Thursday, November 02, 2006

Still More Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief. ~ Pier Paolo Pasolini

I wrote earlier that I didn't think Pasolini was "wrong", but that his vision is limited and perhaps backwards, and I'd like to expand on that a bit more. Picking up that Girardian lens again, I'd like to note that one of his observations is that understanding religious thought requires an empirical approach. From Violence and the Sacred:
In its simplest, perhaps most elementary form, religion manifests little curiosity about the origins of those terrible forces that visit their fury on mankind but seems to concentrate its attention on determining a regular sequential pattern that will enable man to anticipate these onslaughts and take measures against them.

Religious empiricism invariably leads to one conclusion: it is essential to keep as far away as possible from sacred things, always to avoid direct contact with them. Naturally, such thinking occasionally coincides with medical empiricism or with scientific empiricism in genteral. This is why some observers insist on regarding religious empiricism as a preliminary stage of science.
Much more could certainly be said on these subjects, as indeed Girard does in the book, but my concern here is with Pasolini, and the point I was making in the previous post is that the Catholic priests in Porcile seem to be sacralizing violence that will lead back to the cyclical pattern rather than taking measures agains future onslaughts. But of course we could easily find evidence to support Pasolini's vision: popes blessing armies, "believers" torturing "unbelievers", and just plain complicity with evil of all kinds. Certainly there has been a lot of research in this area, so I won't bother going into it here. In fact somewhere, or rather in several places Girard has remarked on "historical Christianity" (I think I have that right), in which a good number of confessors and professors of the Christian faith really don't understand the nature of God's gift to humanity, and in missing the point perpetuate the evil which they have been called to transcend, as Christ was able to transcend it.

It certainly shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that many Christians don't live up to the name, and I think it surprises Christians least of all.

How is this important to understanding Porcile? Well, it's reasonable to see that Pasolini is offering us a view of "religion" in general, with no distinction between Christianity and paganism - Christianity being "religion" generally because it has, historically speaking, been the dominant religion. Indeed, if one accepts it as the one, true faith, I think one has to accept that even as one differentiates it from other faiths, there are plenty of well intentioned (if unreligiously minded) people who will naturally see the accrual of evils perpetuated in the name of all religions to the one religion that should be different. But it isn't always different. In short, I think Pasolini is giving us a version of the "historical Christianity" criticized by Girard, the Christianity of Constantine, the Borgias, Torquemada, all those German Catholics who turned their backs on the death camps, and all the Catholics who even now defend abortion, and so on to the end of time. If I have a problem with Pasolini's presentation, it's that he presents "historical Christianity" as a kind of myth, and we all know how myths are easily taken for truth.

Which is why Pasolini's vision seems to me limited. It's not wrong, because he really has hit on the truth about the uglier side of Christianity, and Catholicism in particular. And since perhaps the darkest theme in the film concerns the cannibalism practiced by the Young Warrior (of which he speaks in a mantra on the way to his death), it may even be that the priests are defending the people against the spread of a barbarism that they know is the exact opposite of true worship (the Eucharist is not a form of cannibalism). Certainly the irony of a cannibal being staked out on the ground to be devoured by wild boars (sorry, dogs) carries a sense of poetic justice: in the end he is eaten by what he regards as a second course, at best. What impresses the viewer is the extreme violence of the film, first perpetrated by the Young Warrior, and then by the society that must defend itself against him. Violence perpetrated by society might be necessary, but not in the way it is delivered here, and its justification is that it is blessed and overseen by the priests.

It's a curious form of nostalgia.


Blogger Quin Finnegan said...

And I still haven't written about the title!

4:36 PM  
Blogger The Red Pants of Justice said...

Hi Quin!

You know, I envy your ability to produce such eloquent posts so frequently! This is really a very belated reply to the comment you so kindly left over at Define Normal a couple of months ago. I'm afraid that work and that thing called life in general has been so crazy that I haven't even looked at my blog since the summer. Literally.

I'm really grateful for your interest in the RPOJ, and while indeed you'll appreciate that anonymity is important when trying to nurtutre an air of international mystery and intrigue, I'd be delighted to put some of my stuff on Youtube maybe, and send you a link? It could only be something small and that I have the rights too, natch, but let me have a think.

And as to film reccomedations, well that's always such a tough question. Like the old top ten films/ songs/ books question that people inevitably ask eachother when given enough time to fill, and that I always find so difficult to answer. But as a matter of fact I was having an conversation with a friend of mine over a pint the other day, that rather comes to mind here. The idea was to pick five films to take with you to a desert island - not necessarily the films that you think are the best, or that you'd even put in one of those elusive top ten lists - but those that either you'd miss the most, or that you'd most want as company. After much deliberation (and a considerable amount of 'either/or' style cheating) I picked the following. 1. Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (which is my favourite film, all things considered - a work of genius as unique to the medium as I can think of). 2. Woody Allen's Manhattan, Shadows and Fog or Everyone Says I Love You (whichever came to hand first). 3. Jim Jarmuch's Dead Man or Coffee and Cigarettes (I can't decide - Dead Man is an incredible experience, but at least two segments of C&G contain such delightful perfection within their shortness and simplicity); the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail (both of which are pure joy that still make me weep with laughter); and a cheesy but magnificently inventive old Hammer film called Vampire Circus (which is somehow put together in such a way that has gives the effect of a film that one has fallen asleep during, and watched partly through a surreal and slightly uncomfortable dream. Despite the plastic teeth and a very rum dwarf). Will that do for starters?

As to getting my work submitted somewhere, well I'd really love to, but to be completely honest I'm not really sure how to go about it. I probably should do, given that my other half - the lovely Mata Hari - is a journolist! A friend of mine was sweet, and optimistic, enough to recommend it for the 'blog of the week' in one of the London papers the other day. Even if I remotely qualified, my inexorably sparse output would surely disqualify me. Ah well, perhaps I can back to posting when things have calmed down a bit, next month. I certainly miss it.

Anyway, keep up the good work,


12:03 PM  

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