Fictions of Youth: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Adolescence, Fascisms by Simona Bondavalli (review)
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Reviewed by
Simona Bondavalli. Fictions of Youth: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Adolescence, Fascisms. University of Toronto Press. xii, 276. $32.95

Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar's 2009 film Le ceneri di Pasolini attempted to assess the magnitude of Pier Paolo Pasolini's intellectual and artistic achievements by foregrounding his extraordinary ability to expose the fallacies and contradictions of Italian society. In the four decades since he was murdered, Pasolini's multimedia oeuvre has continued to inspire a variety of artists, and has been the subject of an enormous wealth of scholarly inquiry from a multitude of approaches and theoretical frameworks, which has consolidated his reputation as one of the most, if not the most, important mid-century Italian intellectuals.

By conducting a comprehensive longitudinal investigation into his relationship with youth, Simona Bondavalli skillfully overcomes the challenges faced by the scholar charged with the onerous undertaking of producing yet another critical volume on Pasolini. Her engaging book is articulated in six chapters that, proceeding in chronological order, disentangle the different stages (both biographical and artistic) in Pasolini's variable thoughts and reflections on youth, understood simultaneously as a category of citizenry and as a biological state; as Bondavalli describes, "Youth embodies this contradiction: an extremely transitory state, which poetry elevates to an absolute condition." Because of its inherently ephemeral nature, youth was to Pasolini the privileged site for a life-long artistic and intellectual inquiry that aimed at revealing the inadequacy of his coeval political and social thought, which failed to respond to the needs of a changing (neocapitalist) society. Bondavalli traces the origins of Pasolini's interest in youth, one that is tinged with nostalgia for its impermanence, to his early years as contributor of the journals Architrave and Il setaccio, highlighting the subtle yet significant differences between his notions and those of his colleagues and contemporaries. The scholar then moves on to Pasolini's borgate novels (Ragazzi di vita and Una vita violenta), which she frames as critiques of both the individualistic bourgeois values upheld by the Bildungsroman and the neorealist faith in the perfectibility of the world through class struggle. The sharp exegesis of the post-war period contained in these novels is juxtaposed with the transition to the turbulent 1960s via the economic boom. Pasolini's response to the worried reportages on the Americanization of (Italian) youth culture is the nostalgic Friuli-set 1962 novel Il sogno di una cosa, which biographically precedes the borgate novels (it was written in 1949–50 and completed in the early 1960s) and "offers an image of youth as a trans-historical signifier of innocence and a positive force of innovation." Bondavalli aptly situates this work in the context of the "New Resistance" of 1960–61 and highlights the gender imbalance embedded in the discourse of politically active youth, to which Pasolini was not altogether immune. In the fourth [End Page 131] chapter the author tackles the films Comizi d'amore (1963) and Uccellacci e uccellini (1966), couching her discussion in Pasolini's concurrent observations on language, poetry, and cinema, all the while navigating with grace and authority the treacherous waters of medium specificity. The volume's pivotal section, consonantly with Pasolini's career, is the discussion of the artist's ambivalent relationship with the 1968 students protests, famously expounded in the poem Il PCI ai giovani, which contains "his critique of the Sessantotto [and] indicates a concern with the transformation of society and his own poetic and political role therein." Distancing himself from what he considered a bourgeois rebellion, in Teorema (1968) Pasolini lays out the foundations of an attack on the neocapitalist world that "succeeds through the revolutionary power of the young body" of The Visitor (played in the film by Terence Stamp). This project is extended into the central metaphor of Porcile (1969), an indictment of consumer modernity that, in a way, lays the foundations for Salò (1975), in which "no longer displaced or idealized, youth ceases to stand for something other than young bodies" (215).

As Bondavalli states in the introduction, the book does not engage with the youth Pasolini encountered in his travels. Given the remarkable critical achievements of the volume, this reviewer hopes that...


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