TO DISCOVER THAT THERE IS NOTHING TO DISCOVER:
IMAGINATION, THE OPEN, AND 'THE MOVIES OF FEDERTCO FELLINI
DAVID L. LAVERY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DECREE OF DOCTOR OF PH ILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
David L. Lavery
For Lee Bluestein (1938-1968) and John F. Reinhardt,
who first showed me the Journey Out and Back
and taught me to endure it.
For W. R. R., Taylor, my parents, Carol, Joyce, and Susan.
I think I have told you, but if I have not, you must have
understood, that a man who has a vision is not able to use
the power of it until after he has performed the vision on
earth for the people to see.
In the rites of passage of many native American peoples it is
common for a young man, approaching maturity, to embark on a vision
quest into the wilderness in search of a message or revelation on
which he might shape his existence. I would like to think of the follow-
ing work as such a vision quest, and I wish here to thank those who were
responsible in their various ways for helping me complete the quest.
W. R. Robinson introduced me to Fellini and to the movies and
taught me to see as well as an amblyopic blind person like myself could
Taylor Scott brought me, I hope, back to earth, pronouncing, like
Guido's producer, the magic words, "Down, definitely down," when I most
needed to hear them.
Sid Homan, Motley Deakin, and Ben Pickard showed their understanding
and patience with my viscissitudes and allowed me to finish this creature.
John F. Reinhardt, because of a promise made to him, gave me the
courage to finish; my moral debt is to him.
Phil Kuhn helped to discover the poet in me.
My students were a constant inspiration.
Joyce Kling was and always will be my angel.
And the contributions of my wife Susan go beyond all words to
describe: for all she has done, she deserves nothing more than the
I also wish to thank W. W. Norton and Company and Harper and Row
Publishers for their permission to quote from their publications.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . .
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS .
ABSTRACT . . . .
CHAPTER ONE: FELLINI:
CHAPTER TWO: THE WAYS
The Elements .
The Grotesque .
Madmen and Clowns
Children . .
MAJOR MAN . . . . . . . .
OF THE FLESH . . . . . . . .
CHAPTER THREE: JULIET OF THE SPIRITS: FROM LOVE
TO AUTOCHTHONY . . . . . . .
CHAPTER FOUR: AMARCORD: "A CELEBRATION OF THE LIGHT" .
CHAPTER FIVE: THE OPEN . . . . . . . . .
LEXICON . . . . . . . . . . . . .
APPENDIX I: FIRST STRUCTURE AND CREATIVITY . . . .
APPENDIX II: THE MORE THAN RATIONAL DISTORTION . . .
APPENDIX III: SAYING IN THE THOUGHT OF MARTIN HEIDEGGER .
APPENDIX IV: THE FLESH . . . . . . . . .
APPENDIX V: MIMICRY AND THE MOVIES . . . . . .
FILMOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 90
. . 125
. . 164
. . 180
. . 185
. . 201
. . 209
. . 229
. . 260
BIBLLOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . . . . 271
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS
Works by Martin Heidegger:
BT . .. Being and Time
"CCP". . "Conversation on a Country Path About Thinking"
DT . .. Discourse on Thinking
EB . .. Existence and Being
EP . .. The End of Philosophy
IM . .. Introduction to Metaphysics
OWL . On the Way to Language
PLT . Poetry, Language, Thought
QT . . The Question Concerning Technology
Works by Maurice Merleau-Ponty:
VI . .. The Visible and the Invisible
Works by Rainer Maria Rilke:
DE . .. Duino Elegies
SO . .. Sonnets to Orpheus
Works by Wallace Stevens:
CP . . Collected Poems
NA . .. The Necessary Angel
OP . . Opus Posthumous
So far as we know, the tiny fragments of the universe embodied
in man are the only centres of thought and responsibility in
the visible world. If that be so, the appearance of the human
mind has been so far the ultimate stage in the awakening of
the world; and all that has gone before, the strivings of a
myriad of centres that have taken the risks of living and
believing, seem to have all been pursuing, along rival lines,
the aim now achieved by us up to this point. They are all akin
to us. For all these centres--those which led up to our own
existence and the far more numerous others which produced
different lines of which many are extinct--may be seen engaged
in the same endeavor towards ultimate liberation. We may
envisage then a cosmic field which called forth all these
centres by offering them a short-lived, limited, hazardous
opportunity for making some progress of their own towards an
Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge
The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing
of this problem. (Is not this the reason why men to whom after
long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then
say wherein this sense consisted?)
