with mention of Rochelle Goldberg, part 1; Emile Nolde, Raphael, Ibsen’s Rubek, Julian Schnabelm, part 2.
rev., Mar 15-17, 2020.
In the excellent movie, Teorema (1968) by the, to me, highly erratic Pasolini, apart from explaining the whole movie, especially the more open part about how by his experience the son in the family is made over into an artist, a very curious sequence occurs when the maid, after Terence Stamp departs household, also departs, unable to work there anymore, and she goes home to the Commune. There is a very big houseplant on the way out, bespeaking evil
The world outside the house is pictured as overscaled, vast, industrial, a kind of modern desert, this shot all but rear projecting her outofitness
But, then, once there, she sees where she is from, what her family waiting for her, always having waited for her to return, look like, peering at her, so she just can’t, she pauses
then she walks over to a bench in the Commune, and sits down
and she sits there for days
In this situation, in her silence, she becomes a kind of mad saint, like St Simon Stylites, people come to see her
there is a candle to make of her an intercessional being, a votive offering is made to her.
like anything, like the currrent coronavirus lockdown descending on the world of today (it seems strange to write that in a March that was entirely unforeseen in January), if it lasts a day, OK, a few days it gets weird; a week, panic, a month, it is something out of the norm, maybe even supernatural. At one point, it seems that the peasant class, much discussed in Italian film in the 60s, will suffer (Pasolini seems to have believed, if I gather right from comments in the beginning of this movie, and in his narration for Il Rabbe (1963), that the rise of the bourgeoisie has been so complete there is no more class war, but that as a result the peasants will simply return to religion, it is hard to say, he was such a contrary Catholic, if he is pro or con here, I think pro, the people come to her soon enough as a saint
in this group of people there is a test, a blue boy, no foolin’, a real blue boy, who has some form of a skin rash
she stares at him
his skin seems to clear
she makes the sign of the cross
his skin clears up! it’s a miracle!
all the people now believe, they kneel
this image by Pasolini of the blue boy looks an awful lot like the Brangolin pictures of the Crying Boy, which became the subject of an urban legend in the UK in the 1980s (Brangolin churned out these tourist pictures in Venice)
they also echo, today, on Joker (2019), though I suppose this is a remote quote by way of a trope’s widespread nature.
The Blue Boy signifies that the boy in the house is in trouble; but also that he is the Wrongful Scapegoat, that is, he is not guilty, but he will suffer for the crime. It is possible that Pasolini knew of the scapegoat dimension of the blue boy, in any case, it identifies the peasantry as the primary victim of the change going on in society, then, here, the immediate beneficiary; but, ultimately, Pasolini seems to be saying, the ultimate victim of the maid here becoming as if the opposite of Legion in Gerasa as described by Girard, but the Commune’s pharmakon, in which all things supernatural are harbored, is the Commune. Things, then, get worse or better for her, she is now tended too by children, it is as if her miracle has made her a patron of the well-being of the children
later, we see that she floats, ascending over the Commune (this is Pasolini’s whole all-is-now-bourgeosie, class war is over, it’s a return to primitive religion again theme, I think), which is wild, now she becomes a sensation
the bell, often rung for various reasons in Italian towns, to signal this or that, here signals that a miracle has occurred, that the supernatural has come into the town.
but then she has her mother go off with her to then find an appropriate spot to immolate herself, that is, bury herself in the dirt of a construction site, and the mother does
they leave the world of the agricultural commune, to go back into the new world of industry
and there, in a pit
she immolates herself, that is, has herself buried
A similar scene happened earlier, as Silvana Mangano is having trouble living on in her empty life after she claims Stamp opened the world up to her. So, she too must leave her protected zone where the world is depicted in capricious ways on the surfaces of her life, here pilgrims
She too goes out into the world
She is caught, that is, in a spell of twinfire, going to pick up male hookers who look like him, then pretending that sex with them is like sex with Stamp, but it isn’t (the statue behind him says that she is in a palliative zone of formalism, a formal likeness will, she thinks, be enough.
