“Do you really know who I was before I met you?” (1)

I met Harun Farocki in June 2014 at Princeton. Bernhard Siegert and Nikolaus Wegmann had organised a Summer School in the German Department. (2) In among the seminars was “Practices, Procedures, Recursions: The Reality of Media”. Farocki, who had participated in Thomas Y. Levin’s exhibition “Anxious Omniscience: Surveillance and Contemporary Cultural Practice” at Princeton in 2002, behaved in a noticeably reserved fashion during the discussions. So much academic hair-splitting would meet with his great belly-laugh, something that James Benning also recalls. (3) In the seminar’s lunch breaks, Farocki watched the German national team’s World Cup group stage matches at the Rocky Theatre, where, on June 17, he also gave a lecture on his four-part series of works Ernste Spiele (Serious Games, 2009-2010).

Harun Farocki

Harun Farocki

In Princeton I wanted to speak with Farocki about Pasolini. I thus asked him to read an essay I had written on La sequenza del fiore di carta (1969), which, that evening, he would leave behind in a bar. The next day we spoke about Pasolini without any written materials on hand, and perhaps it was better off that way. Farocki had organized a “school of seeing” (Blickschule) in Vienna called “Pasolini vor Augen” (“Pasolini Before Our Eyes”), which was also bereft of textual readings. The announcement for that event highlighted the most important information about it: “A commented screening of film analyses and reconstructions, in which (formal, structural, content-based and romantic) aspects of Pasolini’s work will be explored. There will be an open bar.” (4)

As a filmmaker, Farocki was naturally concerned with placing the emphasis on film analysis, “more precisely considering the fundamental building blocks of cinematic work, the individual segments from a film,” and understanding “frames, shots and edited sequences.” (5) Decisive for an insight into Pasolini’s thought, according to Farocki, are above all the camerawork, his rhetoric of images, and the politics of montage.

Farocki therefore seemed rather uninterested when I spoke to him about more recent literature on Pasolini. He had not read Alessia Ricciardi’s superb essay “Pasolini for the Future”, Armando Maggi’s The Resurrection of the Body or the Berlin ICI’s anthology The Scandal of Self-Contradiction: Pasolini’s Multistable Subjectivities, Traditions, Geographies. He had, however, heard of Georges Didi-Huberman’s Survivance des lucioles, and the four volumes of L’Œil de l’histoire, in which Pasolini plays an important role. (6)

The only book that he mentioned repeatedly and vigorously recommended me to read was Michele Mancini and Giuseppe Perrella’s Pier Paolo Pasolini: Corpi e luoghi. (7) Published in Rome in 1981 by Theorema edizioni, long out of print and punitively neglected by later studies on Pasolini, Farocki had received it as a gift from Laura Betti in the early 1980s. Mancini and Perrella, who have since disappeared from Pasolini scholarship, had gathered previously unpublished texts and collected them into a comprehensive 400-page atlas of his filming locations. The posthumous texts from Pasolini’s archives, for which they chose the title “Corpi e luoghi” (Bodies and Places), sought to focus our understanding of a decisive phase in Pasolini’s development: engagement with the “Third World” (Terzo Mondo), the (post-)colonial history of the former Eritrea and the location scouting (Sopraluoghi) and jottings (Appunti), which Pasolini established as a genuinely cinematic form of note-taking. (8)

