Posts tagged ‘Pasolini’

18 October 2012

I am a force of the past

For copyright reasons, while editing En abîme I had to omit quoting many poems in full. I’ll be posting some of them here. This is the poem by Pasolini that appears throughout the book, and that is read by Orson Welles in La ricotta:

I am a Force of the Past.
My love lies only in tradition.
I come from the ruins, the churches,
the altarpieces, the villages
abandoned in the Appenines or foothills
of the Alps where my brothers once lived.
I wander like a madman down the Tuscolana,
down the Appia like a dog without master.
Or I see the twilights, the mornings
over Rome, the Ciociaria, the world,
as the first acts of Posthistory
to which I bear witness, for the privilege
of recording them from the outer edge
of some buried age. Monstrous is the man
born of a dead woman’s womb.
And I, a fetus now grown, roam about
more modern than any modern man,
in search of brothers no longer alive.

2 October 2012

facts around En Abîme / 1. Mike Cooper, Rome, Melville, Pasolini. another layer

On 4 September 2012, a few weeks before the publication of En Abîme, I receive an email from Mike Cooper from Rome, saying he’d been walking along the river Tiber and had come across some pages from Melville’s diaries and Pasolini’s poems “that are attached to the wall along the Tiber as part of an installation that has been there for some years. The pieces (maybe you know them?) are set in huge glass boxes attached to the stone walls quite close to Castel Sant’Angelo – over the years they have been abused and nature has had a hand in transforming them into something other than what they started out as – now they resemble something the Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies might have made. Good luck with the book – I look forward to reading it.”

Although I lived in Rome for over ten years, I was never aware of those journals and poems under damaged glass boxes. And yet some of those quotes appear in my book. And Mike, in turn – who appears as a faint reflection at the end of the photo sequence below – is not aware of the fact that he is too in my book, in the same pages as the quotes by Melville and Pasolini that he came across and posted to me.

En Abîme, of layers and surfaces, receives pictures of more layers and surfaces, dust, leaves, pages. Overground and buried.

[all pictures by Mike Cooper, September 2012]

Rome: “uncertain shape like of a fire / in the fire of a New Prehistory”.

28 September 2012

En Abîme is published today

En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing. An Archival Fiction is published today by Zero Books:

En Abîme explores listening and reading as creative and critical activities driven by memory and return, reshaped into the present.
The narrator revisits, at different points in time, a number of places in Rome – the Protestant Cemetery sung by Pier Paolo Pasolini in
The Ashes of Gramsci, via Appia, the Catacombs – and attaches onto them a series of connections to her archive of poetry, music, literature. The words of Herman Melville in Rome, Pasolini’s verses and films, a number of songs and poems build up a mise en abîme; knots of visions and densities of prose are juxtaposed with sparse moments of stillness, as the book zooms in and out of the archival fiction of a city, morphs into criticism and abstraction, and back into a literary landscape.
En Abîme
appears as a trace of the experience that made it, in a contingent present singular.

‘…poetic, incisive, grounded in politics and history yet continually pushing at the edges of what we now consider to be sound. She interrogates notions of music and the shifting experience that is silence with a freshness and coherence that is inspiring’.
David Toop, author of Ocean of Sound, Haunted Weather and Sinister Resonance

‘…compulsive and fast, rushing with you through textual territories that seem spoken, direct and contemporary while being nostalgic – invoking a past that creates the present tense’. Salomé Voegelin, author of Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art

You can read an extensive interview about the book on Earroom:

Review copies are available from:

6 July 2012

a deposition

In Rome today I walked, from the Protestant Cemetery to via Appia. Across trains shrieking and crowds rumbling in the streets, across the uneven rhythm of sirens, the roar of engines, the ceaseless hissing of people’s iPods, across the coarse texture of the city noise, a train of thoughts unwinds along my journey.

With great lucidity I recall a certain painting from the sixteenth century and with it the stupor that overcame me when I first saw it in a book at school. A Deposition: my eyes first encounter those of the young man who holds not just the heavy body of Christ, but the entire composition. No cross appears in the picture: this painter always hides the props. It seems that he does not need any architectural or structural grip to state his vision. All exists on the surface. The sky is defined only by a little cloud; only by a pale bit of ground, the earth. The colours one would expect in a landscape are transposed within the shapes of people: not only in their clothes but also in their skin, as if to reinforce the flatness of this surface and the non-hierarchical arrangement of its patterns. A face is scarlet as the burning of a silent fever, another yellowy green as of dry leaves. Pallid, pastel, pain-stricken poses seem to fix these figures in a cloud of melancholy rather than in the pangs of loss. Only their glances flee. No angular lines: all is soft curves, yet caught in unnatural poses. The modulation of hues and tones calls for focus and displaces. The contours do not constitute the volume of the forms, but prevent them from gaining volume. This is not painting and movement, this does not hint at sculpture and monumental balance. Classical forms here are devoid of any depth; they exist in their spiralling rhythm. This picture is resolved in the tempo of its shapes and this is a painter of visual poems.