She makes, if I may say so, a nice pickup, with nary a word
In the room, a few pictures tell us it is not exactly what she is after
then, after that, she keeps going, it becomes a mad way of life, at one point, she has one pretty boy drive her out of Milan into the country, to make it secret, they see a remote, isolated church
they go there, they go around the back, against the wall
but even that is not secret enough, or equal to her sense of abjection enough, so he is like, let’s go here, and here a beautiful upper class woman in 60s fashion in her prime lets herself be laid by a hooker in a pit of dirt, the same fate.
afterwards, she regrets it, even runs back to the church, to ask for forgiveness, I suppose, but it does not seem to work (I am not interesting in going through every step of the process here).
Pasolini has a protoptyical relationship to the ground, to, that is, prototype space, it is almost religious, his belief is that beneath the cobblestones, there is a desert, or, in his case, the side of Mt Etna, where the husband, the master of industry, ends up wandering, naked, in the desert.
Every move that any “civilized” person makes in conscious modern life is really, for Pasolini, a primal need, happening in the desert of being, below our modern life.
Where this is, is not entirely clear.
I place Pasolini with Tobe Hooper and others of his era, as a late modernist, seeking the endzone of things, the last word, of a discourse of seeing the world which was coming to an end in the 1970s. For them, there was conscious life, then there was REM dream space, or nightmare, nothing in between.
thus, when they, from on high of consciousness, acknowledging none of the in-between places that I think their movies nonetheless were intimating the presence of, they had their Eyes Wide Shut horror-struck gaze, they saw a drop so precipitous, it was bottomless; they also saw only nightmare and too irrational REM dream, nothing else. As a result, they paused, with existential dread. Then, at least Pasolini’s mind went lateral, to expand out from this Eyes Wide Shut, ever seeking lower ground, to the most basic, primal thing modern man could so, that is, he moved out into the ambient and sentient spaces, but lateral to the interstitium, or consciousness, and at each membrane, or parenthesis that one passed through, there is only screaming, nothing beyond, pure terror.
but, Mangano did not quite go into this primal state, like the maid did, who turned into, in fact, a saint; but then, too, Mangano in an urban fashion more or less ended up in the same place, but as if precipitated from that ascension space, and here we have yet another function repeated in consciousness which I have found in both hypnagogy and vigilogogy. If you end up prostrate on the “beach” on the edge of the in-between, between waking and dreaming, but, then, look back up over your right shoulder, you will see far off a vision of a fata morgana land, and it is that projection which becomes as it were one’s vision of society, from your extreme POV. I have explained that a fata morgana is seen from St Etienne, a spot lateral to hypnagogy, looking up over vigilogogy, this is genuine fata morgana; it is not quite the same thing, but I still call it fata morgana, for vigilogogy, and Werner Herzog is in particular obsessed with that fata morgana space, his far projection of the world as it ought to be (by averting his gaze, Herzog is an early postmodernist). But, from consciousness, from abjection, at the edge of the utter pitch blackness below, there is a stranger, more severe fata morgana, as of course Pasolini’s obsession with desert, and his situating his Oedipus and Medea in remote desert locations, in a primitive prototype world, indicates, this is a space I will, in fact, naming after the actress who discovered it, the silvana mangana (sic) space.
It is, of course, funny, I suppose, that when Giotto, I think it is
at the end of the Decameron (1975), an uneven movie, he has a morning dream, a fantasmata
and there on a cliff in front of him, Pasolini has set up a living tableaux
he sees the sinners, naked
of the ascension of the virgin, with all the elements of the scene, and, even, no foolin, Silvana Mangano making a cameo as the virgin, proof enough, he looks to a place that is like the fata morgana but which floats aside the interstitium.
