In 1971 Pier Paolo Pasolini participated in a TV discussion with his high school classmates lead by journalist Enzo Biagi. Discussing his role as a critical intellectual, Pasolini admitted that he was forced to be a producer and a consumer (“I have to produce in order to dress myself”). One of his classmates commented that society always loves those producers who assert that they do not love society – i.e. society loves its critics. Pasolini replied:
“(…) La società cerca di assimilare, di integrare certo, è una operazione che deve fare per difendersi, ma non sempre ci riesce, ci sono delle operazioni di rigetto, tanto più che poi adesso non possiamo parlare di poesia come di merce --io produco tu dici, ed è vero, ma produco una merce che in realtà è inconsumabile quindi i consumatori…—c’è un rapporto strano tra me e i consumatori. Ammetti che ad un certo punto in Lombardia viene un certo tipo che inventa un paio di scarpe che non si consumeranno mai più, e una industria milanese construisca queste scarpe. Pensa alla rivoluzione che succederebbe nella valle padana, almeno nel settore dei calzaturifici. Io produco una merce che dovrebbe essere la poesia che è inconsumabile, morirò io, morirà il mio editore, morirà tutta la società, morirà il capitalismo, ma la poesia rimarrà inconsumata.”
“Society tries to assimilate, to integrate [its critics], yes of course, it is an operation that it has to do, in order to defend itself, but it does not always succeed. There are operations of rejection. Even more so, because we cannot talk about poetry as a commodity. You say that I produce, and it is true, but I produce a commodity which in reality is non-consumable, so the consumers…there is a strange relationship between me and consumers. Imagine that at a certain moment in Lombardy a guy arrives who invents a type of shoe that will never be consumed [= worn out], and a Milanese company produces these shoes. Think of the revolution this will bring, at least in the shoemaking sector in the Padana Valley. I produce a commodity which should be poetry that is non consumable: I will die, my publisher will die, society as a whole will die, capitalism will die, but poetry will remain unconsumed.”
Pasolini discusses the power of poetry to resist homologation and consumerism. Even if sold and bought as a commodity, poetry cannot be considered one. Pasolini who knew Marx well seems to suggest here that poetry, even if produced as a commodity, does not have its form, or supersedes it. Poetry does not acquire its value in exchange. But his response has further implications.
Pasolini draws a distinction between himself and the poetry he produces. From the discussion that precedes the quote above it is clear that Pasolini distinguishes himself from poetry (I am forced to be a producer and a consumer) and he is not discussing his poetry as much as a certain poetry-form, as opposite to the commodity form. By defining poetry as non-consumable, he seems to locate poetry not just beyond exchange value, but also beyond use value (a consumption oriented at fulfilling a human need rather than at exchange). The example of the non-consumable pair of shoes seems to hint at a situation in which the invention of a non-consumable commodity brings capitalism to a halt (the revolution), or at least drastically alters the industry of shoemaking (and that of poetry?). Books of poetry can be produced, sold and bought, but poetry itself remains outside capitalism. Poetry is therefore a form that absorbs the commodity and turns it into something different, something eternal.
Poetry is also endowed with immanent revolutionary power. This power seems to have less to do with its author, content, form, social and economic value. It comes from eternity itself. There are here both theological and romantic underpinnings, but, at least in this exchange, not necessarily oriented at redemption (as one might otherwise deduct when considering Pasolini’s work as a whole). Rather there seems to be a sort of almost spinozist idea: “we feel and know that we are eternal.”