NYRB Classics. Nov. 2023. 208p. tr. from Italian by Stuart Hood. ISBN 9781681377643. pap. $16.95. F
Written in tandem with his 1968 film of the same name (Teorema), Pasolini’s (1922–72) resonant parable examines the spiritual bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie through a strikingly effective blend of brief vignettes, scenarios, and plangent poetic utterances. As foretold by an ecstatic angelic messenger, a wealthy Milanese family is visited by a mysterious and charismatic guest who, “like a carnal inspiration,” lovingly seduces each and then passes on down the road. Diverse existential crises unfold in his wake, as father, mother, son, daughter, and housemaid struggle with the “terrible freedom of the void” to master “a pain that has no name and certainly no cure.” Their paths range from shady sexual trysting, rebellious artistic fervor, catatonic madness, and stark material renunciation to truly miraculous ascension, sainthood, and martyrdom.
VERDICT Pasolini’s spare lyricism complements and transcends his playfully detached framework of data, corollaries, and appendices, resulting in an affecting and captivating interrogation into the earthly and the sublime.
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