiness through a true use of montage. Those who identify the voice of God at the end of the film deciding on Riccetto’s fate with negativity in Pasolini’s cinematic thinking misunderstand that this “end”, as with the Passion-story, only stands for the guilt of those who were not in a position to read the allegory properly and recognise its truth. The profanatory interpretation of the allegory of innocent guilt has a utopian pendant in the red paper flower, a symbol of happiness to which the transmundane Power seems to be blind.

Translated by Daniel Fairfax

 

Endnotes

  1. Eli Friedlander, Walter Benjamin, A Philosophical Portrait (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 121.
  2. Earlier versions of this text were given as papers in Frankfurt, Casarsa della Delizia, Princeton, New York and Yale University, and supported by travel grants from the Josef und Olga Tomcsik-Stiftung and the Berne University Research Foundation. Acknowledgements go to Roberto Chiesi, Antonio Lucci, Matthias Wittmann and the discussants at Giorgio Agamben’s seminar on Kafka’s question “How can any person in general be guilty?” for their input. The German version of this text will appear in “Medien des Heiligen”, ed. Friedrich Balke, Bernhard Siegert and Joseph Vogl in Archiv für Mediengeschichte 15 (2015), pp. 197-207.
  3. Werner Hamacher, “Guilt History: Benjamin’s Sketch ‘Capitalism as Religion’”, in Diacritics 32:3-4 (2002), pp. 81-106.
  4. See Hans Blumenberg, Säkularisierung und Selbstbehauptung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974); and “Reoccupations”, in: The Laughter of the Thracian Woman: A Protohistory of Theory, trans. Spencer Hawkins (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 29-45.
  5. On Pasolini’s late allegories, see Toni Hildebrandt, “Allegories of the Profane on Foreign Soil in Pasolini’s Work after 1968”, in Italian Culture 33:1 (March 2016), forthcoming.
  6. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Saint Paul: A Screenplay, foreword by Alain Badiou (London: Verso, 2014), p. 4 (emphasis added).
  7. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The Written Language of Reality” (1966), in Heretical Empiricism, trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 197-222.
  8. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The ‘Cinema of Poetry’” (1965), in Heretical Empiricism, trans. Ben Lawton and Louis K. Barnett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 167-185, here p. 168.
  9. The German dualism “Schuld/Schulden” (Guilt/Debt) can not be reproduced in English except, as with Italian, through two etymologically unrelated words. See Elettra Stimilli, Il debito del vivente: Ascesi e capitalismo (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2011) and Debito e colpa (Roma: Ediessa, 2015); for an English summary see Elettra Stimilli, “The Threshold between Debt and Guilt” in Between Urban Topographies and Political Spaces: Threshold Experiences, ed. Fabio Vighi, Alexis Nuselovici and Mauro Ponzi (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014), pp. 143-153, and the insightful review by Matteo Pasquinelli in Theorie, Culture & Society (October 2014). In tandem with the work of Stimilli I find it important, firstly, to point out that the conceptual grouping “guilt/debt/culpability” evinces a semantic horizon which relates both to “being guilty” (morally) and “having debts” (existentially/economically). Both Stimilli and Pasquinelli make the etymologically incorrect assumption that “debt and guilt are expressed by the same word, Schuld”. By contrast, I would like to both make a distinction and, at the same time, affirm Stimilli’s intentions by stressing what has until now been overlooked: namely, that “guilt” (Schuld) and “debt” (Schulden) are precisely not the same words, but are derived from a common etymology. “Guilt” (Schulden) is always in the singular and “debt” (Schulden) is always in the plural. The use of the negation “innocent/innocence” (unschuldig/Unschuld), however, relates only to “Schuld” (colpa) and not to “die Schulden” (debt). A negation of the plural of “debt” (Schulden) in the sense of “undebt” (Unschulden), can not be formed in the German language. Such a semantic negation would have to instead indicate the complex relationship between “credit” and “credo” (faith).
  10. Pier Paolo Pasolini, La Resistenza negra (Preface), in Mario De Andrade (ed.), Letteratura negra. La poesia (Roma: Editori riuniti, 1961), pp. xv-xxiv; English translation in Shelleen Greene, Equivocal Subjects: Between Italy and Africa – Contructions of Racial and National Identity in the Italian Cinema (London: Continuum, 2012), p. 216. See the commentary in Ara H. Merjian, “Il Problema Negro: Pasolini and the Site of Blackness” (forthcoming) and the fundamental critique in Frank Wilderson III, “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?”, in Social Identities 9:2 (2003), pp. 225–240.
