Online Edition: Winter 2003/2004

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Stories From the City of God

Sketches and Chronicles of Rome, 1950-1966

Pier Paolo Pasolini

edited by Walter Siti

translated by Marina Harss

Other Press ($24)

by Tom Sanfilip

It is difficult to pinpoint the cultural impact of an artist who ranges over so much creative territory in decidedly unique ways; simply approximating their universal importance becomes no small feat for the critic. In the case of Pier Paolo Pasolini—neo-realist Italian film maker, poet, novelist, and Marxist theorist—we have the even trickier task of trying to assess the cross-cultural value of an icon. This iconic status can largely be attributed to his open homosexuality, for Pasolini the inspired source of his Marxist politics, and his mysterious death in 1975 at the hands of an Italian hustler on the beach of Ostia.

These well-edited stories and sketches with Roman back drop, written by Pasolini between 1950 and 1966, include thinly fictionalized accounts of Roman life, wherein the author describes the youth of the city in various stages of awakenings to their selves, their sexualities, and their surroundings. As such, there is almost a voyeuristic quality about stories such as "The Passion of the Lupin Seller" and "From Monteverde Down to the Altieri Theater," as Pasolini describes, often poetically, the source of his fascination with Italian youth.

There are also skillful exercises in self-absorption, especially in many of the non-fictional works such as "The City's True Face" and "The Periphery of My Mind." This latter piece is particularly interesting for Pasolini's explanation for his own preoccupation with the young. "It was need (my own poverty, even if it was that of an unemployed member of the bourgeoisie) that drove me to the immediate human, vital experience of the world which I later described and continue to describe. I did not make a conscious choice, but rather it was a kind of compulsion of destiny."

One of the great virtues of this collection is how editor Walter Siti and translator Marina Harss build Pasolini's perspective into and around the collection as a whole, giving it a cohesion that brings out the literary value of these disparate pieces, which benefit enormously from the light they shine on each other. If anything, however, this collection proves that Pasolini's most polished artistic form was poetry, whereby he was better able to synthesis the disparate sources of his theories and passions. In the end, it is the poetry in his prose that redeems this collection from being merely the fringe fair of an intensely complex Italian writer forever embedded in the landscape of Italian culture.

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Winter 2003/2004 Table of Contents