Monday, 17 September 2012

We Are All In Danger: the last interview with Pasolini

This interview took place on Saturday, November 1, 1975, between four and six in the evening, a few hours before Pasolini's assassination. I want to emphasize that the title as it appears was his, and not of my own making. As a matter of fact, at the end of the conversation, which, as in the past found us on opposite sides of certain points, I asked him if he wanted to give me a title for the interview. He thought about it a while, said it was not important, changed topic, and then something brought us back to the subject that had emerged time and again in the answers that follow. “Here is the seed, the sense of everything - he said -. You don’t even know who, right at this moment, might be thinking of killing you. Use this as a title, if you like: ‘Because, we are all in danger.’”

Furio Colombo: Pasolini, in your articles and in your writings you have given various accounts of what you detest. You have carried out a solitary struggle against so many things: institutions, trends, people and power. So as to make things easier I will refer to it all as the “situation,” by which you know that I mean the whole of which you generally battle. Let me propose one objection. The “situation,” with all its evils as you describe it, also contains all that makes Pasolini possible. What I mean is that, even with all your talent and merit, your tools are provided by the “situation”: publishing, cinema, organization, even objects. Let’s say that yours is a magic thought. One little gesture and everything that you detest disappears. What about you, then, would you not be left all alone and without any of the tools you need? I mean, the means or tools of expression, I mean…

Pier Paolo Pasolini: I understand. But I not only attempt to achieve that magic thought process, I believe in it. Not as a way to mediate with the world, but because I know that by constantly hitting the same nail on the head one can possibly make a whole house fall down. We find a small example of this among the Radical Party, a motley crew who is able to influence the whole country You know that I don’t always agree with them, but I am about to leave right now for their conference. Most of all, it’s history that gives us the best example. Contestation has always been an essential act. Saints, hermits and intellectuals, those few who have made history, are the ones who have said “no,” not the courtesans and Cardinals’ assistants. So as to be meaningful, contestation must be large, major and total, “absurd” and not in a good sense. It cannot merely be on this or that point. Eichmann had a good lot of good sense. What was he lacking then? He did not say “no” right away, at the beginning, when he was a mere administrator, a bureaucrat. He might have said to some of his friends “I don’t really like Himmler.” He might have whispered something, the way it’s done in publishing firms, newspaper offices, in sub-government, in the newsrooms. Or he might even have objected to the fact that some train had stopped once a day for the deported to do their business, for bread and water, when two stops might have been more practical and economic. But he never stopped the machine. And so, there are three arguments to make here: what is what you call the “situation,” why should we halt it or destroy it, and how?

FC: Well, describe the “situation” then. You know very well that your observations and your language are like the sun shining through the dust. It’s a beautiful image, but things are sometimes a little unclear.

PPP: I thank you for the sun image, but expect much less than that. All I want is that you look around and take notice of the tragedy. What is the tragedy? It’s that there are no longer any human beings; there are only some strange machines that bump up against each other. And we intellectuals look at old train schedules and say: “strange, shouldn’t these trains run by there. How come they crashed like that? Either the engineer has lost his mind, or he is a criminal. Or, even better, it’s all a conspiracy.” We are particularly pleased with conspiracies because they relieve us of the weight of having to deal with the truth head on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, while we are here talking, someone in the basement were making plans to kill us? It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s the resistance. We might lose a few friends, but then we’ll gather our forces and wipe them out. A little for us, a little for them, don’t you think? And I know that when they show Paris is burning on TV everyone sits there with tears in their eyes, wishing only that history would repeat itself, but cleanly and beautifully. The effect of time is that it washes thing clean, like the walls of a house in the rain. It’s simple, I’m on this side, and you’re on the other. Let’s not joke about the blood, the pain, the work that people then too paid with so as to “have a choice.” When one keeps one’s face flat against that hour, that minute in history, choice is always a tragedy. But let’s admit it, it was easier then. With courage and conscience, a normal man can always reject a Fascist of Salò or a Nazi of the SS, even from his interior life (where the revolution always begins). But today it’s different. Someone might come walking toward you dressed like a friend, very friendly and polite, but he is a “collaborator” (let’s say for a TV station). The reasoning goes that first of all he needs to make a living somehow, and then because it’s not like he’s hurting anyone. Another one, or others, the groups, come toward you aggressively with their ideological blackmail, their admonitions, their sermons, and their anathemas that are also threats. They march with flags and slogans, but what separates them from “power”?