I obtained not the least thing from unexcelled, complete
awakening, and for this reason it is called "unexcelled,
The acute intelligence of the imagination, the illimitable
resources of its memory, its power to possess the moment it
perceives--if we were speaking of light itself, and thinking
of the relationship between objects and light, no further
demonstration would be necessary. Like light, it adds
nothing, except itself.
Consummation of the poet
then the passage winds describe
to breadcrumbs in his iris,
ambit of quicksilver re-memberings,
the center-ring agreements,
inventions of the sesame
(Asa Nisi Masa):
"where the eyes move"
in amarcord's serenade . .
"true friends" guide,
clowns of angelic exercise,
the tour of la strada
vouching "Buena sera!"--
the mother pedagogy, like
a peacock's benediction--
of confessed misogyny,
prodigal from wrapping sheets
and afraid of being happy,
ascend trees wanting woman--
her glance of shy epiphany
"there the treasures are" . .
little hands of spring
in seminars of weather
the photogenic seasons.
Nothing to say
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
TO DISCOVER THAT THERE IS NOTHING TO DISCOVER:
IMAGINATION, THE OPEN, AND THE MOVIES OF FEDERICO FELLINI
David L. Lavery
Chairman: William R. Robinson
Major Department: English
The following is a study of the development of the imagination of
Federico Fellini. It is a hermeneutical attempt to interpret Fellini's
films as personal visions, revelations of an evolving orientation to
the world in the experience of their director. It is founded upon a
conception of creativity drawn from the thought of Martin Heidegger,
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Wallace Stevens, developed in an attempt to
understand what Fellini's fellow director Lina Wertmuller meant when
she proclaimed that, "When you work with Federico, you can only learn
to discover that there is nothing to discover." Chapter One, Fellini:
Major Man, explains briefly this theory of creativity, examines Fellini's
own thinking on his art, and suggests that Fellini be understood as a
"major man," as Wallace Stevens described him, a character "beyond/
Reality, composed thereof." Here as well the place in the "topology of
Being" in which the discovery that there is nothing to discover holds
sway is renamed the Open, following the description of Rainer Maria
Rilke, and the purpose of the dissertation is established: to search
for this "place" in the works of Fellini, following the growth of his
art, seeking out what Heidegger called the "overarching poem" which
lies behind the entire creative output of an artist and attempting to
describe its message hermeneutically. Chapter Two, The Ways of the
Flesh, traces the presence of various "eternal recurrences" that appear
again and again in Fellini's work, failure, the elements, the grotesque,
madmen and clowns, children, inside/outside, and the face-to-face, showing
them to be the ground against which his movie narratives develop and the
Open is secured. All of his films are considered and the function of
each of these facets of his imagination is determined. Chapter Three,
Juliet of the Spirits: From Love to Autochthony, studies in depth
Fellini's 1965 color film as the first real vision of the Open. Chapter
Four, Amarcord: A "Celebration of the Light," analyzes that 1973 movie
as a full narrative attainment of the Open. Chapter Five, The Open,
attempts to explicate Wertmuller's insight about Fellini based upon the
preceding discussion of his films and to describe phenomenologically the
nature of the Open as revealed by Fellini's art. A lexicon and five
appendices follow which seek to provide a grounding for my discussion
of Fellini's cinematic imagination. Each expands upon subjects only
briefly discussed in the text, the nature of creativity, the "more than
rational distortion" (Wallace Stevens), Saying (Martin Heidegger), the
flesh (Merleau-Ponty), and the movies as an art of mimicry, and they
may be read either before or after the exposition in the body of the
work. A filmography of Fellini's works and an extensive bibliography,
drawn from both the body and the appendices, complete the work.
FELLINI: MAJOR MAN
A flight of fantasy, whether in dreams or daydreams, is no
mere sleight of mind. But only children will accept it as
being equally as profound as the arbitrary awareness we are
taught to regard as reality, and hence, only they are nur-
tured by it. Later, of course, many of us comprehend our
self-imposed poverty and try to double back, but the bread
crumbs are always missing and our failures are immense. A
true belief in the validity of non-ordinary reality--with
all that it can teach us--seems beyond the capabilities of
every practicing adult, with the possible exception of
I have invented myself entirely: a childhood, a personality,
longings, dreams, and memories, all in order to enable me to
One's film is like a naked man. I am compelled to be sincere
in my films.