The figure of Christ is bent in a double curve and swollen. His torso, a lump of pink flesh. The face is not that of an eruptive cadaver but of a still body. Against a barely-there sky, at some point this entire surface seems to bow down, almost to lean toward me. None of the ten figures in the scene, spiralling, none of them keeps watch over Christ: either their eyes are averted, or they look at me out of the surface, stuck in their impossibility of roundedness. The Virgin wears a cloak of the colour of the sky: there is no real sky in this painting, the sky is in her cloak. She is stuck pensive in her hushed lyricism. Maybe she is just about to sob.


The Deposition by Pontormo, kept in the church of Santa Felicita in Florence, was revisited by Pier Paolo Pasolini in a tableaux vivant featured in his short 1963 film La ricotta, shot in a site off via Appia in Rome.
In Pontormo’s painting each face and each figure is arranged within the logic of the plane and evened out in an appearance of sublime grief. In Pasolini’s film the sublime grief descends back to earth and the flatness gains volume out of the manners and the expressions of the people enacting the scene: the poor, the prostitute, the rich actress, the old man, all with their faces and postures, most of all with their direct presence. Human, and yet removed: La ricotta is a short film staging the shooting of a film, where the representation of the Passion of Christ is interwoven with the story of hungry Stracci, an extra who ends up being crucified – both literally, and symbolically. Orson Welles plays the film director, Pasolini’s actors of choice play the real people who play the saints and the real people in the Passion, the Roman suburbs play a scenario of golden stillness.

Be still!, shouts the voice of the director to the people in the film, who are staging the tableaux vivant reproducing Pontormo’s painting. You can’t move, you are the figures in an altarpiece! And yet they move; and yet the close-ups of the camera capture their most human gestures, they pry on the moments where hieratic poses merge into ordinary expressions, where solemnity is touched by distraction. Then the entire construction falls down, clumsy, and everyone laughs. Pasolini’s oxymoronic vision spans the two extremes; it distils the innermost essence of human nature into a glimpse of beauty, soon to be corrupted and to fall apart. In his representation of Pontormo’s painting he reveals the tangible and the unspeakable together, as one shakes the other in a vision of stillness before crumbling down.

31 May 2012

Informing Aural Memories / A Diptych, pt. 2

2. The Next Day
An aural experience past, tangled with the forming and the informing of a memory: what is retained of it in writing? What does writing do to the aural memory?
Today I read a sentence by Paul Klee from 1928: ‘There are some problems to be posed, such as: the construction of the secret’ … [read more]

[part 1]

23 April 2012

painting, allegory, speech / Salvator Rosa, Dante Alighieri, Pier Paolo Pasolini

Not having much to write around music and sound these days, I turned to painting and poetry, philosophy and allegory. I knew I would found my way back into listening. Here are some initial notes, only a beginning:


                                                             Poetry, oil on canvas, c. 1641                                                                      

Philosophy, oil on canvas, 1640

Poetry holds a notebook and a quill. She is just about to write something, but glances backwards, toward me, with brooding eyes. Is that page the space of knowing that some truth somewhere exists? Have I just caught her writing? Is poetry that space caught between my guessing and her glance? Is poetry that woman’s face?

Philosophy is also troubled, his face so dark. He does not write though, his words have been written already – carved, it seems: ‘Aut tace Aut loquere meliora silentio’. ‘Keep silent unless what you are going to say is more important than silence’. Is philosophy this constant oscillation between an absolute silence, and the tension to say something so heavy that is heavier and more loaded than silence?

As it were, the real titles of these paintings are not Poetry and Philosophy, but Lucrezia as Poetry and Self-Portrait as Philosophy. The Italian 17th-century painter Salvator Rosa, author of both paintings, used a portrait of his lover alongside his self-portrait to give shape to his allegorical representations of Poetry and Philosophy. As if the two could not be without a relationship, a tension in between. It is not ‘poetry’ and ‘philosophy’ as absolute categories that he seems most concerned with, but poetry in the face of Lucrezia, philosophy in the shape of Salvator. Unique human beings, lovers; their glances and their gestures, engaging in a silent dialogue, outlining a changeable territory of seduction, and breakups, and attractions.

Looking for singular faces and catching the singular expressions of my Lucrezia Poetry and of my Salvator Philosophy, I imagine the possible words between them, or between me and each of them. I think of their singular expressions, one by one, I lose myself in a word, or in an inflection of the eye, rather than looking for any universal meaning or lines of demarcation beyond them. I am thrilled when I realise that a certain black in Salvator’s eyes is the same hue as Lucrezia’s. Or that they might share the sky above. Or that he is stuck in the immobility of his frontal posture, while she is all torsion and enclosed dynamism.

Both paintings are known to art historians as allegories. So: allegory. I could start with a Medieval saying:

Littera gesta docet,
Quod credas allegoria
.  .  .  .  .

The literal sense teaches what happened,
The allegorical what you believe
.  .  .  .  .

And with the excuse of being Italian, I would move to one of my favourite writers with no further justification: Dante Alighieri. In the Letter to Can Grande della Scala, he writes of the Divine Comedy: ‘The subject of the whole work, then, taken literally, is the state of souls after death, understood in a simple sense; for the movement of the whole work turns upon this and about this’.

