How to read and understand Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Adulto? Mai”?

By Cécile Voisset

Adulto? Mai – mai, come l’esistenza
che non matura – resta sempre acerba,
di splendido giorno in splendido giorno –
io non posso che restare fedele
alla stupenda monotonia del mistero,
Ecco perché, nelle felicità,
non mi sono abbandonnato – ecco
perché nell’ansia delle mie colpe
non ho mai toccato un rimorso vero.
Pari, sempre pari con l’inespresso,
all’origine di quello che io sono. 

(Roma, 1950. Diario)


There is nothing but reality for Pasolini in taking such an oath: never be an adult, never! He observed it his whole life, faithfully. Loyally. To be surprised, to observe, to be unsatisfied by anything: neither compromises nor corruption, in order not to give up, not to betray oneself. He hated lies and easiness.

To ever be young in mind, to maintain oneself in youth, is not being infantile; on the contrary, such a difficult way consists in preserving a sort of representation; we may call that “naivety”, in the good sense of the term; Pasolini didn’t conceptualize his thinking but we approach it by this word: “naivety” was for him a sort of native or uncorrupted representation or state of mind[1]. Surely naivety is the contrary of adulthood according to Pasolini who wrote, in Against Television: “Please, don’t misunderstand me: there is an identity between innocence and constituted values, and destruction of innocence is destruction of values.”

Actually, any child could have observed that most of the adults play a part and cheat, for most of their lives. The Italian writer, poet and film-maker defended the sacred, which is not innocence. His main refusal of conformism was a strong desire to remain unbending (total, he probably would have said).

Pasolini thus sets a philosophical example of fighting against illusions, and shows us the institutional ways that keep them alive.

There is a fear which is nonsense or a false problem. It deals with the question of age. This sort of question proceeds from a narrow vision of the mind. If you think being young is better than being old, you are wrong because you are unnecessarily regretting the past which is, by definition, over. Nostalgia is also a fault, it is a bad and stupid feeling, for the very fact that the past is always behind us and that we’ve to look ahead and forward, in front of us. It doesn’t matter that we cannot preserve or keep a young soul (the Pasolini vow, his natural instinct): youth symbolizes energy or strength, a sane state of mind which differs most of time from adulthood when people are imprisoned by conventions or codes or obligations of all sorts, which often maintain the self in immaturity, and consequently, in dependence; someone who fears growing old is not free and unhappy.

The fear of growing old is factually a fear of dying, which is, of course, a natural and especially human fear, because knowing our own finitude is a law of our human condition, i.e. our limits both in time and in space. The lesson of it here is that we have to take advantage of life, to organize, and to save time. It’s really a question of health, and health depends on us: body is influenced by the mind too, we must take care of them both.

Someone who is fed up with images of glory, i.e. with appearances, surely knows that appearances are nothing but a trap, an illusory way, in fact the opposite of reality or existence, since that pride is the opposite of wisdom, i.e. a way of living in confidence or by its own. Thus, believing in them, in what one can call “surface” and/or “superficiality”, doesn’t change anything.

P. P. Pasolini was never fooled by social and moral injunctions and so on. His faithfulness to himself, that we read in “Adult? Never”, is really misunderstood. His innumerable and silly opponents preferred to talk of Pasolinian scandal: shame on them. It is not only unfair, it is also erroneous.


[1] Naivety (often) regards children, but not only them; this concept also deals with the point of social class; for example, the upper class ignores naivety because, they have the power (the money, and so on).

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