  11. See Sandro Petraglia, Pier Paolo Pasolini (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1974), pp. 99-100.
  12. On “hauntology” and the afterlife of the Che Guevara photographs, see Jeffrey A. Koller, Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
  13. “Here, ‘condensation’, in the Freudian sense of the term, is at work in the superposition of archival images in black and white over images of Rome in colour (the use of archival footage and the bichromatic are two signs common to La Rabbia). One can not more clearly express that the events of the world are woven into our very lives, even if it is the banal, carefree life of the most innocent of beings. This is the endpoint of the signifying montage-effects with which the Appunti are replete, notably the opening of India, and La Rabbia at several points. Thus summarised, the idea of the bichromatic appears to be awkwardly utilised. In reality, this is not at all the case, owing to the beautiful use of colour, common, as it happens, to the entire film, and owing to the masterfully controlled rhythm by which the archival images appear – sometimes abruptly, sometimes replacing the entire colour image of the Via Nazionale, sometimes flashing or cropping up like phantoms of the truth.” Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, Pasolini. Portrait du poète en cinéaste (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1995), p. 166-167 (own translation).
  14. In his Interpretation of Dreams, Freud had already claimed that silent moments in the imagination of the dream allude to death.
  15. In his Nouveaux Essais Leibniz introduces a difference between pensées sourdes and pensées aveugles. Pensées sourdes (deaf thoughts) are attributed by Leibniz to subjects who are incapable of controlling their emotions and desires. See Gustavo Micheletti, I pensieri sordi e l’inconscio (Rome: Borla, 1991), p. 176; Remo Bodei, “Logica inconscia e soggetività in Hegel”, in La logica di Hegel e la storia della filosofia, ed. Giancarlo Movia (Cagliari: Edizioni AV, 1996), pp. 95-112, here p. 98.
  16. Joubert-Laurencin, Pasolini. Portrait du poète en cinéaste, op. cit., p. 167.
  17. Gustav Landauer, Aufruf zum Sozialismus, Berlin 1920, p. 41, cited in Hamacher, “Guilt History: Benjamin’s Sketch Capitalism as Religion”, op. cit., p. 95.
  18. See Pasolini l’enragé (Jean-André Fieschi, 1966).
  19. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Observations on the Long Take”, trans. Norman MacAfee and Craig Owens, October 13 (Summer 1980), pp. 3-6, here p. 3. (As elsewhere I am here replacing the word “long-take” with “sequence shot”, analogous with Italian and French terminology: piano sequenza or plan-séquence.)
  20. Pasolini, “Observations on the Long Take”, op. cit., p.3.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid., pp. 3-4.
  23. Ibid., p. 5.
  24. Ibid., p. 6. For a speculative allegoresis of Pasolini’s own death, see Giuseppe Zagaini, “Pasolini and Death: A Purely Intellectual Thriller”, in Bernhart Schwenk and Michael Senff (eds.), Pier Paolo Pasolini and Death (Ostfildern: Hatje-Cantz, 2005), pp. 25-40.
  25. See Joan Copjec, Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 198-230. Pasolini’s Zapruder, however, is not a “slave of history”, as Copjec opines (p. 201), but an allegory for innocent guilt, in the sense of the distinction drawn by Pasolini between the proletariat and the “sottoproletariato”, as with “Riccetto” in La sequenza del fiore di carta. It is therefore not true that Zapruder, as Copjec writes, was only the witness to an “acceptance of the position in which history happens to have placed him” (idem.). Rather, and this is decisive for Pasolini’s essay and his theory of montage, Zapruder himself had no awareness of his relation to history, but his film is, by dint of being an artefact of this impotence, precisely a testimony to the problematic relationship which also preoccupies Pasolini. The unity of camera-angle, film and embodiment in the Zapruder film thus points less to a centralised subject position in the Lacanian sense, and more to a kind of trans-subjective “posture”, which is perhaps best described in Laruelle’s use of the term. See François Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography, bilingual, trans. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011), passim.