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini

It is by means of this anthropological pictorial atlas that we can reconstruct Farocki’s view of Pasolini. The book’s typology is subdivided into six categories: 1) families, 2) behavioural modes and gestures, 3) places, 4) objects, 5) writing and 6) censorship. Mancini and Perrella initially differentiate between anagraphic family-relations, characters (personaggi) and recurring actors. Among the gestures, they isolate facial aspects, laughter, sleep/dreams, confrontations and views out of car windows, as well as the language of hand signs. As for places, urban and suburban topographies come into view: streets, piazzas, markets, churches, bars. From here they move past urinals to workplaces and housing for the sub-proletariat, thence to the “set” and the real sites of surveillance (prisons, courts, police stations and hospitals). From there, the book flows out to the edges and peripheries of the cities (ai margini). Objects listed include clothing, disguises, hats, and official/formal attire, as well as those forms of clothing that make class differences visible. The atlas convincingly suggests that the entry of specific exchange objects and gifts, of flowers and food, and of excrement (so important for the later films) follows a logic of affects. As with structuralist film theory, Mancini and Perrella thus underscore that the moving images are fundamentally based on a semiotics of legibility. That specific images, in contrast, are also illegible in their semantic opacity, at least up until they enter their “now of legibility” (9) was recognised and affirmed by Pasolini in the wake of his liaison with semiotics.

Harun Farocki did not write much on Pasolini. A short introduction to the Appunti per un’Orestiade africana (1970) for Filmkritik in November 1982 is the only original text dedicated to Pasolini that can be found among his writings. (10) Appearing a year after Corpi e luoghi’s publication, this short essay exhibits Farocki’s knowledge of the texts collected therein. His view is already marked by Edward Saïd’s Orientalism (1977) and hence anticipates the later, critical commentaries on Pasolini’s heretical orientalism. (11) Farocki sees in these films a spirit of experimental self-contradiction, and he attempts to link this to Pasolini’s use of camera movements:

“It is very significant when, from among other people who peer into the camera, a man sits there and sleeps, or when the camera pans away from the horizon, with white, Warholian flowers blossoming amid a grassy lawn. Men with sewing machines under the open skies, or plants that become entwined into bizarre patterns on the clay soil of the market places, bottles and funnels that are use-objects for the inhabitants of a cabin on the shores of Lake Victoria. This is all very significant, but significant of what?

The Orestia is a strange, possibly unknown language (“You all know the drama of the Orestia by Aeschylus…”) and Africa is a strange, possibly unknown language. Pasolini translates from one language that we do not understand into another one. We passively watch this work (the search for individual words, the sampling of individual expressions) and understand more than we are able to understand.”  (12)

With a certain trusting complicity, Farocki inquires into Pasolini’s impulses, and asks whether the Appunti are capable of giving a voice to African strangers and subalterns through the views of a camera produced in the West. If Pasolini succeeds in this attempt, then, Farocki seems to suggest, this is because he makes his hegemonic position as a part of the cinematic dispositif visible, because one of the “unspoken rules” (13) for both filmmakers was that the camera also had to show what it could not show.

“At one point, an African man once says something, and the camera scours the Africans without finding the man speaking. An error that was not smoothed out during the editing process, which is supposed to indicate that nothing else in this sequence has been manipulated. This studied clumsiness probably means not only the opposite of that sentiment, but also this: I am giving voice to the Africans.”(14)

Farocki also picks up on another moment in the film: in Appunti per un’Orestiade africana, Pasolini shows Tanzanian workers exiting a factory in Dar es Salaam. Here, the voiceover commentary literally speaks of the “exit of workers from a factory” (uscita delle operaie da una fabbrica). Is it conceivable that with Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik (Workers Leaving the Factory,1995), after reading Corpi e luoghi (1981) and writing the text on Appunti per un’Orestiade africana in 1982, Farocki was initially reacting to Pasolini, before, in a second phase of the project, he rounded out the genealogy with La sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (1895) and other scenes from the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Fritz Lang and D.W. Griffith, as well as anonymous footage?

Clash By Night

Clash By Night

The fact that, towards the end of Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik, Farocki inserts two scenes from Accattone (1961) goes some way to support this hypothesis. (15) These scenes are followed by an extract from Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952), in which Marilyn Monroe leaves a factory and is picked up by a worker. Her confident, provocative gestures recall Pasolini’s description of Monroe, his “little sister”, as “a beauty possessed by power”, in the mise en scène of whom “the entire insanity and horror of today” is expressed. (16) In Accattone, by contrast, a poor pimp played by Franco Citti waits for a woman who fatefully subordinates herself to him and prostitutes herself. Since both characters possess no power, but merely their own impotence, Pasolini succeeds, with Accattone, in his intended profanation of the future sub-proletariat.

