Notes On Conflict Between The Present And The Past Types Of Violence As The Archetype Of Human History (Three Types Of Societies – Archaic, Authoritarian and “Democratic”, And Three Levels Of Human Psyche)


Politeness of the king


The final ordeal

When the types of violence typical of more developed countries unintentionally provoke more archaic forms of violence congruent with less developed countries – when people from or in a less developed countries feel traumatized by the types of violence accepted in the more “developed“ ones, and then revenge.

Pasolini rehearsing with Callas

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Pasolini explains to Maria Callas that whatever Medea’s circumstances may have been, whatever goals she was pursuing she is basically unchangeable – a true conservative by sensibility person: she always keeps herself inside experience she has learned from childhood – inevitability and the ultimate goodness of human sacrifices.

Human sacrifice as a fundamental anthropological ritual

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The one chosen to be sacrificed in archaic society (like the one where Medea is a princess), is considered a hero and treated as such. His face and body are painted with various colors. Today the equivalent of the embellishment of a sacrificial person who is respected and loved by the community – are the bright parade uniforms of soldiers who have enlisted in the military force. Human sacrifices have been in existence from the beginning of human race. May be, in those among us who always are for conquests, wars, weapons, punishment by death, austerity for others, vengeance and retaliation and for power over others – human sacrifices are, indeed, the very substance of their hearts. For them to “waste somebody” is more and more natural when a more humane society is deteriorating into rivalry, hate, deadly competition and mass killings and chronic wars.

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Oh innocence, of those who are doomed to be sacrificed but don’t know it. How innocent, the almost metaphysically touched face of the victim of human sacrifice, we see here, is. This purity of not knowing (or knowing purely superficially, without feeling of what it really means existentially) is the part of the ritual – a lack of emotional intelligence to understand what is awaiting him is necessary for the ritual to take place. That’s why the young people are so happy to join the army or “heroically” risk their lives in dangerous stunts and sports.

Psychology of readiness to be sacrificed
Finally, after an impulsive and brief resistance the hero/victim gives in. Unconscious indifference towards death is often the other side of heroism, like masochism can be the hidden ingredient of sadism. Young people, especially the ones abused or neglected in childhood, are prone to expose themselves to especially risky situations moved by the unconscious desire to impress the adults, peers and themselves, to prove that they are worthy of admiration, love and of being remembered. In fact, child abuse and neglect can be the unconscious reservoir of heroic and risky behavior, of desire to prove their worth by any price.

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The ritual is completed – the neck is broken, the victim/hero‘s body will be cut into small pieces and divided between the community members and fields.

Jason’s childhood: pedagogy of idolatry, treachery and crime

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Centaur Heron taught Jason reverie and the feeling of sacredness but he also provided endless stories of deadly rivalry, competition, wars, conquests and pursuit of power and glory. Spiritually and cognitively a gifted intellectual, Heron (Laurent Tersieff) teaches the sad truth about life but in his tales spiritual alternative to the cruelty and vulgarity of the factual human relations doesn’t have a chance not only to improve life but to be applied to it. It just exists as a separate reality, as a disconnected experience co-existing with “evil”. Spirituality is absent from the reality of life, it is just an aspect, and it is rooted in the “other world”.

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Jason’s uncle is authoritarian, deceitful and lascivious person, a rather typical king. He sent Jason to other lands with an impossible task, to sure death by promising that if he will bring the Golden Fleece he will get the kingdom which belonged to his father (before the uncle killed him and became king himself). The uncle’s idea of this heroic trip for Jason was the way to get rid of his nephew once and for all. But when Jason miraculously returns with Golden Fleece, the king not only matter-of-factly states that he has no intention of fulfilling his promise, but even represents his deceit as his pedagogical lesson to Jason – as a way of letting him understand that even kings, even gods sometimes are not obliged to keep their word. In today’s world, where democracy is transformed into plutocracy and prosperity into austerity, we all know this too well. Uncle-king is nastily smart and disgustingly calculating person (I am sure, he, like today’s financial decision-makers, has advisers with PhDs and lawyers).

Archaic society – Medea’s cradle

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Idolatry is the first feature of archaic societies. The today’s equivalent is worship of technical gadgets and toys (including electronic games). Idolatry, masked by propaganda of prosperity, is how people today who are obsessed with profit, perceive material wealth – like our ancestors did the Golden Fleece.

