This essay focuses on the representation of the worker in one of the major examples of Italian political cinema—The Working Class Goes to Heaven (Elio Petri, 1971)—by proposing an approach that looks at the worker as a figure. The essay argues that a figure should be understood as the point of dialectical articulation between figuration and its opposite, namely, disfiguration. A figure comes into existence as the intersection between a form and its undoing, and is best described as a process in which figuration and disfiguration are not in a reciprocal position of inoperative externality, but one participates in and presupposes the other and vice versa. By way of this dialectic, the image doesn’t just aim to represent reality, but thinks the possibility of the emergence of a political subject. In Petri’s film, this political subject—the worker—is at the same time the protagonist of radical political struggle and the victim of an irreversible crisis due to the capitalist restructuring of production. In this quasi-schizophrenic split the essay locates the snapshot of the decline of a once-hegemonic figure that is slowly losing its centrality with the advent of a new form of capitalist organization.


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pp. 72-95
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