In Corpi e luoghi, Farocki could find a confirmation of the idea that in Accattone it is not a star leaving the factory, but a “personaggio” who can be found in the anagraphic family register of the Roman borgata. Pasolini’s characters definitively do not leave the factory by way of the “rags-to-riches” myth. As Mancini and Perella show, his gestures thus do not point to a sovereign beauty, possessed by power, but only to a depleted existence, which, marked by impotence, does not exhibit the motivation to want to liberate itself from its own misery. Farocki’s voiceover highlights this contrast, by placing the focus of the exit from the factory on the “life of individual people”. But what kinds of individual people are shown here? Pasolini and Farocki, in spite of all the sympathy for a politics of the nameless that they share with Brecht and Benjamin, leave this question open in order to foreground an analytic, filmic representation. This is also the reason why Pasolini’s Appunti per un’Orestiade africana and Farocki’s Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik are not sentimental films.

In Mancini and Perella’s Corpi e luoghi, censorship crops up at the end of the book as the last of the six categories. In Uccellacci e uccellini (1966), Totò holds his umbrella in front of Ninetto’s eyes to prevent the latter from laughing at a prostitute. In Edipo Re (1967), Oedipus loses his own eyesight, and thus subjects himself to censorship. In the final shot of Porcile (1969), Herdhitze, upon learning of Julian’s murder, gazes into our eyes from out of the image. The non-verbal indication to be silent is provided by the gesture of putting his index finger to his lips.

There is no need to say much on the violence of censorship allegorised in these images and its prehistory in Pasolini’s lifelong situation as a man accused. On this matter, Laura Betti’s comprehensive chronicle still provides us with a rich lode of biographical material. (17) Between Pasolini’s work of the 1960s (right up until Salò [1975]) and the early films of Farocki, as well as the Ernste Spiele, the critical focal point has increasingly shifted from a theory of the censored subject to the observational technologies of social surveillance. If this past is brought into the present, the films of Pasolini and Farocki can be illuminatingly related to one another. Corpi e luoghi may be a unique way of reminding us of Farocki’s “Blickschule”, his “school of seeing” (“Pasolini Before Our Eyes”). In this regard, we not only have to be grateful for its insight, but also its outlook.

Translated by Daniel Fairfax 


1. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Accatone, 1961, cited in the introduction to Harun Farocki’s “school of seeing” (Blickschule) “Pasolini vor Augen”, 2008, Werkstätten und Kulturhaus, Vienna.

2. “Practices, Procedures, Recursions: The Reality of Media?”, Princeton-Weimar Summer School, German Department, Princeton University, June 15-21, 2014. Alongside Farocki, Siegert und Wegmann, the participants were: Paul Babinski, Friedrich Balke, Boris Buzek, Máximo Farro, Petra McGillen, Mladen Gladić, Toni Hildebrandt, Hannah Hunter-Parker, Daniel Irrgang, Susanne Jany, Diana Kamin, Maren Koehler, Hannes Mandel, Harun Maye, Ido Ramati, Antonia von Schöning, Dennis Tenen, Emily Thompson, Adam Webb-Orentstein, Katharina Wloszczynska, Derek Woods and Grant Wythoff.

3. “A serious man with a great laugh, he lives on in my heart.” James Benning, www.facebook.com/james.benning.77, August 1, 2014. Cf. James Benning, “Farocki”, in: e-flux, 11 (2014), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/farocki/.