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The second feature of the archaic societies is the aggrandizement of the rulers by the population and a collective megalomania with which people envelops them. That’s how today all those who dream of becoming “rich and famous” admire and adore those who have succeeded.

Heroic glorious deeds which are so irresistible for the young people – even more so, today, in the 21st century

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Jason has a typical face of a conformist, opportunist and a crook, a good result of Centaur’s pedagogy. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult, if you are oriented on truth, not on mystification, to find in real history a better hero for the film. In real life most of the people try hard to get advantage over others inside the frame of reference of social hierarchy. Jason’s face is smoothly disproportional – asymmetrical between left and right sides. His gaze is direct only nominally – his intentions can be completely depending on the circumstances. His face is not organized by any psychological telos. He is capable of doing anything and everything, to betray, to murder and do it quickly, without any pathos. He, as if, doesn’t have individual soul – his soul is shattered by the dependence on multiplicity of situations in front of him. He is a forerunner of today’s post-modern man living for success, wherever and whenever it arises. His facial expression even looks like that of a national celebrity anchor men and women (it is semantically pluralistic).

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Even victorious adventurers like Jason and his comrades in arms or today’s globalist entrepreneurs and warriors have some lazy times.

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Above the wild or cultivated fields we see the ancient “super-highway”, the road for the conquerors – monarchs, “licensed thieves” and murderers. This road was used by Jason and Medea to run with the stolen Golden Fleece from the king, Medea’s father. This road stopped him from pursuing them when he recognized that the pieces of the human body thrown on the road were that of his son Absurdus, Medea’s brother, whom Medea killed on the way to help her to get away with Jason and his men. Many viewers (horrified by Medea’s behavior) at this point feel that by providing so many details of Medea’s gruesome actions and doing it in a documentary style Pasolini loses “objective” (meaning, “not so harsh”) view on history. But Pasolini expects from his viewers – to be able to look a terrifying truth of human history in order to, exactly be able to change it in the direction of its humanization.

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Medea and Jason look at the Golden Fleece without any reverie – just as at the condition of their personal happiness. This type of worship is without any traditional (sentimental) reverie. It is modern in 21st century sense when absurdity and “pragmatism” of worship are going together and when worshipped object is just for utilization and consumption.

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We see here Medea on Jason’s raft. She is preparing to look irresistibly attractive for him and irresistibly impressive in front of his buddies. But Jason feels that he deserves her sacrifices, that his operation combining logic of business and logic of marriage was more than successful.

Medea is scapegoated to give to Jason chance to successfully compete in a more modern – proto-democratic society

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Several years have passed. Already in Corinth, Jason has a vision of his old teacher whose apparition in front of Jason should help him in his success in a new place. But for this purpose, the positive image of Medea had to be destroyed in Jason’s soul. Is it the idea of Centaur Heron or Jason’s unconscious? In front of a more developed – proto-liberal society, the image of the old Centaur bifurcates – now to his archaic image corresponding to how Heron always looked like, is added his new, “modernized” version which we in this shot see on the right (both Herons are heartbreakingly played by Tersieff – we feel how truth which before seemed eternal becomes relative – changeable depending on different times and circumstances). In Corinth Jason secretly dreams about a grand career move – marriage on king Cresus’ daughter, Glauce. But guilty feelings over Medea stand on his way. It’s not too difficult to fall in love with a young and an attractive girl who also happens to be a princess of a big kingdom. So, Jason is sincere. The new Heron even talks in a different way than his old version – more pragmatically and simultaneously more passionately – times have changed and with it human wisdom. But Jason is the same, as calculating as always but with a lighter heart – in a new, more democratically “positive” atmosphere crystallizing in opportunities.

Medea’s last fight for her dignity and for her children, unfortunately with a too high price

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Jason is already planning to marry Glauce and follows the official ritual of “applying” for bridegroom-hood among other pretenders, but Medea becomes more and more afraid for the future of her sons.