When Lina Wertmuller was asked in an interview to explain what
she had learned from her apprenticeship under Federico Fellini (she
had been an assistant director on 8 1/2), she replied: "When you work
with Federico you can only discover that there's nothing to discover."
This seems a strange answer indeed. The statement is a paradox,
a contradiction. How can one dis-cover that there is nothing to
discover? Fellini, after all, is typically thought of by his critics as
a baroque fantasist, an egotistical purveyor of generally personal and
autobiographical visions whose meanings are often totally enigmatic.
David Thomson, to cite an extreme example, has assaulted Fellini as
"an obsessional, vacuous poseur . a half-baked, play-acting pessi-
mist, with no capacity for tragedy," whose films are a "doodling in
chaos."2 As a personality, moreover, he is perhaps the most outlandish
and controversial among modern directors and is considered to be almost
a pathological liar. Although he attempts to refute the charge by
pointing out that it is absurd to accuse a man of lying whose business
it is to tell stories and by insisting that "people are worth more than
the truth,"3 even his own wife, Giulietta Masina, has claimed that
"Federico only blushes when he tells the truth." And Fellini himself
has proclaimed the need for "a cine-mendacity" to replace cinema verite
because "A lie is always more interesting. . ." How can a man renown
all over the world for his flights of imagination teach one to discover
that there is nothing to discover? Wertmuller's statement, which might
at first glance be taken as the thesis of a common sense realism but
hardly as the basis for a philosophy of imagination, appears to be as
puzzling as one of Fellini's own images, devoid as it is of any addi-
tional commentary or explanation. Cryptic and perplexing, it is like
a Zen koan, the solution of which might enlighten our perception of
Fellini's films. But it seems initially to suggest that at least in
Wertmuller's eyes Fellini is not an artist lost in a world of his own
invention, as his critics would have it, but rather a kind of "realist
of the imagination" in some sense. But in what sense? Exactly what
process did Wertmuller glimpse at work in Fellini's creative genius?
Fellini has often complained that his critics lack respect,
seeing him with "indiscreet eyes," and has insisted that their prac-
tices are alien to his own desire never to criticize.5 He has asked
for a less objective, less external criticism of his movies, reminding
A truly humble critic would look at things from the inside,
not from the outside. If the thing is vital and you look
at it from your external point of view you will never under-
stand but will only project onto it what you think it should
Such a plea seems justifiable from a director who has claimed again and
again that his movies are inseparable functions of his own growth.
Fellini once explained to Pierre Kast that all his films contain
a certain "figure in the carpet" which it is the business of the
critics to get at:
At bottom, I am always making the same film, I am telling the
story of characters in quest of themselves, in search of a
more authentic source of life, of conduct, of behavior, that
will more closely relate to the true roots of their individu-
And foremost among those "characters" is himself. All art, he has
acknowledged, is autobiographical; "the pearl is the oyster's autobio-
graphy."8 Consequently, the "figure in the carpet" has a still
deeper significance for him:
My work can't be anything other than a testimony of what I am
looking for in life. It is a mirror of my searching. . For
myself freed. In this respect, I think, there is no cleavage
or difference of content or style in all my films. From first
to last, I have struggled to free myself from the past, from
the education laid upon me as a child. (Playboy, p. 58)
In Fellini's own eyes, then, his art and life are so inextricably
intertwined, so much an integral part of a single "seamless web" of
Making a film is something quite other . than a simple
professional fact. It's a way of realizing myself, and
giving my life a meaning. That's why, when you ask me which
of my films I prefer, I'm stuck. I don't know what to say.
I don't consider my films as professional facts; if I did so,
I might be able to look at them objectively enough to say:
this one seems more of a success than that. But as it is,
I find getting into such a detached position absolutely im-
possible. The way I want to speak about a film is, not to
say what I'm expressing in it, but the stages of my life I
passed through while making it. I have just the same diffi-
culty as I would if somebody asked me "Which do you prefer,
your military career, or your marriage, your first love, or
meeting your first friend?" They are all facts of my life.
I like it all, it's my life and consequently I can't choose.
Fellini's work is, therefore, the instrument of a personal evolution.
Like Yeats, Fellini knows well that in his elaborate, "obsessional"
working and re-working of his favorite themes and images, his personal
iconography, it is himself that he remakes.