4. Announcement available on the online archive of the WUK (www.wuk.at).

5. Ibid.

6. Cf. Alessia Ricciardi, “Pasolini for the Future”, California Italian Studies, vol. 2 no. 1 (2011), no page numbers; Armando Maggi, The Resurrection of the Body: Pier Paolo Pasolini from Saint Paul to Sade (Chicago/London: Chicago University Press, 2009); The Scandal of Self-Contradiction:  Pasolini’s Multistable Subjectivities, Traditions, Geographies, ed. Luca di Blasi, Manuele Gragnolati and Christoph F. E. Holzhey, (Vienna/Berlin: Turia+Kant, 2012); Georges Didi-Huberman, Survivance des lucioles (Paris: Minuit, 2009) and L’Œil de l’histoire, 4 vol., (Paris: Minuit, 2009–2012).

7. Michele Mancini and Giuseppe Perrella, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Corpi e luoghi (Rome: Theorema edizioni, 1981).

8. The unpublished texts anthologised in Corpi e luoghi are published in chronological order: “Sopraluoghi o la ricerca dei luoghi perduti”, “Appunti per un poema sul Terzo Mondo”, “In Africa, tra figli obbedienti e ragazzi moderni”, “La grazia degli Eritrei”and the “Post-Scriptum a ‘la grazia degli Eritrei’”. On Pasolini’s “post-western modernity”, see Toni Hildebrandt, “Jenseits der Mauern von Sanaa: Pasolinis Appell an die UNESCO (1970–74)”, in: Display/Dispositiv. Ästhetische Ordnungen, ed. Ursula Frohne, Lilian Haberer and Annette Urban (München: Fink, 2015, forthcoming) and “Allegorien des Profanen im Fremden in Pasolinis Werk nach 1968”, in Allegorie. DFG-Symposion 2014, ed. Ulla Haselstein (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2015, forthcoming).

9. On “figural integration” (Pasolini) and the “now of legibility” (Benjamin), see Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, “Figura Lacrima”, in The Scandal of Self-Contradiction: Pasolini’s Multistable Subjectivities, Traditions, Geographies, ed. Luca di Blasi, Manuele Gragnolati and Christoph F. E. Holzhey (Vienna/Berlin: Turia+Kant, 2012), pp. 237-251, p. 250f.

10. Harun Farocki, “O.T. [Über Pier Paolo Pasolinis Appunti per un’Orestiade africana]”, Filmkritik, no. 26 (November 1982), pp. 531-532, p. 532. The text was not included in the anthology Nachdruck/Imprint: Texte/Writings (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2001).

11. Peter Friedl, “Secret Modernity”, in: Secret Modernity: Selected Writings and Interviews 1981-2009, ed. Anselm Franke (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2000), pp. 249-268; Luca Caminati, Orientalismo eretico. Pasolini e il cinema del Terzo Mondo (Milan: Mondadori, 2007).

12. Farocki, “O.T.”, op. cit., p. 532.

13. “06. Never forget to show what the camera cannot show”, “Unspoken Rules”, in Antje Ehmann und Kodwo Eshun, “A to Z of HF, or: 26 Introductions to HF”, in Harun Farocki. Against what? Against whom?, ed. Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun (London: König Books, 2009), pp. 204-216, p. 214.

14. Farocki, “O.T.”, op. cit., p. 532 (concluding sentence).

15. On this matter, see Wolfgang Ernst and Harun Farocki, “Towards an Archive for Visual Concepts”, in Harun Farocki. Working on the Sight-Line, ed. Thomas Elsaesser (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004), pp. 261-286, pp. 267, 278.

16. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Homage to Marilyn Monroe”, in La Rabbia (1963). The evocation of Marilyn Monroe has its pendant in references to Andy Warhol’s subversion of the pop-culture icon made by both Farocki and Pasolini. For the catalogue Ladies and Gentlemen (1975), Pasolini had composed a critical introduction on Warhol. Farocki rather unexpectedly mentions Warhol in his two-page article on Pasolini’s Appunti per un’Orestiade africana. Monroe/Warhol are, for Pasolini/Farocki, the fragments of a divided, sceptical relationship to the “American Dream”.

17. See Laura Betti (ed.), Pasolini: Cronaca giudiziaria, persecuzione, morte (Milan: Garzanti 1977).