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King Cresus “democratically” decides to “negotiate” with Medea, diplomatically and with a humane language – he explains to Medea that his daughter is “in love” with Jason, and that for a king-father “nothing is as important as the happiness of his daughter”. Cresus even uses the fact of Jason’s poorness as support for his case – their marriage, he explains, is about pure love, without any calculations. This insulting tactlessness and cruelty putting Medea lower of the level of ideal purity king, as if, represent, Medea, with all her past of murderess, never knew and cannot accept. Instead of direct repression, Medea is given the chance by the king to “mature” – to peacefully agree to release Jason from his obligations. The possible inability to swallow this humiliation delivered with liberal compassion and care is, obviously, “not the responsibility” of the king, narcissistically concentrated only on his side of the matter. He doesn’t know that he himself will soon lose his life together with his daughter.

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The innocent and beautiful Glauce thinks, as most girls of her age, mainly, about love, and for her its incarnation is Jason.

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But Medea, to protect her and her children’s honor, deploys her effective magical weapon – her witchcraft (she doesn’t want her sons to become “bastards” in Jason’s new family). Under the influence of Medea’s subliminal suggestions Glauce starts to feel that she is becoming “ugly” (universal fear of beautiful girls).

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Psychologically disoriented by Medea’s subliminal messages, poor Glauce is transformed into a desperate creature with consciousness of not being worthy of her husband to be. The archaically conservative form of violence unintentionally provoked by a more “gentle” “democratic” form of violence, with full power projects itself into the world. Glauce became an innocent target of revenge, like American people in the day of horrifying attack on 9/11.

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Desperate Glauce is struck by an impulsive suicidal desire – in this still she looks right at her destiny she just decided.

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The “Liberal” king cannot continue to live without his daughter and commits suicide right after her.

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This is the place where Glauce and Cresus both jumped down to their death, father after the daughter.

Maria Callas and Pier Paolo Pasolini

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Pier Paolo is observed not only by a photographer but by Maria Callas

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Pier Paolo Pasolini, Maria Callas and two other partially autonomous creatures

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In almost all his films and many of his writings Pasolini was motivated to understand socio-psychological reality as a historical phenomenon. He either depicted and analyzed the clash, even the incompatibility between the traditional life and the modernized sensibility – “Salo” (1976), “Uccelacci e Uccellini” (1966), “Mamma Roma” (1962), or openly compared the different historical periods – often inventing paradoxical configurations of the plots in order to make his comparative analysis articulate and expressive – “Oedipus Rex” (1967), “Pigpen” (1969), or, as in “Medea” and “What are Clouds?” – Episode in “Italian Capriccio” (1966), resourcefully using dramaturgic material for the purpose of inter-epochal juxtaposition.

In “Medea” Pasolini compares three contiguous historical periods (the more “archaic” – a more idealized life, a “less archaic” and a more obviously authoritarian life, and the “more modern – proto-democratic” life) signified by the three Greek kingdoms. The kingdom of Medea’s father signifies “the historical past” while the more central Greek kingdoms signify the two phases of “historical present” (the land of Jason’s father and Corinth of king Cresus, Glauce’s father, a city with a more “modernized” sensibility). The archaic society’s main characteristics are extremely ritualized life and custom of human sacrifices. The moderately modernist society is characterized as manipulated by the mental calculations of an absolute ruler (Jason’s uncle), and the “enlightened” society is represented by seemingly “milder/gentler” monarchy of the father of Jason’s new bride to be.

Archaic society is described by Pasolini’s imagery as the one with a minimal degree of modernization and with pristinely idolatrous imagination. For Pasolini it means that the cruelty of its human sacrifice rituals is colored by a limited perception of it as cruel – people see it as beneficial for the population and environment, as a kind of necessity for rejuvenation of life. In moderately modernist societies, like Jason’s uncle’s kingdom, manipulation of minds through propaganda has a power to mask immorality and criminality of the leaders and perpetuate their power through fooling the simpletons. In the society of king Cresus (played by Massimo Girotti, with his elegant masculinity) we see “kindness” and “positivity” in his acceptance of Jason as his possible son-in-law and his description of love between Glauce and Jason, and in his desire for compromise in order to satisfy all sides involved in a conflictual situation. Euripides’ Corinth became for Pasolini a metaphor of proto-democratic sensibility, that didn’t help the heroes of the film to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner at all. In “liberal” societies modernization is quick and smooth, but the humanistic sensitivity is still remains underdeveloped, and the more dependent side is given the chance to “adapt” to the stronger side. Here violence can be unintentionally provoked just by the indifference towards individual destinies.

