Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was a major cultural figure in post-WW2 Italy, well known as a poet, novelist, communist intellectual, and filmmaker.
In Danger is the first anthology in English devoted to his political and literary essays, and includes a generous selection of his poetry.
Against the backdrop of post-war Italy, and continuing through the mid-'70s, Pasolini’s writings provide a fascinating portrait of a Europe in which fascists and communists violently clashed for power and journalists ran great risks. The controversial and openly gay Pasolini was murdered at fifty-three; In Danger includes his final interview, conducted hours before his death, as well as the cryptic litany "What Is This Coup? I Know," which many suspect motivated his murder.
Here also are Pasolini’s essays on cultural topics like hippies and Zen buddhism, literary discussions of writers like Italo Calvino, Marianne Moore, and Costantine Cavafy, and even a 1967 interview between Pasolini and Ezra Pound concerning Pound’s relationship to the contemporary Italian avant-garde.
The poetry ranges from early works written in the Friulan dialect through his later lyric blasts against fascism.
In Danger is edited and introduced by internationally renowned poet Jack Hirschman, who also edited the enduring City Lights classic Artaud Anthology. Translated by several hands, including Hirschman and well-known rocker Jonathan Richman, In Danger is essential reading for anyone interested in Pasolini’s brave lyricism and critical insight.
When Lawrence Ferlinghetti asked me if I would like to put together as editor and participating translator an anthology of the works of Pier Paolo Pasolini, I was both delighted and honored. Over the past dozen or more years, no Western poet’s work has interested me more than has Pasolini’s. In the mid-Nineties I wrote a rather long “Arcane” on the meaning of his life, his poetry, and his assassination; and about a decade later, for the 2004 American presidential election, I composed another “Arcane” using the murder of Pasolini and the resurrection of his voice to mount an attack on the war-dogs in Washington. Both those works, to one degree or other, were also inspired by the wonderful translations of Pasolini’s Roman Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Francesca Valente, published by City Lights in 1986 (and again in 2006), one of the very best books that the press has ever published.
Over the past 20 years, many of Pasolini’s poems have appeared in translated collections, and a dozen years ago the Castro Theater in San Francisco dedicated two weeks to showing virtually all of the many films he created, because Pasolini is primarily known to the world of cinema aficionados and the general intelligentsia as a “poet” in the art of movie-making. Interestingly enough, however, the dynamism and profound meaning of his written ideas—as they relate to the times we live in—are not as well known to an American readership. This anthology hopes, in a small way (because the body of his prose and theoretical writing is almost as immense as the body of his poetry), to help with a deeper understanding of his ideas, and of their importance.
Pasolini was a creative dynamo in the 53 years of his life and, had he not been assassinated in 1975, I have no doubt that he would have continued writing, with the lucid integrity and passions that are at the heart of his work, to this very day (magari!). He embodies an extraordinary fusion of creativity: a poet in his depths, an intellectual of a rare literary and political brilliance and polemical insight, a filmmaker who helped revolutionize that form in Italy and throughout the world, a playwright of great power, and a formidable painter as well.
Pasolini was 21 when the fascist regime fell in Italy. After the war, he entered the Italian Communist Party in the small town of San Giovanni, near the town of Casarsa in the northeastern area of Italy known as Friuli, where he had been raised. In fact he soon became the head of the local chapter and, in the Pasolini Museum, in the very house where he lived, I’ve seen a large poster written in the Friulian language with child-like printed letters, which Pasolini composed as a call to peasants and workers. Pasolini was however expelled from the Party after a short time. A homosexual, he was discovered in an assignation with a couple of other young men. The times could hardly bear that; the Party also could not. He was forced to flee Casarsa for Rome.
But he remained a communist till his dying breath. And, as an “outsider” within the revolutionary turmoil and struggle in Italy after the war, studying and being intellectually inspired by the writings of Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party who died in Mussolini’s prison, Pasolini developed not simply as a poet but as the sounder of alarm with respect to the age of consumerism, which he predicted with prophetic accuracy would contaminate the working class with middle-class values, and create an endemic hedonism and pornographic banality that, along with the tragedy of drugs, would mask a fascism much more difficult to dispense with than the fascism of the Thirties and Forties.
