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5 June 2023

Pier Paolo Pasolini in other languages – Part Three

Martine Van Geertruijden (University 'La Sapienza', Rome)

Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s relationship with France has been and still is one of the most passionate and enduring. For some insight into his relationship with the French intelligentsia, we can recall a conversation he had with Sartre, following the controversial screening of The Gospel According to Matthew in Paris in 1964, when the two famously met at the Café du Pont- Royal, where the author of La Nausée defended Pasolini against left-wing intellectuals who challenged him; or Foucault’s review of Love Meetings in Le Monde in 1977; or Gilles Deleuze’s commentary, which saw in Heretical Empiricism (1976) one of the most relevant philosophical texts of the second half of the 20th century in Italy. These testimonies however once again highlight that, even in France, the focus of attention was predominantly on Pasolini’s work as a filmmaker.

Although his novels were published very early (The Ragazzi and A Violent Life, translated by Michel Breitman, came out in 1958 and 1961 respectively, published by the small publishing company  Buchet-Castel), it was with the screening of The Gospel According to Matthew that Pasolini entered the French debate. After the translation of A Dream of Something (Angélique Levi, 1965, which brought him to Gallimard, who later became his main publisher), his real popularity came with the release of Theorem in 1969, hailed as a masterpiece by François Mauriac. The novel bearing the same title, however, was not translated until ten years later by José Guidi (although this book, one of the most widely translated, was published immediately after the film’s presentation at the Venice Film Festival in 1968, no doubt due to the controversy it aroused in Germany, Brazil and Japan, but also in other countries, such as Denmark, Poland, and Finland, where little to no attention were later given to the rest of Pasolini’s production). All of this publishing activity is linked to Pasolini as a filmmaker, and, despite the close relations he had with French intellectuals (often through his friend Maria Antonietta Macciocchi), the real discovery of Pasolini the poet, novelist and polemicist came only after his death, which was widely reported in the French press and deeply heartfelt in that country. From 1975 onwards, French translations often followed Italian publications without much delay. Corsair Writings (Philippe Guilhon) and Heretical Empirism (Anna Rocchi Pullberg, who also translated Lutheran Letters, 2000) appeared in 1976; in 1980, The Divine Mimesis (Danièle Sallenave), The Savage Father (José Guidi) and Dialogues en public, 1960-1965 (François Dupuigrenet-Desroussilles); In 1983 Amado mio and in 1984 Descrptions de descriptions and The Scent of India (René de Ceccatty, who later also translated Petrolio in 1995 – of which a new and expanded edition was  published in 2006 – Stories from the City of God in 1998). With José Guidi for his poetry and Jean-Paul Manganaro for the recent retranslations of his two main novels, René de Ceccatty has in fact established himself as the main French voice of Pasolini, also proposing and translating several volumes of poems in recent years: Adulte? Jamais: une anthologie 1941-1953 (2013), La Persécution: une anthologie, 1954-1970 (2014), Poésie en forme de rose (2015) and The Religion of my Time (2020). De Ceccaty has also deepened our knowledge of Pasolini through his translations of two Italian biographies, Enzo Siciliano’s Pasolini, biographie (1991), and Nico Naldini’s Pasolini: une vie (1996), as well as the Correspondance générale: 1940-1975 (1995). Finally, he published his own Pasolini in 2005, expanded and updated on the occasion of the centenary of the writer’s birth, incorporating, in particular, the new elements that have emerged from the various investigations into the writer’s murder. Finally, a special mention goes to the daring French translators of Pasolini’s Friulian texts, Nathalie Castagné and Dominique Fernandez, for Poèmes de jeunesse et quelques autres (1995), and Vigji Scandella for Poèmes oubliés (1996) and Dans le cœur d’un enfant (2000).


