The Trouble with Fascists
"We Fascists are the only true anarchists. Once we've become masters of the state, true anarchy is that of power." - Pasolini, Salo
Fascists have, let's call them, boundary issues. The boundaries of states, and I mean both federations and conditions, and the boundaries on the roadmaps of the soul. They transgress.
Now of course, transgression can be a good thing, providing it's your own boundaries you are crossing. In fact, in almost every religious culture, transgression is allowed to be a holy thing. Think of fools of God like Saint Simeon Salus, a sixth century hermit who would perform such antics as blowing out the candles of a church just as the service was beginning, eating sausages on Good Friday and defecating in the marketplace. Yet as George Hansen tells in The Trickster and the Paranormal Simeon was also known to perform miracles, including the multiplication of food, telepathy and predicting the future. Nityananda, who last century violated many orthodox Hindu laws and would embarass his devotees by his nakedness and such happenings as smearing excrement over his body and sitting "with large piles of it, offering some to passers-by as a sweet." (The inversion of food/excrement and mouth/anus is a recurring and powerful transgression. The Aztecs had a copraphagic deity named Tlazolteotl, "Divine Excrement," also known as Tlaelquani, the "Eater of Ordure." See also "The Eye of Horus".) But Nityananda is remembered for his "miraculous healings, prophetic powers and even weather control." Joseph of Copertino mortified his flesh with chains and metal plates that pressed into his sores, and wore broken crockery around his neck to increase his humiliation. Joseph is also arguably the best-documented levitator in history. He also displayed telepathy, clairvoyance, healing powers and more. Sri Ramakrishna, one of India's greatest saints, often dressed as a woman and would eat the food left as temple offerings for gods.
So, what was that about fascism, and what am I going on about now? I'm going on about Pasolini's final film, the one he may have died for: Salo.
"You must be stupid to think that death would be so easy. Don't you know we intend to kill you a thousand times?"
It's a hard film to see, and not just because it's hard to sit through. Its graphic sexual sadism has prompted its banning around the world. (I first tried to catch it at a Toronto Forbidden Films festival in the mid-80s, but the Ontario Film Board forbade the screening.) Given how there are many works in the past 30 years that have out-grossed it, I suspect it's still problematic not so much for its generalized sexual sadism as for its pointed depiction of fascist sexual sadism.
The film is an adaptation of the Marquis De Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, which Pasolini set in Mussolini's "Republic of Salo," the Nazi puppet state of northern Italy that he nominally administered during the final years of the war.
If you haven't seen it, you've seen and heard of something like it. Forced nudity on collared and leashed prisoners with covered heads, paedophilic rape, coprophilia, humiliation and torture, ritual abuse and murder. Is it fascism? Is it Salo, or someplace else?
(And I should say, the death of a thousand times includes such insufferable yet mundane things as the Killing Jokes of deadpan irony. The Cheney/Bush gang are masters of timing. It's Republican prostitute Jeff Gannon getting back his press pass, this time for "Pajama Media." It's Rumsfeld comparing Chavez to Hitler. Doesn't he know what he's saying, and doesn't he know what he sounds like? Yes, and yes: of course he does. And it must give him tremendous pleasure.)
"Our guide restored the divine character of monstrosity thanks to reiterated actions. That is to say: rites."
It's been a topic before here how the psycho-sexual atrocities of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, and most certainly the unnamed secret prisons in the "War on Terror's" encircling gulag, did not arise in a vacuum and without the stage direction of senior officials. They also enact ritual, and are more than reminiscent, to both students and survivors, of the methods of covert mind control. Survivor Kathleen Sullivan has says that "many survivors...are experiencing an additional set of reactions....wave after wave of devastating emotions and flashbacks after each new revelation is made public. What was done to the prisoners is too similar to what was perpetrated against most of us." And last July I wrote that the "mission is brutalization. Not just of the captives, but of the captors and their codependent subjects in the Homeland. Because the transformative mission extends beyond the literal confines of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, to the imaginative boundaries of Empire."
But there's more going on here than brutalization. Or rather, the brutalization has, I believe, a sacramental aspect. Because there's a liminal quality to the bulldozing of values which achieves for the fascists - and possibly also for some fragmented parts of their victims - an ecstatic state of transgression. Perhaps understanding this dynamic will help explain and anticipate the congruity of fascism with occultic crime and untangle "Satanic Ritual Abuse" from the double caricatures of fundamentalist hysteria and secular humanist disdain.
Pasolini, by the way, was murdered the year of Salo's release, after having received death threats from neo-Fascists on its account. Last year, Italian police reopened the case after Giuseppe Pelosi, a then-17 year old who served nine years for the killing, recanted. Pelosi said Pasolini hadn't, after all, tried to rape him with a wooden stake, but had been killed by a politically motivated group of men, and he "had to play the game played by these people, the 'respectable' people who ordered the murder."
Those are some wild games, the games respectable people play.