A fantasmata, as worked out in the middle ages, as quoted by Roscher, was when you toss and turn, so the presumption is a type of insomnia, mulling over a problem. But this is one of those problems that you sleep on, to see if a solution comes in the night. What happens, then, based on what I know from the various forms that light dream takes in various stages is that the mind as if after a bout of insomnia similar to the Night Mirror formation, has a shallower drop into the glass onion level, sent spinning by the hall of mirrors effect of the preceding insomnia, and this converts the usual formations of the glass onion, nonsensical abstract stichomythiac back-and-forths with no solution into spun solutions for all that then to reknit and to be made sense of to then be conveyed into the head of the sleeper on his bed in the lattice, for him then, almost as depicted above by Pasolini, with his feet out, his head up, staring, to arrive at wakefulness, but in a groggy state of wonder, the problem solved, the waking up to the solution, and it is all clear. (This is really much more like Herzog’s notion of the fata morgana, an ambient-sentient counterculture seen over the shoulder of vigilogogy, that the other type, the silvana magana (sic) from consciousness, even though she makes a cameo, but this is where I think we are).
In any case, in two instances, we have characters that were part of the life they were living, an as if cypher scapegoat, but waker-upper, a clarion creature, enters their life, (note, I have just thought of the term, the opposite of a scapegoat is a bespeaker!) to shake everything up; then they all depart, one caught in twinfire, one to become a saint, and for Pasolini I have to make use of my old style system graphs, as these persons are broken out of the schema redoubts of their sequestered world, their empty lives in that world, then broken out upon the wide world beyond even the professions, to then as if faced with that see it all as a waste land, to return to primitive life, a perpetual wandering in the desert (then best expressed in his films Oedipus Rex and Medea).
I have much more to say about the spaces in Teorema but my theme today is the lives of saints as they are fed into Pasolini’s movies. Having seen this movie this weekend, I also saw (virtually) Rochelle Goldberg’s latest show at Miguel Abreu, in it, she takes her interest in St Mary of Egypt for another spin, in a sequel as it were, it even includes scenes from a vita, a life of the saint icon.
she has versions of the vita in the exhibit, indicating a deepening, but also changing agency, with regard to the mythos. This show is more “scenic” and “illustrative” of the vita as a whole, thus there is a clearer sense of direction in terms of where she is going, it has a stronger intercessional push, with more serious boundaries. But, having written of Goldberg before, simply to indicate that hypnagogic space is characteristic of her work, here I only want to extract from it the elements of the vita of St Mary of Egypt. She is, of course, early on, the promiscuous woman, of trope lore, the prostitute, as all sinful women, in a storied universe, were; but then having gone on pilgrimage to do more business, because the caravans were filled with men who however holy their ultimate goal still were human along the way, she then is shocked to be turned away from the Holy Sepulchre by an unseen force. This, then, converts her, so she gets in a boat and crosses the Jordan into the wilderness, shown here.
then she lives in the desert for so long that, like Mary Magdalen, in her hermetical age in France, she ends up covered only in her own hair.
then she has the encounter with Zosimos, at the bush, he gives her his cloak for her to cover her nakedness, then, later, when she is to die, she lies down, a lion then digs her grave.
that is here
then Goldberg has a reading I had not heard before, she rises up to heaven, her own body is the witness to her ascension.
and in various abstract ways, these incidents play out in this tidier exhibition (now, unfortunately, but weirdly symbolically, as St Mary emerges as a sort of patron saint of social isolation, by the coronavirus plague, closed to the public, there to as if stew or marinate to take meaning into them).
A vita is part of a votive, made to help you relate to a saint on any of several levels. The main events in the vita are that she goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, mainly just to drum up more business as a prostitute. But, then, when she is at the Holy Sepulchre, an “unseen force” will not let her enter (St Anthony is also the saint of lost things because he was tempted but in truth tempted by “unseen things,” the implication being that, in the homely patronage over lost things, he can see through, that is, he lives under the Blue Sun, an an-thon, a nowhere).
