Book Review: The Resurrection of the Body, by Armando Maggi

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The Resurrection of the Body: Pier Paolo Pasolini from Saint Paul to Sade, by Armando Maggi, (University of Chicago Press, 2009) is an extremely rigorous study of Pasolini’s final works: the screenplay Saint Paul, the scenario for Porn-Theo-Colossal, the immense and unfinished novel Petrolio, and his notorious final film, Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, an adaptation of the writings of the Marquis de Sade.

The murder of Italian filmmaker, writer and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini near Rome thirty-five years ago shocked Italy, and is still considered by many to be one of the more painful moments in Italian contemporary history. Not unusually for an Italian crime, it is considered unresolved even though someone went to jail for it. Seventeen-year-old Giuseppe Pelosi confessed to murdering Pasolini. Thirty years later, on 7 May 2005, he retracted his confession, which he said was made under the threat of violence to his family. Even before Pelosi’s recantation, however, theories of all sorts had been spun and elaborated around Pasolini’s death. These various theories, proposing either that he was killed by right wing thugs because he was a Communist, or that he was killed by extortionists who’d stolen rolls of his film Salo, or even that he staged his own death, confer on Pasolini a political or artistic martyrdom that, while not denying his homosexuality, minimize the role that it played in his life and work.

In this study, Maggi explores the ramifications of Pasolini’s homosexuality and his  apocalyptic view of Western society, which he considered to be entering a dark age. In addition to placing Pasolini’s homosexuality back within the context of his artistic work and theory, Maggi makes the point that it’s wrong to label Pasolini an orthodox Communist. In fact, Pasolini’s critique of capitalism was secondary to his dislike of conformity and conformists. Pasolini understood that even counter-cultures can eventually demand an extreme degree of fitting in, and Maggi argues that to some extent Pasolini has become a victim of his own non-conformity. The Resurrection of the Body does more than providing a close reading of Pasolini’s texts; it gives back to Pasolini the complicated intelligence and individuality that well meaning academics and left wing idealists have so often found the need to simplify.

Armando Maggi is Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Chicago. He is author of several books and numerous essays.

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