A Violent Life: The Prophecies of Pier Paolo Pasolini

In the early hours of 2nd November 1975, a mutilated body was discovered on the Lido di Ostia, a district of Rome by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Badly beaten, burnt and crushed, having been repeatedly run over by a car; it was a violent and ignoble end to the life of a man whose artistic and intellectual valour had made him an Italian cultural icon. Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna on 5th March 1922, his mother was a teacher and his father an Italian army lieutenant with Fascist sympathies, who was credited with identifying and capturing Anteo Zamboni, a 15 year-old anarchist who attempted to assassinate Mussolini during a March on Rome celebration parade in Bologna on 31st October 1926. The shot fired by Zamboni missed the Prime Minister, and the teenager was set upon and lynched by a Fascist squad. Today, the Mura Anteo Zamboni a street in Bologna, bears his name, and a plaque marks the spot where he was found.

Like many scholars and poets before him, such as René Daumal and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Pasolini idolised Arthur Rimbaud and began writing poetry as a way of coping with the family’s frequent relocations. Returning to the city of his birth to enrol at the Literature College of the University of Bologna in 1939, Pasolini developed a passion for the cinema as well as poetry after attending a film club. Failing to establish his own poetry magazine with his friend and fellow poet Roberto Roversi, Pasolini self-published a volume of his own works in 1941, entitled Versi a CasarsaWritten mostly in Friulian, a language spoken in the Friuli area of North-East Italy, where his family were then living in the commune of Casarsa, Pasolini developed a lifelong affinity with the unique identity and culture of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

A trip to Nazi Germany in 1941 gave Pasolini further cause to question the political regime in Italy, and he concluded that his own outlook was best represented by Communism. In September 1943, Pasolini was drafted and taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans. However, he soon escaped and made his way back to Casarsa. To make ends meet, he began tutoring students whose educations had been disrupted by the war, and it was with one of these students that he engaged in his first love affair, having previously suppressed his homosexuality. Continue reading

Longing Under The Moon: The Pleasing Melancholy Of Attila József

On 11th April 1905, Attila József was born in Ferencváros, then a poor district of Budapest. His father, Áron József was a Romanian factory-worker and his mother, Borbála Pőcze, a Hungarian peasant girl; the couple already had two daughters, Etelka and Jolán. By the time Attila was three years old, his father had deserted the family, leaving Borbála struggling to support her children and eventually forced to place them in the care of the National Child Protection League before they were found foster parents in Öcsöd, a small village in the Northern Great Plain region of south-east Hungary.

The move to Öcsöd would have a profound and lasting effect upon the young Attila, his foster father was extremely strict, and cruelly insisted on telling the boy there was ‘no such name as Attila’ instead calling him Pista. József later remembered how this had made him doubt his ‘very existence.’ When he later discovered the tales of King Attila the Hun, József recalled how they ‘had a decisive effect on all my ambitions after that. In the last analysis perhaps it was this experience that led me to literature, that made me a thinking person, the kind of person who would listen to the opinions of others but would examine them carefully in his own mind.’ József finally escaped from Öcsöd to return to his mother in Budapest.

At the age of forty-three, Borbála died from cancer, leaving her fourteen year-old son under the guardianship of his eldest sister and her wealthy husband, Ödön Makai who ensured that he went to the best school possible. In 1922, at the age of seventeen and whilst he was still at school, József published his first collection of poetry, A szépség koldusa (Beggar of Beauty). Two years later, József’s work would cause controversy after his poem Lázadó Krisztus (Rebellious Christ) was featured in the October 1923 issue of the magazine Bluebird, consequently he faced charges of blasphemy was sentenced to eight months in prison sand a hefty fine, both of which were later overturned.

His ambition to become a teacher led József to apply to the University of Szeged to study Hungarian and French Literature, yet his defiant streak would ensure that his time there was cut short. One of the University’s lecturers, Professor Horger objected to the poem Tiszta szívvel (With a Pure Heart) which appeared in József’s second volume of poetry, Nem én kiáltok (That’s Not Me Shouting) in 1925 and began with lines, ‘I have no father, I have no mother, I have no God and no country.’ Continue reading

Bloomsbury’s Lost Poet: Julian Bell In Madrid

North of Madrid, between the city and the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, lies the Cementerio de Fuencarral. The cemetery was built to bury the fallen of the Battle of Jarama, which began on 6th February 1937, exactly 76 years before my visit. After the Nationalists declared victory in April 1939, Franco disinterred those who had died at Jarama and disturbed the graves of many International Brigades’ members buried there during the course of the Spanish Civil War.

Although the entire cemetery was not demolished and the initial walls still stand, the Republican burial plots were removed and the original remains ending up dumped in an unmarked mass grave. A large plaque honouring the International Brigades was also destroyed. The sheer brutality that brought the cemetery into being and governed its early years is now hard to imagine; but its history has not been forgotten. An annual service is held to commemorate the fallen of Jarama, and a new plaque dedicated to the International Brigades was unveiled in 2009.   

2009 Plaque

The 2009 Plaque

The purpose of my visit to Fuencarral was the vain hope of finding the grave of Julian Bell, son of the painter Vanessa Bell and the art critic Clive Bell, and the nephew of Virginia Woolf. Bell had left for Spain in June 1937 only months after his return from China, where he had spent nearly two years teaching English at Wu-Han University. After two failed attempts to gain a Fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge (his alma mater) Bell turned his attentions abroad in the hope of achieving the recognition that had eluded him at home. He had enjoyed minor success as a poet and writer, but without the level of acclaim he desired or, because of his Bloomsbury connections, expected. Continue reading