As such, Fellini's art would seem to require what J. Hillis Miller
has described as a "loving criticism." "The proper model for the re-
lation of the critic to the work he studies," Miller suggests, "is not
that of a scientist to physical objects but that of one man to another
in charity." Love is the true paradigm for the critical act because
only "Love wants the other as he is, in all his recalcitrant peculiarity.
As St. Augustine puts it, the lover says to the loved one, 'Vola ut
sis'--'l wish you to be.'"10 In order to allow Fellini's films to "be"
then, in order to discover them as a prerequisite to revealing the
sense of discovery which they exhibit, it is essential that they be
seen as personal visions, not merely judged and condemned as cinematic
ravings, as the David Thomsons, John Simons, and Pauline Kaels have
done. They are, it is true, supreme tests of a critic's love, by
Miller's standards, for they surpass the works of nearly all other
modern filmmakers in their "recalcitrant peculiarity" and general gro-
tesqueness, and yet within them is at work, almost invisibly, Fellini's
own tacit presence before the world, his evolving discovery that there
is nothing to discover in fact, if Lina Wertmuller's insight is truly
perceptive. Could it be then that the "figure in the carpet" in
Fellini's films is really his own artistic discovery that there is
nothing to discover?
Fellini has proclaimed again and again in his interviews and pub-
lished writings a commitment to his own sense of wonder, to, as he
puts it, "anything that tends to restore man to a stature that is more
vast, more mysterious even, and more anguished, but in any case, neither
pacifying nor consoling" (Kast, p. 185). For the "real," he has ex-
plained, is not what we assume it to be; it
is neither an enclosure nor a panorama that has just a single
surface. A landscape, for example, has several textures, and
the deepest, the one that can be revealed only by poetry, is
no less real. It is said that what I wish to show behind the
epiderm of things and people is the unreal. It is called my
taste for the mysterious. I shall readily accept this des-
cription if you will use a capital "M." For me, the mysterious
is man, the long, irrational lines of his spiritual life, love,
salvation. . For me, the key to the mystery--which is to
say, God--is to be found at the center of the successive layers
of reality. . (Murray, p. 35)
Art's allegiance, Fellini insists, is therefore not to the "real," but
to those "long, irrational lines" which constitute the true reality.
The authentic artist then is a "visionary," and conversely only
visionary art is realistic, as Fellini explained to Charles Samuels:
For me the only real artist is the visionary because he bears
witness to his own reality. A visionary--Van Gogh, for in-
stance--is a profound realist. That wheat field with the black
sun is his; only he saw it. There can't be greater realism.
(Samuels, p. 126)
That Fellini himself is such a visionary is not to be doubted.
Ingmar Bergman, for example, testified to the visionary genius of his
fellow filmmaker as a defense against John Simon's accusation that
Fellini is "not . honest." Fellini, Bergman insisted,
is not honest, he is not dishonest, he is just Fellini . he
has no limits; he's just like quicksilver--all over the place.
I have never seen anybody like that before. . He is enor-
mously intuitive; he is creative; he is an enormous force. He
is burning inside with such heat. Collapsing. . The heat
from his creative mind, it melts him. . He is rich.12
And he has himself explained that "If I wander around the world looking
at things it is only to reassure myself that the world I have invented
Yet Fellini has also insisted that he is "completely incapable
of inventing."14 Like William Blake, who claimed that "I see Every
thing I paint In This World," Fellini would deny that his creations
are the product of some secondary process. For him, imagination and
perception are indistinguishable. As the artist and experimental film-
maker Hans Richter saw when he visited the set of Fellini-Satyricon,
Fellini "creates the way he sees."15 Fellini's imagination thus would
seem to be like that envisioned by Wallace Stevens in his "Adagia":
the attainment of
a degree of perception at which what is real and what is ima-
gined are one: a state of clairvoyant observation, accessiblel6
or possibly accessible to the poet, or, say, the acutest poet.
All such "acutest poets" are, Stevens thought, "major men," men in whom
the real and the imagined are fused as one:
All men are brave
All men endure. . .
The major men--
That is different. They are characters beyond
Reality, composed thereof.17
Might not Fellini the artist be just such a "major man," in his works
incorporating the real and the imaginary in such a way that they become
the narrative paradigms of a reality in which the prime discovery is
that there is nothing to discover?