If Medea is a child of the archaic society, Jason is that of an authoritarian manipulation society. Jason’s immorality may seem not as drastic and extreme as Medea’s. But is it really milder/gentler than hers? The “gentle king” (Massimo Girotti) is not less despotic in essence than Jason’s uncle and certainly is without the archaic innocence of Medea’s father. Medea is the personification of the catastrophic modernization when taken from the kingdom where murder and betrayal can be “naturalized” and justified as sacrifice for fertility, she (with her two sons) finds himself in the role of sacrificial objects without any public – redeeming aspect of sacrifice, only as objects for private consumption for the sake of Jason’s future success. Jason’s betrayal of Medea and his own sons is marked by Pasolini as “liberal violence”, and Medea’s (as a conservative person) physical violence – as a reaction on a violence of the very democracy – the essence of the Third World countries’ conservative mutiny against democratic world order. It is masked conservatism (sublimated forms of cruelty in the democratic worldview) that makes the anti-democratic conservatives to rebel. It is democratic conservatism that gives anti-democratic conservatives chance to consider democracy as redundant/ perverted conservatism which must be corrected.

So, Pasolini creates a complicated intertwining of topics and images – present/past; characterization of societies from the archaic to the “advanced”; gradual/slow and drastic/quick modernization and their personifications in Medea and Jason. If Medea is personification of straightforward/wooden sort of conservatism, Jason is the personification of a “sublimated” conservatism of indifference, rather than that of hate. When straightforward/rigid conservatives, like Medea, are exposed to quick modernization promoted by superficial progressivism in economy or in culture (mass culture), they are experiencing the pressures of catastrophic modernization. Results can be the extensive outbreak of crimes in all the areas of life, economy, international relations and cultural realm. These crimes are symbolized by Medea’s murder of king Cresus and his daughter and her and Jason’s sons. Mass murders becoming widespread today and extensive (global) financial and industrial crimes are results of the panicky socio-political convulsions created by catastrophic modernization.

It is the relations between ultimate violence and its previous incarnations Pasolini examines in “Medea”. The chain of violent events we follow in the film starts with stories of betrayal, rivalry and revenge in Centaur’s pedagogy to the child Jason. It continues during Jason’s presence in the more archaic society (where ritualistic violence of human sacrifice serves as an illustration of the ancient archetypal violence of human nature, and in Medea’s betrayal and murder of her brother). Pasolini intentionally violates the historical order of the societies with different types of violence – he starts with the violence of authoritarian/despotic society of Jason’s uncle’s (in order to emphasize its essential – directly manipulative and cruel nature), and depicts Medea’s violent behavior in archaic society as provoked by the intervention of a “more developed” society (Jason’s intention to steal the Golden Fleece, like today’s “buying” the natural resources/treasures in Third World countries, which provokes “terrorist” resistance). And the second example of pernicious influence of “more developed” societies on less developed ones is provided when Medea and Jason settle the proto-democratic Corinth, where “civil” rivalry and competition leading to Jason’s betrayal provokes Medea’s “terrorist” act of revenge. It is, as if, Pasolini wants to make the point that extreme acts of violence in history sometimes are connected with intentional or unintentional influence of the more developed countries on the less developed. Pasolini’s “Medea” as if, had predicted the development of the Middle Eastern terrorism of the 21st century as a result of the West’s globalist economy intervening into the underdeveloped countries’ internal affairs by bribing their elites and destroying their prospects for independent economic and political developments. The appearance of Jason with his absurd goal provoked Medea’s violence against her brother. Later, in Corinth, violence returns in the form of Jason’s betrayal of Medea and in the indifference of king Cresus towards Medea’s suffering. And, finally, violence apocalyptically culminating in Medea’s multiple murders of revenge.

Pasolini represents in his film not the story of Medea as such but depicts his own analysis of the traumatizing people (from different epochs) discrepancy in types of violence accepted in one country but not in other. Pasolini’s description of Medea’s betrayal and murder of her brother is very relevant for us Americans today because of his clairvoyant reference to neo-conservative agenda to sacrifice “brothers” – fellow Americans to the interests of the top 2% of the population (to the quest for more profits and control over the planetary and human life by putting austerity measures on regular people).