  26. An infuriating sequence-shot by Godard is thus a challenge to death and a concession (…) to Dasein, to being-there, vital life.” Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Excursus su alcuni usi del piano-sequenza”, in: Saggi sulla letteratura e sull’arte, vol. I (Mailand: Mondadori, 1999), pp. 1672-1674, here p. 1673.
  27. Roberto Esposito confirms my thesis when he writes that Pasolini “on several occasions identifies death as the only place from which the meaning of an individual life can be understood, in a remarkable correlation with what Auerbach said about Dante’s conception of the ‘figure.’ We must die in order for the message of our life, otherwise confused, to be deciphered in all its significance.” Roberto Esposito, Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 204.
  28. On Kosik’s reception of Heidegger, see Michael E. Zimmermann, “Karel Kosik’s Heideggerian Marxism”, in Philosophical Forum 15:3 (1984), pp. 209-233.
  29. Karel Kosík, Dialectis of the Concrete: A Study on Problems of Man and World, trans. Karel Kovanda and James Schmidt (Dordrecht/Boston: Reidel, 1963/1976), p. 44.
  30. Ibid. (emphasis added).
  31. Alongside Pasolini, Godard (L’amore), Lizzani (L’indifferenza) and Bertolucci (Agonia) also contributed. Zurlini’s film (Seduto alla sua destra) was replaced by Bellocchio (Discutiamo, discutiamo). In his autobiography, Lizzani claims that Amore e Rabbia was originally his idea. See Carlo Lizzani, Il mio lungo viaggio nel secolo breve (Torino: Einaudi, 2007), p. 201. Whether this is true is open to question, but it can at least be excluded that the original idea came from Pasolini, as Filippo Sacchi had maintained. See Filippo Sacchi, “Le grandi ambizioni sbagliati di cinque registi”, Epoca, June 22, 1969 (no page number).
  32. “In fact I will take care of the opening credits for Vangelo ’70, and I thought of doing them in the form of a meeting in a television studio (with, as a sacrilege, an enormous crucifix on the table) involving the film’s directors, each one of whom was to read out the opening credits of their own episode, with a brief explicatory introduction (Why the father of the prodigal son and the PCI?, etc.).” Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lettere 1955-1975 (Torino: Einaudi, 1988), p. 629.
  33. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “La sequenza del fiore di carta (1967-1969)”, in Per il cinema, vol. II (Milan: Mondadori, 2001), pp. 3126-3128, here pp. 3127-3128.
  34. Pasolini, in Oswald Stack, Pasolini on Pasolini (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), p. 129.
  35. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Intervista rilasciata a Clemente Ciattaglia”, in: Saggi sulla politica e sulla società (Milan: Mondadori, 1999), pp. 1682-1688, here pp. 1687-1688 (own translation).
  36. In the sense in which the term is used in Guy Debord, La Société du Spectacle (Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1967).
  37. “The order of the profane should be erected on the idea of happiness. The relation of this order to the Messianic is one of the essential teachings of the philosophy of history.” Walter Benjamin, “Theologico-Political Fragment”, trans. Chad Kautzer, in The Frankfurt School on Religion: Key Writings by the Major Thinkers, ed. Eduardo Mendieta (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 263 (emphasis added). See the ex negativo thesis, which goes well with the closing sequence of Pasolini’s film: “But the profane cannot be constructed upon the idea of God’s empire.” Jacob Taubes, To Carl Schmitt: Letters and Reflections, trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 17. Hence the phrase from the Gospel of Mark “‘Now learn the parable of the fig tree’, for happiness is in the individual, in the individual fig tree, and not in the trees.” Eduard Schwartz, “Der verfluchte Feigenbaum”, in: Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 5 (1904), pp. 80-84, here p. 82. That the idea of happiness can also, beyond individual experience, determine the order of an entire society’s conception of fate, has been held to be impossible, or rather, historically inappropriate, by Jürgen Habermas in his influential critique of Benjamin, which on occasion can be related to Pasolini. See Jürgen Habermas, “Consciousness-Raising or Redemptive Criticism: The Contemporaneity of Walter Benjamin”, trans. Philip Brewster and Carl Howard Buchner, in: New German Critique 17 (Spring 1979), pp. 30-59, here pp. 56-59.