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Power and Subjectivity in the Late Work of Roland Barthes and Pier Paolo Pasolini


Viola Brisolin

Roland Barthes and Pier Paolo Pasolini were two of the most eclectic cultural personalities of the past century, as elusive as they were influential. Despite the glaring differences between them, they also shared a number of preoccupations, obsessions and creative approaches. Certain themes recur insistently in the works of both men: the pervasiveness of power and the violence inherent in the modernising process; the possibility of freedom and subjective autonomy; and the role of creative practices in a society configured as a desert of alienation. Despite this common ground, no systematic attempt at reading the two authors together has been made before now. This book explores this uncharted territory by comparing these two intellectual figures, focusing in particular on the similarities and productive tensions that emerge in their late works. Psychoanalysis plays a key role in the articulation of this comparison.


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Chapter 3 - From Jouissance to Suspension -137


Chapter 3 From Jouissance to Suspension Introduction In the essay ‘Il cinema impopolare’ contained in Empirismo eretico Pasolini defines the relationship between the author and his audience as ‘un rapporto tra singolo e singolo, che avviene sotto il segno ambiguo degli istinti e sotto il segno religioso (non confessionale) della carità’. Crucially, this relationship is described as being ‘al di fuori di ogni “integrazione”: in un certo senso al di fuori della società (la quale infatti non solo integra lo scandalo dell’autore, ma anche la comprensione scandalosa dello spettatore)’.1 Spectator and film-maker are conjoined in a scandalous alliance. They form a dyad detached from the main social body, and this union is scandalous because the ‘instinct’ binding them together is nothing other than the death drive, a deadly form of jouis- sance: a combination of extreme pain and unbearable pleasure, ‘il “piacere” che si ha in ogni attuazione del desiderio di dolore e di morte’.2 In this essay Pasolini elaborates on the notion, derived from Russian formalism, that literary production involves a series of deliberate deviations from the norms and the stylistic conventions of a genre. In Pasolini’s interpre- tation, though, defamiliarisation is dramatically transformed into masochistic martyrdom. After stating that freedom means only ‘freedom to choose death’ he goes on to argue that every infraction of stylistic conventions is an assault on self-preservation, on everyday language and common perception; in other words, on community itself: ‘ogni infrazione del codice – operazione neces- 1 Pier Paolo Pasolini, ‘Il cinema...

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