FC: Well, what is power in your opinion? Where is it? How does one cause it to reveal itself?

PPP: Power is an educational system that divides us into subjects and subjected. Nevertheless, it is an educational system that forms us all, from the so-called ruling class all the way down to the poorest of us. That’s why everyone wants the same things and everyone acts in the same way. If I have access to an administrative council or a Stock Market maneuver, that’s what I use. Otherwise I use a crowbar. And when I use a crowbar, I’ll use whatever means to get what I want. Why do I want it? Because I’ve been told that it is a virtue to have it. I am merely exercising my virtue-rights. I am a murderer but I am a good person.

FC: You have been accused of not being able to make political or ideological distinctions. It is said that you have lost the ability of differentiating the sign of the deep difference that there is between Fascists and non-Fascists, among the new generations for example.

PPP: That’s what I was talking about when I mentioned the train schedules before. Have you ever seen those marionettes that make children laugh so much because their body faces one direction while their heads face another? I think Totò was quite adept at such a trick. Well, that’s how I see that wonderful troop of intellectuals, sociologists, experts and journalists with the most noble of intentions. Things happen here, and their heads are turned in the opposite direction. I’m not saying that there is no Fascism. What I’m saying is: don’t talk to me of the sea while we are in the mountains. This is a different landscape. There is a desire to kill here. And this desire ties us together as sinister brothers of the sinister failure of an entire social system. I too would like it if it were easy to isolate the black sheep. I too see the black sheep. I see quite a lot of them. I see all of them. That’s the problem, as I said to Moravia: given the life I lead, I pay a price… it’s like a descent into hell. But when I come back - if I come back - I’ve seen other things, more things. I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m saying that you always find yourselves changing topic so as to avoid facing the truth.

FC: And what is the truth?

PPP: I’m sorry I used that word. What I wanted to say was “evidence.” Let me re-order things. First tragedy: a common education, obligatory and wrong, that pushes us all into the same arena of having to have everything at all costs. In this arena we are pushed along like some strange and dark army in which some carry cannons and others carry crowbars. Therefore, the first classical division is to “stay with the weak.” But what I say is that, in a certain sense, everyone is weak, because everyone is a victim. And everyone is guilty, because everyone is ready to play the murderous game of possession. We have learned to have, possess and destroy.

FC: Let me go back to the first question then. You magically abolish everything. But you live from books, and you need intelligent people who read… educated consumers of an intellectual product. You are a filmmaker and, as such, you need large venues (you are very successful, and are “consumed” avidly by your public), but also an extensive technical, managerial and industrial machine that is in the midst of it all. If you remove all of this, with a sort of magical paleo-catholic and neo- chinese monasticism, what’s left?

PPP: Everything. I am what is left, being alive, being in the world, a place to see, work and understand. There are hundreds of ways to tell the stories, to listen to the languages, to reproduce dialects, to make puppetry. The others are left with much more. They can keep pace with me, cultured like me or ignorant like me. The world becomes bigger, everything is ours and there is no need to use the Stock Market, the administrative council or the crowbar to plunder. You see, in the world that we dreamed about (let me repeat myself: reading old train schedules from either a year or thirty years ago), there was the awful landlord in a top-hat and dollars pouring out of his pockets, and the emaciated widow and her children who begged for mercy, as in Brecht’s beautiful world.

FC: Are you saying that you miss that world?

