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

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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 5 - The Novel: Project, Fantasy, Violence -227

Extract

Chapter 5 The Novel: Project, Fantasy, Violence Toward the Novel Cultural and personal mourning are deeply intertwined in Pasolini’s and Barthes’s intellectual and emotional lives. For both of them, one of the ways in which the dejection of mourning and the bewilderment associated with loss are expressed, is through recurring references to a symbolic predecessor: Dante. Dante’s famous incipit ‘Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita’1 becomes a leitmotiv for the last Barthes, preoccupied with finding a way beyond grief. The ‘selva oscura’ represents, in Barthes’s situation, the dark torpor of mediaeval theology: acedia, or the tedium paralysing the mourner and preventing him from ever savouring the joys of life and creation again. ‘Le milieu de la vie’, the point at which Dante is plunged into the entrails of psychic darkness – hell – is not, as Barthes insists, a moment that can be determined chronologically in the life of each of us – a mathematical half-way point between birth and death. The ‘middle of life’ is rather a symbolic watershed experience whose significance is twofold: it entails the gloomy perception of life as unlivable, as a mechanical and senseless repetition of sterile gestures; but it also contains the spur to a new mode of existence, to a novel organisation of experience.2 In the first half of the 1960s Pasolini conceived a book project that, after a very long and tormented gestation, was eventually published in 1975. The dif ficult preparation of La divina mimesis is ref lected in its structure, or rather...

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