Then she crosses the Jordan, to live for 47 years without seeing a person or even an animal, which is interesting (so she is also a kind of silent beserker! like Orion, or Godzilla, who then chases animals in on man, top contaminate).
then Zozimos encounters her, she is embarrassed and hides her nakedness, he gives her his cloak
she gives him signs of her saintliness, including, surprise, levitation
then other things happen, he acknowledges her, then he sees to it that she is buried, and she is buried where (this relates too to the Living Idol (1958) then too), the lion begins to paw at the dirt or sand.
It is quite the vita, the vita
the vita developed as an adjunct expression of the icon of a saint. An icon of a saint in the Eastern tradition was made large, and even forceful, to give the saint living physical power, the power of a palladium, on the model either of the mandylion or the theotokos. That is, these images were not just images, they were not just art, they were agentic objects with religiomagical qualities and force, to help you act in the world. When you needed them to intercede for you with god, they did, by the example of their suffering, you were lifted up into a confident relation with them, so that you believed that they did (in this capacity some icons in the ameliorated icon tradition underlying its stylistic effacement in western art, St Rocco, for example, was seen as an intercessor against plague, even being at it, praying at it, the picture, touching it, any sort of inosculation (which seems ironic, in the no touch zone of today’s situation) would ensure that intercession, and provide you psychological relief; if you needed then to thank them, leave a votive, to by giving thanks ensuring their continued dispensation of that help; finally, also they were apotropaic, and at one point I taught this section of my course with an emphasis on the large scale imposing icons whose fierce presence alone made you believe that they could, as images, do this for you (all this, of course, from Belting). Marcovaldo was the artist who first took in this fierceness into Italian art, before the new sweet style arrived with duccio, and this trend was curtailed.
But, then, the most intense thing a devotee of a saint, in a saint’s cult, could do, was an imitatio, and I cannot help but think that when the maid leaves
she is imitating St Mary, she is crossing back over her Jordan
when she goes sits on the bench, refusing to move, letting herself go gray
she is taking up where Mary left off
she is buried in an open pit, in her case dug by her mother out of loose dirt, not a lion, but it could’ve been.
In other words, though I have not proven this yet, I am quite sure that Pasolini, the erstwhile catholic–whose Catholicism, in fact, given his other work, looks as perversely psychologically grounded as my own un-re-un-re-un-re-un-re-unrelapsed Catholicism–models his Gerasa-like saintly-scapegoat stories, in all cases of those effected by Stamp, the tale of a bespeaker, or saints’ vitae, giving truth to people, to then chase them into the desert.
Mary’s vita goes according to Girard’s model of the “scapegoat mechanism” pretty closely, there is a period before, when all is undifferentiated, her promiscuity; then there is a gatekeeping moment, when she is blocked out; then a conversion, she is cast out, crosses the river; and then the episodes of being the scapegoat in the desert, and Zozimos is our go-between to interact with her as bespeaker to her scapegoat, to then release her, eventually, at sacrifice point. (Goldberg has some of these dream figures in her latest, there seems to be a greater emphasis in gatekeepers, she still has the intralocutors, and in the St mary story, that is Zozimos, the one who can move back and forth, the Mercury of this story, the Hercules, too, then she has a series of pictures based on the vita, so she wants us to grasp the scapegoat predicament of one against the world.
But, then, looking up St Mary of Egypt, or Mary Aegypticus, I also found out that she exists in other art too, or rather, picture play art, unreal art, in Balzac’s The Forgotten Masterpiece, Frenhof is working on for ten years a picture of St Mary of Egypt, nude; but, then, years later, he meets two painters in a pub, Poussin and Pourbus, they want to see it, so do, then are horrified to see only an abstract mess, and yet then they see a foot, there WAS a figure there. This part of the story not only involves Nolde’s fateful religious turn, in 1910, which started with a series on Mary of Egypt; then, as he illustrated Balzac’s story, in he 1930s, a crucial time in the art of Picasso, leading to Guernica; then, too, a French movie of the 1990s mulls over he forgotten masterpiece too so….. Part 2.