That Fellini's "seamless web" of experience/imagination marks him
as an eccentric in the modern age is a result of what Martin Heidegger
calls the "enframing" disposition of the human intellect in this "age
of the world picture" and of "the oblivion of Being." According to
Heidegger's thought, the modern age now no longer feels the presence
of the world, for it has been "stored-away" by our calculative tech-
nology in such a way that it is readily available but devoid of any
Being. "Today," William Lovitt comments, "all things are being swept
together in a vast network in which their only meaning lies in their
being available to serve some end that will itself also be directed
toward getting everything under control."19 In "the age of the world
picture," Ileidegger has shown, even art itself is reduced to being
merely an object for academic aesthetics instead of being seen as the
primary human activity of response to the disclosing, the aletheia, or
truth of physics, as it was for the Greeks, a people who lived, as
Heidegger demonstrates, "exposed" and open to that which is. But for
Fellini as "major man," art is still the primal working of reality, the
making present of what is to him within his almost overwhelming sense
of wonder before his unframed world.
Perhaps no other art is as potentially dependent on this work as
is the movies. The work of the movie auteur is this incessant trans-
formation of a personal world into a public experience or spectacle,
the making explicit, through the direction of actors, movement, and
gestures, the staging of scenes, lighting, color, and cinematography,
and all the huge labors of production, of an essentially tacit sense of
the presence of the "real" in his experience and imagination. And no
better example of a complete auteur exists than Fellini, who is respon-
sible for his movies on the levels of the script, the scenic design, and
the entire realization. All accounts of Fellini on the set of a movie,
of his sometimes wildly improvisational nature and his tyrannical
command over the production, seem to suggest the validity of his
I have to say--with all gratitude to those who work with me--
that I consider myself father and mother of my films. I am
helped by knowledgeable obstetricians and faithful friends,
but the conception is mine alone. (Murray, p. 19)
His co-workers refer to the making of a Fellini film as "the daily
miracle,"22 and Dominique Delouche has claimed that Fellini is "one of
the few directors who conceives of inspiration as being a sacred
phenomenon"; his films, Delouche explains, "are never created out of
separate components, the way a simple craftsman would work, but around
this special nucleus of inspiration, this alpha, this starting spark,
by a radiant, explosive procedure" (quoted in Salachas, p. 200; my
Fellini's muse is, however, very demanding. To every question con-
cerning why he has shot a particular scene in a particular way he has
always given the same answer: "I had to shoot it that way." For
Fellini feels deeply the demands of "that artistic fatality that is
independent of any explanation" (Samuels, pp. 120, 124). (If we accept
Juan Ramon Jimenez' distinction that there are two kinds of art:
"voluntaria"--works make out of a conscious, willful decision to create;
and "necessaria"--works which demand to be created, then Fellini's
films would most certainly have to be classified as "necessaria.") In
making a film, Fellini has even gone so far as to insist, "Everything
goes ahead as if, at the beginning, there was an agreement between the
film that is to be born and me. As if the finished film already exis-
ted quite outside me, just as--on a very different scale--the law of
gravity existed before Newton discovered it" (Strich, p. 104).
Fellini's inspiration, his "alpha," the source of his creativity,
is not, then, a demon which grants to him a vision of some transcendent
realm, but an angel rather, one like Wallace Stevens describes in
"Angel Surrounded by Paysans," "The necessary angel of earth," with
whose sight one is able to "see earth again" (CP, p. 496). This
angel Fellini has encountered throughout his career, as he has
One day I met an angel who stretched out his hand to me. I
followed him, but after a short time I left him and went back.