For the movement of the whole work turns upon this and about this: the literal side, understood in a simple sense. What is remarkable is the emphasis on the literal truth as a foundation for any other levels of meaning. So perhaps I should look at these two paintings again in detail, and not think of Poetry and Philosophy at all, but of the faces and the bodies of Lucrezia and Salvator: literally. They seem to be inscribed in the same shade of grey, although more or less abstract in form. What happens when a poem is inscribed within a philosophical text? When thought flows into poetry?

I go back to another book by Dante. The Convivio is a treatise dedicated to Lady Philosophy; it is a book on knowledge, and it is full of poems. Furthermore, it is written in volgare, not in Latin: in 14thcentury Italy, Latin was the language of philosophy and vulgar was the language of the people, of songs, of poems. Philosophy is impersonated as a woman Dante loves; the proximity between philosophy and poetry is resolved by intersecting the argument in the text with a number of poems, and through a metaphor in which knowledge is a banquet, and the food is poetry, and the bread that goes with it is philosophy.
One of the poems in the Convivio, entitled Amor che nella mente mi ragiona, Love that converses with me inside my mind, ends up like this:

My song, it seems you speak contrary to
Words spoken by a sister whom you have;
For this lady, whom you claim to be so humble,
She calls proud and disdainful.
You know the sky is always bright
and clear,
and of itself is never clouded.
And yet our eyes, for many reasons,
Sometimes say a star is dark.
Likewise when she calls her proud,
She views her not according to the truth
But only as what she seems to her.
For my soul was full of fear,
And still is, so much that everything I see
Seems proud, when she casts her gaze on me.
So excuse yourself, should the need arise;
And when you can, present yourself to her
And say: ‘My Lady, if it is your wish,
I will speak of you in every place’.

Canzone, e’ par che tu parli contraro
al dir d’una sorella che tu hai;
che questa donna, che tanto umil fai,
ella la chiama fera e disdegnosa.
Tu sai che ‘l ciel sempr’è lucente e chiaro,
e quanto in sé, non si turba già mai;
ma li nostri occhi, per cagioni assai,
chiaman la stella talor tenebrosa.
Così, quand’ella la chiama orgogliosa,
non considera lei secondo il vero,
ma pur secondo quel ch’a lei parea:
ché l’anima temea,
e teme ancora, sì che mi par fero
quantunqu’io veggio là ‘v’ella mi senta.
Così ti scusa, se ti fa mestero;
e quando poi a lei ti rappresenta,
dirai: ‘Madonna, s’ello v’è a grato,
io parlerò di voi in ciascun lato’.

‘I will speak of you in every place’: could I think of the space opening up between philosophy and poetry as the space of speech? An utterance that is not necessarily delivered to destination, but that resounds nonetheless, and forms a space, makes the form of its understanding?

Now I think of Pier Paolo Pasolini in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, near the tombs of Antonio Gramsci and Percy Bysshe Shelley, before he wrote his poem The Ashes of Gramsci. Published in 1952, the poem breathed an elegiac and sensuous feel into the tight structure of a Dantesque terza rima. In these verses, Pasolini appears constantly torn between the moving force of thinking as a changing form and the pressing call of his aesthetic inclinations as the making of a shape.

Like Pasolini sitting in the Protestant cemetery and speaking out the words of Gramsci and the words of Shelley through his own verses, wondering how the words of the two could breathe and exist in the same ancient rhythm, what is spoken out appears as a space of osmotic exchange that brings poetry and philosophy together and makes them alive: resounding.

… – thus lives the I: I
alive, eluding life, while the feeling grows
of a life becoming grieving
violent oblivion … Ah how well
I understand, silent in the wind’s wet
humming, here where Rome is silent,
among wearily agitated cypresses,
next to you, Spirit whose inscription resounds
Shelley …

… vive l’io: io,
vivo, eludendo la vita, con nel petto
il senso di una vita che sia oblio
accorante, violento… Ah come
capisco, muto nel fradicio brusio
del vento, qui dov’è muta Roma,
tra i cipressi stancamente sconvolti,
presso te, l’anima il cui graffito suona
Shelley …

5 March 2012

Pasolini in En abîme

Pier Paolo Pasolini in En abîme is a lyrical presence.

I wasn’t interested in dissecting his oeuvre but in showing how some very specific accents of it modulate my landscape. He is never at the centre of discussion – rather, he is at the edges of a series of scenarios, as a fading-out frame around Gramsci, the Protestant Cemetery, via Appia, Giovanna Marini, Pontormo. Out of this frame his voice appears, either in absentia – disembodied in La ricotta, evoked in Giovanna Marini’s Lament for the Death of Pasolini – or by means of verses, of poems, of rhymes taken from The Ashes of Gramsci and from Poetry in the Shape of a Rose.


15 February 2012

where? / the foreigners’ dark garden

Walter Crane, The Grave of Keats, 1873


18 October 2011

from the outer edge of some buried age

Pier Paolo Pasolini, La Ricotta, 1963

11 October 2011


Pasolini in front of Gramsci’s tomb, Protestant Cemetery, Rome

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