Pier Paolo Pasolini and the 'injunction to enjoy'

The transcript of a talk delivered on 23/02/22 with Luke Copp during the UCU strikes.

H. Jordan
1st July 2022
Pier Paolo Pasolini (right) with Giuseppe Zigaina (Italian neorealist painter and author) (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
The notion of Capital’s capacity to dissolve and subsume culture finds its starkest diagnosis in The Communist Manifesto
[Capital] has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of Philistine sentimentalism in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value and, in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom— free trade. In one word; for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. 
(Marx & Engels, 1988, p. 211-212) 

Here, for better or worse, capitalism is identified as a de-sanctifying and de-sentimentalizing force. However, for every code unpicked by economic exigencies, a new code, that of market-viability, is installed and enforced. Mark Fisher, writing in 2009, states:  

“When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and redefined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter's film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.” 
(Fisher, 2009, p. 6) 

Pasolini, writing in Italy in the early '70s, saw this process reach a disturbing new intensity: — a degree of comprehensiveness resulting in what he termed an ‘anthropological mutation’, or, brutally, ‘anthropological genocide’. 

This stood in contrast to the modus operandi of the old power, which Pier Paolo identified with the Clerico-Fascist regime— stretching from nominal fascism to the reign of the Christian Democrat Party —in which power principally operated in a prohibitive register. 

This exercise of power, and attendant social organization, principally found its support in what Pasolini calls the paleo-industrial era (the peasantry being a holdover of this pre industrial era), the primary function of authority and its apparatuses (the police, etc.) being to discipline the subjugated labour force so as to maintain the organization of relations of production. In this form capitalism was by no means totalising, but rather conserved at its margins a certain class and therefore culture— the peasantry —with its own traditional practices and values. The bourgeoisie and institutional authorities would formalise said practices and values, bringing them to bear on the subjugated classes (the peasantry, the proles) in an alienated and repressive form.  

“Mythified, falsified, made horrendous at the level of power, they remained real at the level of the power-dominated world — a world which had remained in practice overwhelmingly peasant and artisan.” 
(Pasolini, 1987, p. 35) 

The expansion of industry marks a substantial transformation of this social organization: the output of commodities and the forces of production rapidly increase: the mode of production changes quantitatively. This quantitative transformation necessarily entailed a superfluity of commodities (consumer goods) and the excess capacity of productive forces, the very pre-conditions of what Marx termed a ‘crisis of overproduction’, wherein the ease of producing goods would decimate their economic value and thus endanger bourgeoise accumulation.  

Thus, according to Pasolini it was no longer viable for power to operate in the prohibitive and disciplinary register, but instead to translate itself into a permissive register. 
New domains of commodity production and consumption had to be opened up, a process which entailed a necessary supersession of those institutions and modes of life operating on traditional norms and prohibitive taboos: almost every possibility, aside from those that threaten economic hegemony, was to be opened up as a possible venue to exploit and enjoy.   

‘Mass culture cannot be an ecclesiastical moralistic and patriotic culture: for it is directly bound to consumption, which has its own laws and its own ideological self sufficiency, capable of automatically creating a power that no longer needs the church, the fatherland, the family or other similar superstitions’ 
(Pasolini, [corsair], June 10th

Power thus had to introduce a new model. This model would neither be that of the peasantry, the proletariat, the sub-proletariat or the traditional middle class— instead a universalised, homogenised, and as yet unnamed new kind of bourgeoise: “The same womb now gives birth to all Italians.”  

“The middle classes have radically anthropologically changed, their values are no longer clerical and sanfedist values but the values of the hedonistic ideology of consumerism… It was Power itself by way of the development of the production of superfluous goods, the imposition of mania for consumption, fashion, information (above all, most impressively, television) — that created these values” 

And further: 

“that peasant and paleo-industrial Italy has collapsed, it has been vanquished, it no longer exists, and in its place there is a vacuum that probably awaits being filled by a complete bourgeoisfication, of the type that I mentioned above” 

“The sons of the middle classes are therefore privileged insofar as they give these values reality and in so doing (uncertainly and therefore aggressively) set themselves up as examples for those who are economically unable to do the same and who are reduced to being ghostly and ferocious imitators.”  
(Pasolini, 1987, p. 118) 

However, such a transformation would be an uneasy one: whereas power previously called for a form of obedience (however ‘rowdy’), and thus could be resisted by means of ‘disobedience’, the new power calls for obedience in the form of what is in-name-alone ‘disobedience’: one is enjoined to rebel, transgress, etc. precisely insofar as the economic ordering of society remains uncontested. Thus, not only is an individual in said societies driven to differentiation from his contemporaries whilst nonetheless conforming in an absolute sense, but they are driven to neurosis by an ever shifting boundary of possibilities that must, apparently, be exploited.   

“a [kind of] society that is tolerant and permissive is the one in which neuroses are most frequent, insofar as such a society requires that all the possibilities it allows be exploited, that is, it requires a desperate effort so as not to be less than everybody else in a competitiveness without limits” 

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AUTHOR: H. Jordan
Second Year Philosophy student with an interest in aesthetics, politics, ethics and their intersections.

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