In “Eroticism”, Georges Bataille discusses the need for methods and even science when approaching sex and sexuality. He argues that studying such subjective phenomenon, one could quit objective resources: data, methods, and traceability. One could, instead, use as scientific research oneself’s “inner” experience. As human beings, we have all experienced some erotic situation. In this case, it is a matter of how to transmit that knowledge. 

For Bataille, to communicate what one understands as eroticism, a realm close to that of religion, is to admit that “neither philosophy nor science can answer the questions that religious aspirations have set us.” On the other hand, while every scholar is acquainted with erotic experiences as any other human being is, we can neither stop behaving as subjects, not refrain from talking experience:

“My inquiry, then, based essentially on inner experience, springs from a different source from the work if religious, historians, ethnographers, and theologists. No doubt men working in these fields did have to ask whether they could assess the data under their consideration independently of the inner experience which on the one hand they share with their contemporaries and on the other resulted to some degree from their personal experiences modified by contact with the world constituting their fields of study (…)”

Bataille then hints at an alternative, to map “coincidences”:

“This difficulty is a general one, though it is relatively simple for me to imagine in what way my own inner experience coincides with that of other people and in what way it enables me to communicate with them.”

By the end of the book, he ponders on how research difficulties emerge even for those who try to study sexuality from a neutral point of view:

“If we affirm that guilty sexuality can be regarded as innocently material, our awareness, far from seeing sexual life as it is, neglects entirely those disturbing aspects which do not fit in with a clear picture. A clear picture is actually the first requirement but because of this, the truth escapes notice. Such aspects, felt to be accursed, remain in the twilight where are a prev to horror and anguish. By exonerating our sexual life from every trace of guilty science has no chance of seeing for what it is. Our ideas are clarified but at the cost of being blinkered. Science with its emphasis on precision cannot grasp the complexity of the system in which a few factors are pushed to extremes when it rejects the blurred and distinct realities of sexual life.”

Excerpt from:
Bataille, G. (2001). Eroticism, trans. Mary Dalwood. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

In 1964, Pasolini set out to mission impossible. He proposed a trip around Italy to document people’s views on sex. The result might sound outdated today, but it is not, by any means, irrelevant. One finds prosaic, uninformed, prejudicial opinions, but, at the same time, imaginative, inquisitive, and, somehow, liberated accounts on sex. I have gathered here a few screenshots of what I found brilliant moments, in which Pasolini pushes, challenges the people to say what they think or to build an opinion on the spot.  I wonder what happened to this form of documentary, where filmmakers, journalists, and media professionals engage with the vox populi, as a bottom-up way of seeing the world.

“Here in the deep south, everyone has a clear picture of sex”

Pasolini visits the “deep” Italian South. He asks a young man about local terms such as fuitina (quick sexual intercourse). Bravely, he approaches a group of young men to ask how many girls they have met lately to find a disappointing answer.

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“I would resort to a remedy”

When approaching two young women about homosexuality, Pasolini gets a wary response from the ladies. They said to have mixed feelings about the issue. One of them said she expected everything “goes well” when she gets married. While seeing homosexuality, in a psychologic perspective, as “abnormal”, they have hopes these individuals get “cured” or “resort to a remedy”.

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“He was born with an impulse”

Back in the north, Pasolini raises the same controversial question to a group of young men. Responses get more nuanced, but once responding in front of their friends, some of the men are cautious at condemning “inversion” or “perversion”, while “accepting” it is dangerous. Most of them dwell on “un-natural” v “of nature” argument. A few others say to “pity” inversed men due to their behaviour, “an impulse” to one of the interviewees.

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“It’s in a deep crisis”

Consulting with a range of Italian intellectuals, Pasolini gets confronted with the complexity of his research, then decides in the middle of the film to adapt his survey to focus more on “practical questions”.

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“Encounters on Roman beaches”

Looking for informal locations, Pasolini approached beachgoers of all ages, types, and educational backgrounds. The answers he collects are as varied as the characters are charismatic, Pasolini says to have acknowledged the “status quo.”

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“There was no sexuality, nothing”

At the end of the 1960s, Italy lived a period of liberalisation of sex-related laws, with topics such as divorce coming at the top of people’s discussions. Pasolini approaches in his beach series what local Romans think about these issues.

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“Because women need to stay in their place”

The question on divorce had the potential of shaking the old structures of marriage and “La Famiglia”, bringing up strong opinions, but also revealing what was a generational conflict of ideas.

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“You don’t want to understand”

Pasolini’s approach for young people has been notorious in cinema. His depiction of a punished youth in Saló makes one wonder what an encounter of his with young people, in reality, would look like. Well, in Love Meetings he not only meets them, but he confronts them with questions about sexuality. Interestingly, he challenges a group of three young boys on topics that could really be alien to them, such as the issue of love v. one’s patriotic love.

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