If Medea is a product of an archaically stable absolute monarchy where life is not destabilized by the fight for power, Jason is born in a society with an intense rivalry for the throne. The important characteristic of Jason’s uncle is his extensive polygamy – one of the most appalling scenes of the repressive power in the film is when the uncle is sitting on the throne encircled by a flock of his wives collectively voicing their unconditional admiration for their Master. What here adds to the picture of extremes of monarchy is pluralistic versatility of his sexual taste. In comparison with Medea, Jason is very cautious; he always calculates his moves in advance. We never see him fighting or risking. He is like the “liberal” child of conservative parents, in today’s terms. All the dirty work connected with his theft of the Golden Flees was done by Medea – his role was to seduce her with the prospect of a marriage. He is in a way like Aziz from Pasolini’s “Arabic Nights” (1974) with his innocent indifference or indifferent innocence toward the suffering of other people including those who are intimately connected with him. Pasolini’s Jason is a civilized “monster“, a person without any sensitivity of the soul, without the ability for identification with otherness. He is like the killer of civilians in the war – he feels nothing when he pulls the trigger or presses the button to activate the drone’s missile except how it will support the material prosperity of his life.

Another aspect of Pasolini’s intellectual construction of “Medea” is the decisive role of human imagination in preparing people for committing violent crimes. Pasolini shows murder committed in imagination as a preparation/planning (as psychological worming up) for committing physical murder. The director uses Medea’s witchcraft (the ability to provoke through witchcraft the victims to commit suicide) as a metaphor of imaginary killing before the real killing will take place. This preparational violence is more psychologically basic than direct physical one, but physical destruction of life would be impossible without this preparational phase. Medea’s vengeful violence against the king and his daughter is a preamble to murder of her own children.

The whole film can be interpreted as a study of provoking further destruction violence of our frustrated desire in symbiotic ties with our imagination. Medea’s murderous behavior at the end of the film is different from her sacrifice of her brother – this first violent act was felt by her in the context of sacrificial archetype of our ancestors’ thinking normalizing such sacrifice by the tradition. Ritualistic sacrifice of others has always been an omnipresent feature of human cultures, whether we like it or not but democratic countries today pretend to be “humanistic” and “civilized” exception from history and mislead and confuse their next generations by suggesting that “we today” are more moral than our ancestors. Pasolini’s film is rare in the history of cinema example of absolute honesty about what a tremendous degree of violence was accepted as a normal phenomenon of life in our historical past and is accepted in the present condition of our civilization. But sacrificing others (in rivalry, competition, mass repressions, exploitation, austerity, wars and crime), according to the film, is not the most horrific form of violence. Genocidal, socio-cultural and socio-environmental violence when there is no difference between murder and suicide, mass murder and mass suicide and when violent desire to satisfy itself is ready to destroy all around – is the level of apocalyptic violence described by Pasolini in the very act of Medea’s murdering her children and her own and Jason’s soul.

We, Americans and Europeans of the 21st century are speeding towards this point of apocalyptic violence with our globalist conquests, pompously proclaimed hundred years wars, with our destruction of planetary ecological system, with the shock therapies and austerity measures for populations. We are moving towards Medea’s psychological point of destruction when destruction and self-destruction (like in recent mass murders in US) cannot be separated from one another. We can say that Pasolini in “Medea” models the future/present condition of the world and by this warns us about what is coming. His psychological construction of the murderous desire mixed with the imagination that can be nurtured by civilization’s artificiality and collective megalomania can help us to understand and better control the psychological roots of our violent impulses. It’s not by chance that the chain of apocalyptic murders committed by Medea at the end of the film/end of civilization, are committed by a person from an “archaic land” (with conservative psychology) who is clashing with a more sophisticated and “sublimated” violence of a more “civilized” society. Pasolini’s Medea-Callas teaches us how to empathize and work with those whose actions against democracy we not only cannot endorse but are obliged to resist.

Posted on Mar 2 2015 –   “Medea” (1969) by Pier Paolo Pasolini  by Acting-Out Politics