He stopped and waited at the same place for me. I see him
again in difficult moments and he says to me, "Wait, wait,"
just as I do to everyone. I am afraid that when I call him
one day, I shall not find him. It is the angel who has always
awakened me from my spiritual torpor. When I was a boy, he
was the incarnation of an imaginary world, and then he became
the symbol of a vital moral need. (Murray, p. 75; my italics)
Although Fellini is a world renown liar, it is, I think, absolutely
essential that he be taken literally here, just as Dylan Thomas asked
that his poety be always taken literally. For since Fellini lies, as
Jose de Vilallonga has observed, "from the bottom of his heart"
(Vilallonga, p. 94), the existence of his angel is no mere flight of
fantasy. This angel (or its many homologues) makes its presence felt
repeatedly in Fellini's films: in the stolen angel statue in
I Vitelloni, in II Matto in La Strada (who is first seen wearing angel
wings), in Paolo in La Dolce Vita (identified by Marcello as an angel),
in the plethora of spirits in Juliet of the Spirits, and in the
Fratellini Brothers' performance as angels in The Clowns. As an entity
in his imagination, therefore, the angel seems to be of real signifi-
Nor has Fellini alone among twentieth century artists experienced
this angel's presence. For whatever it might be, it has appeared again
and again as the muse of twentieth century artists, as the grandmother
in William Carlos Williams' "The Wanderer," who teaches the poet the
necessity of the plunge into the "filthy Passaic" of experience; as
the "Apparition" which hovers over so many of the canvases of Marc
Chagall;25 in Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies, to whom it is speci-
fically addressed; and throughout the poetry and prose of Wallace
Stevens, most notably near the end of "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"
in the form of an Hidalgoo" who haunts the periphery of the poet's eye:
Life fixed him, wandering on the stair of glass,
With its attentive eyes. And, as he stood,
On his balcony, outsensing distances,
There were looks that caught him out of empty air.
C'est toujours la vie qui me regarded . This was
Who watched him, always, for unfaithful thought.
This sat beside his bed, with its guitar,
To keep him from forgetting without a word,
A note or two disclosing who it was.
Nothing about him ever staved the same,
Except this hidalgo and his eye and tune,
The shawl across one shoulder and the hat.
The commonplace became a rumpling of blazons.
(CP, p. 483, my italics)
Everywhere that it appears, and here especially, this angel enacts
a transformation in the artist of the quotidian, the repetitive, and
the necessary into the imaginative, bringing a discovery that there is
nothing to discover, a realization that the new is inseparable from the
ordinary, and watching the artist for "unfaithful thought," that is, for
imagination which seeks to go beyond the immanent. This angel is for
these creative minds the one constant ("Nothing about him ever stayed
the same,/Except this hidalgo and his eye and tune . ."), that to
which they turn for awakening, as Fellini explains, in times of "spiri-
tual torpor." But why does this angel of the twentieth century bring
revelations of immanence? Why is it as well a "necessary angel" whose
presence is unchanging and incessant? Why, in Fellini's case, does it
wait behind the creator, as if the artist's imagination were prodigal?
To answer these questions might perhaps lead to the discovery of
Wertmuller's insight into Fellini's genius.
At the end of "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," Wallace Stevens
finds another name for this angel of the creative impulse and another,
de-mythologized way of explaining its presence. After the difficult
passage of the poem progresses beyond an initial disgust with the
ordinary and repetitive (the "granite monotony" of natural sounds of
the second section) and returns from the "nothingness . ./Beyond which
thought could not progress as thought" (CP, p. 403) where the Canon
Aspirin had ventured, the poet finds himself at last face-to-face with
the "Fat girl, terrestrial," of the earth. He desires to name her then
definitively, to check her "evasions," to find at last a fictive des-
cription of her which would be supreme, making her glorious irrational-
ity finally rational. But the project fails, for the earth remains for
him always to be found "in difference . ./In a moving contour, a
change not quite completed," which becomes in turn the source of all
future human fictions and all creativity. Defeated, the poet is left
to praise her generative powers as muse:
You remain the more than natural figure. You
Become the soft-footed phanton, the irrational
Distortion, however fragrant, however dear.
That's it: the more than rational distortion,
The fiction that results from feeling.
(CP, p. 406; my italics)
This "more than rational distortion," as Stevens describes it, is but
a more precise designation for the "necessary angel of the earth" (for
a more detailed analysis of the more than rational distortion in Stevens'
thought, see Appendix II). Like all angels (as the word's etymology
reveals), it is a messenger, for it brings to those who heed its
promptings what Martin Heidegger has described as the "greetings of
the serene" which he calls "Saying."27 Harold Rosenberg once observed,
with Stevens' poem in mind, that modern art has increasingly become a
taking of "notes" toward the transformation of reality.28 And are not
all notes of the more than rational distortion, of events in the
visible creation experienced with wonder in such a way that the ordinary
gloss or description of reality momentarily dissolves and a hint, a
Saying, of another possible reality takes its place, is noted, and
stored by the imagination for the making of future fictions? (Appendix
I attempts to provide a "metaphysic" for this conception of creativity.)
The English verb "to say" is derived from an Indo-European root
word which meant "to note, see, show, say" (the same root of the verb
"to see"), and Martin Heidegger uses the word in full consciousness of
its etymological significance and its implications for his philosophy.
