cover image Petrolio


Pier Paolo Pasolini. Pantheon Books, $27 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42990-6

Pasolini's unfinished novel, found in his desk shortly after his murder in 1975, explores the psychological workings of fascism in postwar Italy by mapping connections among the Fascist Party, the Mafia, the CIA and even the Communist Party. The novel depicts, in loosely connected fragments of stories and allegorical tales, the dual personality of a man named Carlo, his rise to power and his eventual complicity with the Fascists and the Mafia. Carlo 1 is a liberal thinking Catholic from an upper-middle-class family, an executive in an oil company; Carlo 2 explores and acts on his sexual urges by dominating (raping his mother) and being dominated (paying 20 boys to sexually abuse him). The narration, objective and cold and without even the slightest hint of sentimentality, is similar to the unflinching camera's eye of Pasolini's films. As in Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (released shortly before his death), de Sade's influence pervades Petrolio. For de Sade, living out sexual fantasies of domination is the ultimate liberation; for Pasolini, sexual domination is a metaphor for fascism, a symbol not of liberation but of extreme and essential repression. In fact, the novel's themes run to the standard Marxist criticism of Italian politics and culture, Italy's class struggle and the tenuous relationship between the north and south. Ironically, however, this indictment of social and erotic alienation is written in a style that is itself alienating as Pasolini deliberately shatters narrative integrity with authorial intrusions and expository digressions. The subversive or revolutionary intent of such strategies does not render them any more easily digestible. (Mar.)