Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Eros and Honesty

The Gay Love Letters of
Pier Paolo Pasolini

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

Photograph of Pier Paolo Pasolini Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–75) was a transgressor. His teaching career was ruined in 1949 when political enemies publicized his homosexuality, leading to his trial for seducing three teenage boys, expulsion from the Communist Party and loss of his teaching post. His life on the sexual fringes in Rome is portrayed in his early novels Ragazzi di Vita and Una vita violenta, and most notably in his provocative film Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom, an analysis of Fascism in terms of sexual sadism. The erotic films Trilogy of Life made him famous in the 1970s, and portrayed a world of sexual innocence, paralleling his own longing for an uncomplicated life with "bands of twenty-year-old youths who laugh with their innocent male voices and take no notice of the world around them, continuing along their lives, filling the night with their shouts." His film work, such as the mystical–ideological Teorema, was complemented by numerous controversial articles advocating political and religious reform. A large volume of his homoerotic poetry, including a cycle written for Ninetto Davoli the cute actor who appeared in his films, has not been published. Pasolini had many brief encounters in the suburban cinemas of Rome, in Trastevere, on building sites, and regularly on the via del Tritone. In November 1975 he was murdered by a piece of rough trade he had picked up in Ostia, seventeen-year-old Pino the Frog, who beat him with a nail-encrusted board and then ran over him with a sports car. The Communists claimed he was killed by the Fascists, who had staged the encounter with the hustler to discredit him. This is probably wishful thinking by intellectuals who find a politically motivated death less disturbing than sexual violence. The letters selected relate to Pasolini's first public disgrace which lead to his repudiation of hypocrisy, and are written to Franco Farolfi, his "dearest companion" in his first year at the Galvani liceo in Bologna, where Pasolini's family moved in 1937–8; and to Silvana Mauri, the only woman Pasolini said he "could have loved", a kind of Madonna figure to him, who had written to express her grief at the trial reports in the newspapers.


September 1948]

Dear Franco,
          You don't know what a comfort and what sort of happiness you gave me with your letter. I have been on the point of answering a thousand times to the one in which you alerted me to your illness and have never been capable of doing so, not from cowardice but from selfishness. Perhaps I was happy, who knows, I don't remember. Now that at least potentially you too are at peace and full of life I can treat you as an equal and reply to you even in the maddest. The first thing to say to you is this: I feel as never before my friendship for you, I very much desire to see you. . . .
          I have come to the end of that period in life when one feels wise for having overcome crises or satisfied certain terrible (sexual) needs of adolescence and of first youth. I feel like trying again to give myself once more illusions and desires; I am definitely a little Villon or a little Rimbaud. In such a state of mind if I were to find a friend I could even go to Guatemala or to Paris.
          For some years now my homosexuality has entered into my consciousness and my habits and is no longer Another within me. I had had to overcome scruples, moments of irritation and of honesty . . . but finally, perhaps bloody and covered with scars, I have managed to survive, getting the best of both worlds, that is to say eros and honesty.
          Try to understand me at once and without too many reservations; it is a cape I must round without hope of turning back. Do you accept me? Good. I am very different from your friend of school and university, am I not? But perhaps much less than you think . . .
          Dear Franco, thank fate for your reappearance (by the way are you bald? I warn you that you reappeared to me "blond"), I am full of freshness an expectancy.
          An affectionate hug,
                    Pier Paolo

31 December 1949]

Dearest Franco,
          I shall write to you at length in a few days; meanwhile two words. I have lost my teaching post because of a scandal in Friuli following a charge made against me of the corruption of minors.
          Fortunately we wrote to each other this autumn so the business will cause you less surprise. The thing that cost me the ruin of my career and this tremendous biographical jolt is not in itself very serious; it was all a put-up job due to political reasons. The Christian Democrats and the Fascists seized the occasion [brief membership of the Communist Party] to get rid of me and did it with repugnant cynicism and skill. But I'll tell you about that another time.
          Today is the last day of the year; I have nothing before me, I am unemployed – absolutely without any hope of work; my father is in the physical and moral condition you know of. A suicidal atmosphere. I am working furiously at a novel on which I am building all my hopes including practical ones; I know they are mad hopes but in a kind of way they fill me. In my condition I naturally could not come to Parma. Who knows now when we shall see each other again and I am very sorry because I still feel that I am very fond of you.
          A kiss,
                    Pier Paolo