For Heidegger, it is as if Saying is noting, seeing, showing, and
saying, all constituted in one act, as they once might well have normally
been.29 For Saying is almost an element in itself; we can understand
it, he insists, only because we "belong within it" (OWL, p. 124). But
it is even more; for the "essential being of language is Saying as
Showing."30 Saying "pervades everywhere our stay on this earth and our
journey in it" (OWL, p. 84), and yet Saying is not the sole property of
human activity; rather "Self-showing appearance is the mark of the
presence and absence of everything present, of every kind and rank"
(OWL, p. 123). For Saying, Heidegger explains, is precisely the name
for that which
sets all present beings free into their given presence, and
brings what is absent into their absence. Saying pervades and
structures the openness of that clearing which every appearance
must seek out and every disappearance must leave behind, and
in which every present or absent being must show, say, announce
itself. (OWL, p. 126)
(Appendix III provides an explanation of the place of Saying in the
context of Heidegger's thought as a whole.)
Since it comes from that "clearing," Saying is a "breath for
nothing," in that it is not humanly purposive, not essentially a fueling
of forward-thrusting human reason, and not immediately susceptible to
calculative "enframing," for it is a revelation of Being in such a way
that "we can say no more of beings than that they are."31 Saying
announces what Heidegger has called the earth's "refusal," that point
at which things refuse to disclose themselves entirely, remaining
"uncanny" because they retain their integral mystery (PLT, pp. 53-54).
It brings news on the behalf of the "mere nothing of what is," and it
is the poet who takes note of such news. But where and how are such
notes taken? Phenomenologically, what is it in the creative genius to
which the angel of Saying addresses itself?
Saying is seen because it is phenomenal. The word "phenomenal" can
of course mean "of or constituting a phenomenon or phenomena." But
"phenomenal" also means "extremely unusual, extraordinary, remarkable."
Its meaning is almost Janus-like; in one sense it refers to the quality
of the ordinary, of phenomena; in another sense it describes the very
source of mystery. The word is originally derived from Greek phaos
(light) and apophansis (speech), and William Barrett has observed that
the best literal translation of the word would probably be "revelation-
light-language." For to the Greeks, language was in the light and a
phenomenon was "that which reveals itself." They lived in the midst of
a relation between language and statement which was not, as we tend to
think in our abstractness, a metaphor.32 This relation is Saying. It
is a relation in which man no longer experiences the visible as some-
thing which lies without, but rather as something "coming from without,"
to use the distinction established by the music theorist Victor
Zuckerkandl. Zuckerkandl has described music's greatness as being not
its "leading us to otherwise inaccessible insights" but instead its
ability to bring to us "patently" what "elsewhere, can be made acces-
sible only by laborious speculation, and then only uncertainly and
insecurely. . ." In music, Zuckerkandl suggests, "what other pheno-
mena conceal itself becomes phenomenon; in music, what is inmost to
the world is turned outward."33 Saying is phenomenal in the same way.
In it is made patent not transcendental insight but only a secure
revelation of the Being of a thing patently within perception itself.
In Saying phenomena become "phenomenal."
The wisdom contained in the etymology of "to say," the Saying of
the verb itself, is thus primordial, as is Heidegger's utilization
of it in his thinking. For Saying is nothing other than the means of
originary orientation in which the phenomenal more than rational
distortion works its influence upon embodied human vision; and it is,
therefore, a seeing, the source of language (for all but those cart-
before-the-horse believers in idealism), and a showing as well when
the more than rational distortion presents itself within a work of art
(of which it was the real source to begin with) as the Saying of the
In art, Heidegger has observed, Saying manifests itself most
fully as "the stream of stillness which in forming them joins its own
two banks--the Saying and our saying after it" (OWL, pp. 124-125).
As an art form, the movies, an art in which both words and images carry
the narrative and, therefore, one in which the "see/say/show" process
can achieve full fruition, would seem potentially capable of allowing
this "stream of stillness" full sway, and thereby of narrating the
saga (the word has its etymology in the verb "to say") of the way
which Saying, as a "breath for nothing," hints of: they would show
the evolution of the discovery that there is nothing to discover. For
the discovery and heeding of Saying as guidance of the way brings the
world near. (That Saying and nearness are the same, seemed to Heidegger
a "flagrant impossibility," but one which he hoped would "not be
softened in the least"; OWL, p. 95.) For Saying, unlike propositional
logic or rational discourse, is embodied, making its presence felt
tacitly within the flesh, as the French philosopher of perception
Maurice Merleau-Ponty conceived it.