German readers too have access to much of Pasolini’s work today, but once again the chronology of translations shows a reception with rather peculiar traits. Firstly, when compared to other countries, the date of publication of The Ragazzi, in Mosche Kahn’s translation, is striking: 1990, more than thirty years after its publication in Italy. It is also significant that this novel only came out in 1992 in Dutch (Jongens uit het leven, translated by Henny Vlot), while I am not aware of it being translated into any Scandinavian language, where Pasolini’s bibliography is in fact still scarce and often limited to a few poetic or essayistic anthologies. Sweden stands out for a slightly richer bibliography, particularly with respect to poetry and plays: as early as 1975, Gramscis aska (The Asches of Gramsci) translated by Arne Lundgren, was published by the small publishing house René Coeckelberghs Bokförlag as part of a poetry series, “Tuppen på berget – Rooester on the Mountain”, headed by Artur Lundkvist, which published eight titles in that same year, including Borges, Éluard, and Guillén. In the “Cartaditalia Bokserie series”, created in Stockholm by Paolo Grossi in 2010, came the translations of Amado mio (Gustav Sjöberg, 2010) and Pylades (Carl Henrik Svenstedt, 2012). This lack of interest in the themes of Pasolini’s prose, i.e. the state of economic and moral destitution in which people lived on the fringes of urban centres, icons of a newly emerging consumerism, is rather significant. Clearly, these Italian social, political, and aesthetic issues were far removed from the cultural debate in countries where the death of peasant civilisation was a foregone conclusion. 

Back to Germany, apart from A Violent Life, translated by Gur Bland in 1963, the only translations from that period is that of A Dream of Something, Der Traum von einer Sache, which, not by chance, came out in 1968 in the then-GDR (translated by Hans Otto Dill) and was only picked up in the West in 1983. Even more significant is the release of Teorema oder Die nackten Füße (translated by Heinz Riedt) in 1969, a sign that here too Pasolini was discovered and appreciated above all as a filmmaker.

Things changed in Germany mainly thanks to a prominent publisher, Klaus Wagenbach who, in 1978, fell in love at first sight with Pasolini: ‘As soon as I read Corsair Writings I called Garzanti. They told me that I was the sixth German publisher to ask for an option on the rights. To make a long story short, when the other publishers read his anti-bourgeois, anti-Catholic, anti-communist articles, they withdrew one by one. And I published that wonderful crazy head of Pasolini’. The first edition (Freibeuterschriften, translated by Thomas Eisenhardt) was a resounding success; this time the polemic against consumerism, the idea of anthropological mutation etc. met with German sensibilities, especially the Green Party’s, for whom it became a kind of Bible. But above all, from then on, Wagenbach and other publishers worked hard to catch up, first publishing non-fiction (1979 KetzererfahrungenHeretical Empirism, transl. by Reimar Klein; 1983 LutherbriefeLutheran Letters, transl. by Agate Haag, and Auswahl: Literatur und Leidenschaft, Passione e ideologia, which the Germans are, as far as I know, the only ones to have translated), but then also poetry, with Gramsci’s Asche, finally translated by Toni and Sabina Kienlechner in 1980, followed two years later by an anthology, Unter freiem Himmel, with excerpts from all his poetry collections and, in 1989, Die Nachtigall der katholischen KircheThe Nightingale of the Catholic Church (translated by Toni and Bettina Kienlechner). Prose is also now available in German with Barbarische Erinnerungen. The Divine Mimesis, in 1983, Amado Mio (1984, translated by Maja Pflug), Ali mit den blauen Augen, (1990, translated by Bettina Kienlechner and Hans Peter Glücker), Petrolio, (1994, translated by Moshe Kahn) and Geschichten aus der Stadt Gottes (Stories from the City of God, 1996, translated by Annette Kopetzki). Just like in France, his correspondence (1991, Briefe (1940-75), translated by Maja Pflug) and biographies by Enzo Siciliano and Nico Naldini are also available.

This reasoned review is limited for now to the European and American continents. In conclusion, it appears evident that in every country considered, particularly in certain periods, embarrassment or scandal, Pasolini’s peculiar religious thought, and all his other characteristic traits (homosexuality, civil and political commitment, polemical impulsiveness) have profoundly conditioned the ways in which his work was distributed and received abroad. Both of these aspects should be studied separately, taking into account not only the titles being translated, but also the publishing houses that published his work and the how the press, on the one hand, and university critics, on the other, received his works.

A final reflection is necessary at this time, in light of the countless events organised for Pasolini’s centenary. It now seems that, in many countries, what attracts the public to Pasolini is, more than his filmmaking work, his role as an intellectual who examines social changes, the past and the present, and somehow accomplishes the rare feat of providing a comprehensive reflection on culture. This is also demonstrated by the thematic anthologies, including prose and verse, which cropped up almost everywhere, focusing primarily on the theme of anthropological mutation, and on the critique of a society conditioned by economic development and the influence of the mass media. I will mention, in conclusion, the Spanish anthology, Manual corsario, which aims to trace a journey through Pasolini’s extensive work, alternating the author’s most significant texts with short biographical essays and critiques by specialists.