PPP: No! My nostalgia is for those poor and real people who struggled to defeat the landlord without becoming that landlord. Since they were excluded from everything, they remained uncolonized. I am afraid of these Black revolutionaries who are the same as their landlords, equally criminal, who want everything at any cost. This gloomy ostentation toward total violence makes it hard to distinguish to which “side” one belongs. Whoever might be taken to an Emergency Ward close to death is probably more interested in what the doctors have to tell him about his chances of living than what the police might have to say about the mechanism of the crime. Be assured that I am neither condemning intentions nor am I interested in the chain of cause and effect: them first, him first, or who is the primary guilty party. I think we have defined what you called the “situation.” It’s like it rains in the city and the gutters are backed up. The water rises, but the water is innocent, it’s rainwater. It has neither the fury of sea, nor the rage of river current. But, for some reason, it rises instead of falling. It’s the same water of so many adolescent poems and of the cutesy songs like “singing in the rain.” But it rises and it drowns you. If that’s where we are, I say let’s not waste time placing nametags here and there. Let’s see then how we can unplug this tub before we all drown.

FC: And to get there you would want everyone to be ignorant and happy little unschooled shepherds?

PPP: Put in those terms it would be absurd. But the educational system as it is cannot but produce desperate gladiators. The masses are growing, as is desperation and rage. Let’s say that I’ve flung a boutade (but I don’t think so), what else can you come up with? Of course I lament a pure revolution led by oppressed peoples whose only goal is to free themselves and run their own lives. Of course I try to imagine that such a moment might still be possible in Italian and world history. The best of what I imagine might even inspire one of my future poems. But not what I know and what I see. I want to say it plain and clear: I go down into hell and I see things that do not disturb the peace of others. But be careful. Hell is rising toward the rest of you. It’s true that it dreams its own uniform and its own justification (sometimes). But it’s also true that its desire, its need to hit back, to assault, to kill, is strong and wide-ranging. The private and risky experience of those who have touched “the violent life” will not be available for long. Don’t be fooled. And you are, along with the educational system, television, your pacifying newspapers, the great keepers of this horrendous order founded on the concept of possession and the idea of destruction. Luckily, you seem to be happy when you can tag a murder with its own beautiful description. This to me is just another one of mass culture’s operations. Since we can’t prevent certain things from happening, we find peace in constructing shelves where to keep them.

FC: But to abolish also means to create, unless you too are a destroyer. What happens to the books, for example? I certainly don’t want to be one of those people who is anguished by the loss of culture more than for people. But these people saved in your vision of a different world can no longer be primitive (an accusation often leveled at you) and if we don’t want to repress “more advanced”…

PP: Which makes me cringe.

FC: If we don’t want to fall back on commonplaces, there must be some sort of clue. For example, in science fiction, as in Nazism, book burning is always the first step in the massacres. Once you’ve shut down the schools, and abolished television, how do you animate your world?

PPP: I think I already covered this with Moravia. Closing or abolishing in my language means, “to change.” But change in a drastic and desperate manner such as the situation dictates. What really prevents a real dialogue with Moravia, but more so with Firpo, for example, is that somehow we are not seeing the same scene, we don’t know the same people, and that we do not hear the same voices. For you and them, things happen when it’s news, beautifully written, formatted, cut and titled. But what’s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It’s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don’t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts.

FC: Why do you think that some things are so much evident for you?

PPP: I don’t want to talk about myself any more. Maybe I’ve said too much already. Everyone knows that I pay for my experiences in person. But there are also my books and my films. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll keep on saying that we are all in danger.

FC: Pasolini, if that’s how you see life - I don’t know if you will accept this question - how do you hope to avoid the risk and danger involved?
It’s late, Pasolini did not turn on any lights and it’s become hard to take notes. We look over what I’ve written. Then he asks me to leave the questions with him.

PPP: There are some statements that seem a little too absolute. Let me think about it, let me look them over. And give me the time to come up with a concluding remark. I have something in mind for your question. I find it easier to write than to talk. I’ll give you the notes that I’ll add on tomorrow morning.

The next day, Sunday, Pasolini’s body was in the morgue of the Rome police station.

Translated by Pasquale Verdicchio