Against the Avant-Garde

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Contemporary Art, and Neocapitalism

Ara H. Merjian

Against the Avant-Garde

Ara H. Merjian

304 pages | 36 color plates, 139 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2020
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226655277 Will Publish February 2020
Recognized in America chiefly for his films, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975) in fact reinvented interdisciplinarity in postwar Europe. Pasolini self-confessedly approached the cinematic image through painting, and the numerous allusions to early modern frescoes and altarpieces in his films have been extensively documented. Far less understood, however, is Pasolini’s fraught relationship to the aesthetic experiments of his own age. In Against the Avant-Garde, Ara H. Merjian demonstrates how Pasolini’s campaign against neocapitalist culture fueled his hostility to the avant-garde. An atheist indebted to Catholic ritual; a revolutionary communist inimical to the creed of 1968; a homosexual hostile to the project of gay liberation: Pasolini refused the politics of identity in favor of a scandalously paradoxical practice, one vital to any understanding of his legacy. Against the Avant-Garde examines these paradoxes through case studies from the 1960s and 1970s, concluding with a reflection on Pasolini’s far-reaching influence on post-1970s art. Merjian not only reconsiders the multifaceted work of Italy’s most prominent postwar intellectual, but also the fraught politics of a European neo-avant-garde grappling with a new capitalist hegemony.
Introduction    Heretical Aesthetics

Technical Sacrality/Heretical Aesthetics
Against the Avant-Garde
Communism, Humanism, Modernism
Aesthetic Deceleration
A Tradition of Antitradition

One                 Abstraction: The Zero Degree of History

Abstraction and Neocapital
History, Rage, Painting
Abstraction and/as Failed Revolution
A Cinema of Poetry and Painting
The Zero Moment of History

Two                 Pop: A Mimesis of the Future

Mass Culture and the Crisis of Communism
Pop Polemics on the Left
“All the World at Home”
Objective Indifference/Pop Vernacular
Pop, Politics, and the Ends of Irony
The Division of History
A Mimesis of the Future

Three               Arte Povera: Prehistory and the Aesthetics of “Contamination”

An Irrational Marxism and the “Intimacy of ‘Things’”
Contamination, Craft, and the “Slang” of Matter
The “Third World” between History and Prehistory
Double Representation
Phenomenology versus Frame
1968 and After: Cold War, Hot Autumn

Four                 Performance: A Semiology of “Action”

Intellectual Flesh
Intimacy and Exposure
From What Is Fascism to Salò
Performing the Pseudorevolution

Conclusion      Hopes and Alibis: Pasolini and Contemporary Art

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