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Italian Literature  
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Recent Depictions of Homosexul Desire

In more recent times, however, the adoration of young boys has been associated with a desire for the primitive, the natural. The work of Pier Paolo Pasolini is perhaps most characteristic of this tendency. For Pasolini, the connection is primarily a political one, for the youths he worshipped came inevitably from the peasant or working class.

In this context, he is probably best known for his portrayal of the "ragazzi di vita," the poor Roman boys whom he befriended. Their apparent amorality and thus their refusal to live by bourgeois values held a strong attraction for the writer.

On an individual level, however, these boys are only fleetingly represented in Pasolini's work. His most sustained and most idyllic portrayal of homosexual love occurs in one of his earliest works, Amado mio (1948), which is set in the countryside of the northern region of Friuli.

The central focus of this unfinished novel is on the relationship between the well-educated and sophisticated Desiderio and Benito/Iasìs, the poor peasant whom he meets at a country ball. The opening scenes are infused with a lyrical homoeroticism in which the pastoral setting and the receptiveness of the young boys to each other's kisses in the absence of female partners represent the apex of happiness for Desiderio.

Unfortunately, Benito, the boy he falls in love with, is the most reluctant in recognizing and acting on his desire. The novel is largely occupied with the frustrations of Desiderio's courtship of the boy he renames Iasìs. Finally, Iasìs swoons into his lover's arms under the sway of Rita Hayworth, whose captivating presence in Gilda enables him to embrace his heart's desire. The novel ends on the promise of love.

Unashamedly sentimental, it contrasts with Pasolini's better known later works particularly in the portrayal of class difference. Desiderio and his bourgeois companion, Gilberto, are not objects of contempt like those members of the bourgeoisie found in Ragazzi di vita (1955), for example.

The peasant boys too are impeccably virtuous and ennobled by love although they do tend to be easily impressed. Gilberto's lover Mario coyly declines his suggestion that they visit the seaside because he cannot afford to go. This provides a sharp contrast with Pasolini's later representation of interclass relationships where sex is inseparable from money and love is out of the question.

It is at odds also with the images of homosexuality normally associated with Pasolini, whose reputation based on public scandal and the brutal nature of his death too often cancels out the lyricism of his homoerotic imagination.

Amado mio offers an interesting correlation with Pasolini's early dialect poetry in which masturbating youths symbolize the possibility of escape and freedom from a repressive society. This image is also one that inhabits the poetry of Sandro Penna (1906-1977).

Penna's youths are commonly sailors or athletes, the glimpse of whose beauty allows the poet to transcend, however briefly, the travails of the everyday. Penna never attempts to transform these intuitions into narrative; for him, the erotic remains part of an aesthetic or metaphysical dimension of remembered experience.

Homosexual Subjectivity

In most of the literature so far mentioned, there is little attempt to articulate homosexual subjectivity or experience. In the twentieth century when this has occurred, it has most often been in terms of a very crude Freudian framework. Male homosexuality is the almost inevitable result of a weak or absent father and a domineering mother.

This is the case, for example, in the novels by Bassani and Moravia already mentioned and of the more complex, although unfinished, novel Ernesto by Umberto Saba (1883-1957). In Ernesto, published posthumously in 1975, the Triestine writer, better known as a poet, charts the early homosexual experiences of an adolescent boy at the turn of the century. Ernesto is one of the rare examples of the coming-out novel in Italian literature.

Saba explores the boy's conflicting feelings of shame and desire as he is initiated into homosexuality by a slightly older, working-class man in awe of Ernesto's education and social status. Particularly interesting is the way in which Saba charts Ernesto's dissatisfaction with the passive role automatically assigned to him. His longing to be the more active partner is largely responsible for the breakup of the affair.

At the end of the novel, Ernesto meets a boy only slightly younger than himself and seems to be on the point of embarking on a more equitable relationship. However Saba's notes explaining how he intended to complete the text indicate that the two would end up in a sordid heterosexual love triangle. In a novel that is full of commonplace assumptions concerning the nature of homosexual relations, Saba seems incapable of imagining homosexuality as anything more than a very temporary rupture of the dominant social order.

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