10 February 1950

Dearest Silvana,
          . . . I cannot yet manage to pass judgement on myself not even, as would be easy, to give a negative judgement, but I think it was inevitable. You ask me to speak to you truthfully and with a sense of shame; I shall do so, Silvana, but when we talk, if it is possible to talk with a sense of shame in a case like mine: perhaps I have partly done it in my poetry. Now since I have been in Rome I just have to sit at my typewriter for me to tremble and not know even what to think; the words seem to have lost their meaning. I can only tell you that the ambiguous life – as you rightly say – which I led in Casarsa I shall continue to lead in Rome. And if you think about the etymology of ambiguous you will see that someone who leads a double existence can only be ambiguous.
          . . . it is not possible for me nor will it ever be possible to speak of myself with shame: and instead it will be necessary often to stand in the pillory because I do not want to deceive anyone – as basically I deceived you and other friends who talk about an old Pier Paolo or of a Pier Paolo who has to be a new self.
          I do not know what to understand by hypocrisy but now I am in terror of it. Enough half-words – the scandal has to be faced, I think St Paul said . . . I think in this connection that I want to live in Rome precisely because here I shall be neither an old nor a new Pier Paolo. Those who like me have been fated not to love according to the rules end up by overvaluing the question of love. A normal person can resign himself – that terrible word – to chastity, to lost opportunities, but in me the difficulty in loving has made the need for love obsessive: the function made the organ hypertrophic when, as an adolescent, love seemed to me an unattainable chimera: then when with experience the function had resumed its proper proportions and the chimera had been deconsecrated to the point of being the most miserable daily matter, the evil was already inoculate, chronic and incurable. I found myself with an enormous mental organ for a function which by now is so negligible that only yesterday – with all my misfortunes and my fits of remorse – there was a uncontainble despair for a boy sitting on a low wall and left behind for all time and in all places by the tram as it went along. As you see I am talking to you with extreme sincerity and I do not know with how much shame. Here in Rome I can find more easily than elsewhere the way of living ambiguously, do you understand? and at the same time the way of being entirely sincere, of not deceiving anyone as I would end up doing in Milan: perhaps I am telling you this because I am discouraged and place you by yourself on the pedestal of someone who is able to understand and feel for me: but the fat is that up to now I have not found anyone as sincere as I would wish. The sexual life of others has always made me ashamed of mine: is the wrong all on my side? It seems impossible to me. Understand me, Silvana, what I have most at heart is to be clear to myself and to others – with a clarity that has no half measures, is ferocious. It is the only way to make me forgive that terrifyingly honest and good boy which someone in me continues to be. . . . I intend to work and to love, both desperately. But then you will ask if what has happened to me – punishment, as you rightly call it – has been of no use to me. Yes, it has been of use but not to change me and even less to redeem me; but it was of use to me to understand that I had touched bottom, that the experience had been exhausted and I could begin from the beginning but without repeating the same mistakes; I have liberated myself from my iniquitous and fossil perversion, now I feel lighter and my libido is a cross, no longer a weight that drags me down to the depths. . . . There are moments when life is open like a fan, you see everything in it, and then it is fragile, insecure and too vast. In my statements and in my confessions try to catch a glimpse of this totality. My future life will certainly not be that of a university professor; by now I bear the mark of Rimbaud, or Campana [Dino Campana, 1885–1932, called "an Italian Rimbaud", who died in a mental home] and also of Wilde, whether I want it or not, whether others accept it or not. It is something uncomfortable, annoying ad inadmissible, but that is how it is; and I, like you, do not give in. . . . I have suffered what can be suffered, I have never accepted my sin, I have never come to terms with my nature and have not even become used to it. I was born to be calm, balanced and natural; my homosexuality was something additional, was outside, had nothing to do with me. I always saw it alongside me like an enemy, I never felt it within me. Only i this lat year I let myself go to some extent; . . . the search for an immediate pleasure, a pleasure to die in, was the only escape. I have been punished for it without pity. But this too we shall talk about or else I shall write to you about it more calmly, now I have too many things to say to you; I shall add right away in this connection a detail: it was at Belluno when I was three and a half (my brother was not yet born) that I felt for the first time that most sweet and violent attraction which then remained within me – always the same, blind and sinister like a fossil.
          It did not yet have a name but was so strong and irresistible that I had to invent one myself: it was "teta veleta" and I write it for you trembling, so much does this terrible name invented by a child of three in love with a boy of thirteen frighten me – this name which belongs to the fetish, the primordial, the disgusting and the affectionate. . . .


February 1950]

Dear Franco,
          I have taken a long time to reply to you and am now doing so because it would be shameful if I postponed it again. But I do not feel like talking to you about my case, I am fed up with it, overburdened. Perhaps you are dramatizing the scandal a little too much; its importance is purely practical in that I am left without a job, without hope of work, and with my family in the condition you know of. Yes, the most serious problem is ow that of finding any kind of job, even as a worker. . . . As for the scandal, I have digested it; after all I had a right to this scandal, didn't I? In this world incredible things like this happen. Think what a frightening mechanism can form in the brain of an unfortunate like me: sex-prison, love – having one's face spat at, tenderness – the brand of infamy. . . .
          And you? Your girls, about whom you talked to me so candidly without knowing that for me every word on the subject was a mortal wound? Have you solved it, the insoluble problem of sex? It is a figure which increases in a geometric progression with each unit you subtract from it; only with death will the zeros turn up. . . .

SOURCE: The Letters of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Volume I: 1940–1954, ed. Nico Naldini, trans. Stuart Hood (London: Quartet Books, 1992), reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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