Had Pasolini remained in the orthodoxy of the PCI, I doubt that he would have arrived at such insights. In effect, as a poet, he developed into a provocateur and prophet—the two elements (provocation and prophecy) that are the basis of all his writings, whether poetry or prose. His thrust was toward independent insight while at the same time defending to the core the plight of the poor and marginalized—in Italy as well as the Third World countries he visited. And even when some of the positions he takes seem contradictory, or his views of this or that poet or writer seem myopic or “off the wall” (as in his takes on Pablo Neruda or Charles Olson, for example), there is hardly a paragraph of prose or a stanza of poetry that doesn’t contain Pasolini’s uniquely provocative and prophetic modernity. We who are living in the technologically-driven stage of a neo-capitalism that is both rapacious in the extreme and crumbling from within, and who are witnessing a globally new class of poor, new abolitionists stirring for the battle against worldwide economic slavery, will be inspired by Pasolini’s lucid insights and feelings about both personal and political life, whether or not we agree with them.
This anthology is in five sections. Its title comes from the last two words of an interview he gave Furio Colombo on November 1, 1975, a few hours before he was brutally murdered.
The texts are presented chronologically in each section. The first section is made up of some striking pieces of his prose, including the opening “Civil War,” which concerns Pasolini’s visit to New York in 1966. His insights into American revolutionary life and struggle—not merely in the sixties but valid even today—urged me to open the book with this text.
The second section is a selection of his poems, from 1941 to 1963, two of them in the Friulian language (in which Pasolini also wrote throughout his life), and many which have not appeared before in the American language.
The third section is of literary essays and reviews of books written in the last three years of his life. Published in newspapers and literary magazines, they are presented to show that, in every literary form, Pasolini kept up an intense sociopolitical awareness and engagement with revolutionary struggle. These particular essays were chosen to reflect the wide range of subjects that obsessed him, including: consumerism, fascism, war, sex, violence, and, of course, good (or bad) writing.
The fourth section is another selection of poems, from 1964 to 1971.
The final section consists of two texts: his well-known “I Know” litany (which text some say was one of the reasons he was assassinated) and the interview Pasolini gave on the last day of his life.
This book would not have been possible without a brilliant array of translators. They include Lucia Gazzino, a poet of Udine, Italy, who writes in both Italian and Friulian and who translated Pasolini’s Friulian poems; Pasquale Verdicchio, a poet in San Diego who’s not only translated Pasolini in the past but also written a suite of poems dedicated to him; Giada Diano, who’s from Reggio Calabria and is writing a book on Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s European experiences; Flavio Rizzo, a filmmaker who’s documented Pasolini on the screen and teaches comparative literature at Queens College in New York; and Veruska Cantelli, likewise a teacher of comparative literature at Queens College, who’s also a modern dancer. Also from New York, the poet Norman MacAfee, who is renowned for his translations of Pasolini’s poems, has contributed the translation of “Victory” that he made with the Italian documentary filmmaker Luciano Martinengo. From San Francisco, the musician-singer Jonathan Richman, working with Jacopo Benci, has translated a number of pieces; Susanna Bonetti, a librarian at the Erik Erikson Psychoanalytical Library, has contributed the opening work; and I myself round out the team of translators. My thanks to all of them for their contributions to this anthology.
Sometimes, almost exclusively
in Pasolini’s prose essays, I’ve changed a colon to a comma, as Pier
Paolo often wrote his sentences using colons rather than commas between
clauses, as explanatory extensions. My changes are simply to actualize
a more lucid experience for a readership not used to Pasolini’s unorthodox
manner of punctuation.
Some of these translations have appeared in City Lights Review, Left Curve, Brick, Partisans (Deliriodendron Press), and the Parenthesis Writing Series. My thanks to their respective editors.
Edited by Jack Hirschman - Introduction by Jack Hirschman Cover photo by Angelo Novi