Pasolini’s essays are now viewed, with condescension, as typically over the top products of the sixties, when everybody was on drugs. Or something. We are all so much better now.
I myself indulged in the old punk disdain for hippies in times gone by. But my sixties contempt was negated in recent years by the internet habit of archiving – for instance, archiving newspapers. As I go through what, for instance, the NYT was reporting in the sixties, I am amazed at the street brilliance that seems, now, to have so sadly disappeared. In the sixties, the demand for the absolute had not become the demented fundamentalists hope for Jesus’s return – it was the reasonable counterclaim to a world in which nations – the U.S., the Soviet Union – had so elevated their claim to historical importance that they’d stockpiled weapons to end the world if they were attacked. It was all done, of course, without any discussion – better Dead for ever than Red being about as far as the discussion went.
Russia and the U.S. are still dangerously equipped with those weapons, but we have so routinized the hubris that we don’t even notice it anymore.
So the New Left in the developed world was not, really, the product of wackiness – or rather, it was the counter to the ruling, the inutterable and murderous wackiness of the governing class.
Pasolini’s best essays, it should be said, were written after the sixty’s demand for total change ran into the seventy’s administered world of oil shocks and tax breaks for the wealthy. The crisis of capitalism – which is always underneath a political crisis, a crack in the order that ordains the exploitation of the many for the gain of a few – became much too serious, and the intellectual fashionistas, sensing this, went on to discover, like some acid flashback, that the really bad thing was the Gulag. It was either the Gulag or tax breaks for the wealthy, y’all! And so downhill we went, and peeps stopped voting accept for contestants on TV entertainment shows, where, at least, there were a few real issues.
Anyway, Pasolini kept his eye on the total cultural change he saw going on around him. His crow’s eye, the eye he borrowed from the Raven in Poe’s poem. So here’s something to meditate about, from Pasolini’s Corsair writings.
“At present, when the social model being realized is no longer that of class, but an other imposed by power, many people are not in the position to realize it. And this is terribly humiliating for them. I will take a very humble example: in the past, the baker’s delivery boy, or « cascherino » — as we named him here in rome, was always, eternally joyous, with a true and radiant joy. He went through the streets whistling and throwing out wisecracks. His vitality was irresistable. He was clothed much more poorly than today, with patched up pants and a shirt that was often in rags, However, all this was a part of a model which, in his neighborhood, had a value, a sense – and he was proud of it. To the world of wealth he could oppose one equally as valid, and he entered into the homes of the wealthy with a naturally anarchic smile, which discredited everything, even if he was respectful. But it was the respect of a deeply different person, a stranger. And finally, what counted was that this person, this boy, was happy.
Isn’t it the happiness that counts? Don’t we make the revolution in the name of happiness? ? The peasants’ and sub-proletariats’ condition could express, in the persons who lived it, a certain real happiness. Today – with economic development – this happiness has been lost. This means that that economic development is by no means revolutionary, even when it is reformist. It only gives us anguish, anxiety. In our days, there are adults of my age feckless enough to think that it is better to be serious (quasi tragic) with which the e « cascherino », with his long ha ir and little moustache, carries his package enveloped with plastic, than to have the “infantile” joy of the past. They believe that to prefer the serious to laughter is a virile means of confronting life.
In reality, these are vampires happy to see that their innocent victims have become vampires too. To be serious, to be dignified, are horrible tasks that the petit bourgeoisie imposes on itself, and the petit bourgeoisie are thus happy to see to it that the children of the people are also serious and dignified. It never crosses their minds that this is a true degredation, that the children of the people are sad because they have become conscious of their social inferiority, given that their values and cultural models have been destroyed."