Merleau-Ponty came to believe at the end of his life that the
source of creativity lay in "the baroque proliferation of generating
axes for visibility" in the eye itself, and surely he was correct.
For it is along these axes that the world's Saying is converted into
the objective, ordered uniformity of conscious experience; it is here
that the raw, unglossed image of the world becomes, under the sway of
what Heidegger calls the "ought," the stereotyped image that fuels
reason; and it is here, therefore, that the more than rational distor-
tion, a dissonance in the visible, is prehended by the artist, later
to become the power source for his art.
Does not the eye itself also store these dissonances? Annie
Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, tells of how when she was a child
she had a strange misconception about her own anatomy, believing that
the body possessed an "eye-pouch":
When I was young I thought that all human beings had an organ
inside each lower eyelid which caught things that got in the
eye. I don't know where I imagined I'd learned this piece of
anatomy. Things got in my eye, and then they went away, so I
supposed that they had fallen into my eye-pouch. This eye-pouch
was a slender, thin-walled purse, equipped with frail diges-
tive powers that enabled it eventually to absorb eyelashes,
strands of fabric, bits of grit, and anything else that might
stray into the eye.
Later, of course, she explains, she learned that the "existence of
this eye-pouch . was all in my mind." Yet she refused to surrender
her belief in its reality, and she comes to see it instead as a "brain-
pouch, catching and absorbing small bits that fall deeply into my
open eye." This metaphoric relocation which Dillard undertook as she
matured is not, however, necessary. The eye itself stores the "tiny
bits" which fall into it. It is itself a reservoir of creativity
within the world's flesh, as twentieth century poets have always noted.
Dylan Thomas once claimed that
It is my aim as an artist . to bring . wonder into
myself, to prove beyond doubt to myself that the flesh that
covers me is the flesh that covers the sun, that the blood
in my lungs is the blood that goes up and down in a tree.
And Wallace Stevens noted in "Tattoo" that:
The webs of your eyes
To the flesh and bones of you
As to rafters or grass.
There are filaments of your eyes
On the surfaces of water
And in the edges of the snow. (CP, p. 81)
Like Thomas and Stevens, Merleau-Ponty thought of man's intertwining with
the primal aseity of the visible in terms of flesh.
For Merleau-Ponty, human vision is a "lacuna," a pool lying deep
in our eyes which needs to be filled with the experience of the visible.38
The reason why, contrary to all good common sense, our vision seems
to come from the things seen is that the visible is a "talisman" which
imposes itself upon the seer as if it were a continuation of himself
(VI, p. 131). One looks at things as if there were a "pre-estab-
lished harmony" between the seer and the seen; vision thus seems
to be a prepossessionn" (VI, p. 133). Because his vision is a
"central cavity" which longs to make of man a seer, in man's life,
everything comes to pass . as though the physiology of
vision did not succeed in closing the nervous functioning in
upon itself, since movements of fixation, or convergence, are
suspended upon the advent of the body of a visible world for
which they were supposed to furnish the explanation, as though,
through all these channels, all those prepared but unemployed
circuits, the current that will traverse them was rendered
probable, in the long run inevitable; the current making of the
embryo a newborn infant, of a visible a seer, and of a body a
mind, or at least a flesh. (VI, pp. 146-7)
Wallace Stevens has provided a vivid image of how actual seeing
fulfills this latent potential of vision's lacuna and utilizes the
"unemployed circuits" of the eye in "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction."
At the end of that poem's second section, the poet, sitting on a bench
by a lake, finds himself surrounded by a "Theatre [literally, "a place
to see"]/of Trope," in which he realizes as if for the first time the
artificial workings of the supposedly natural scene. To him,
The west wind was the music, the motion, the force
To which the swans curveted, a will to change,
A will to make iris frettings on the blank. (CP, p. 397; my italics)
Stevens here portrays in miniature what Merleau-Ponty designates as the
flesh. He images how the iris, that part of the eye containing the
regulatory muscles which determine the amount of light which enters the
pupil, becomes covered with "frettings," although it is initially a
blank. That is, the iris becomes a network of coordinated movements
and thereby a net within which the forces at work in the visible crea-
tion are caught and embodied, turning the primal blank, the eye which,
as the philosopher Condillac once saw, initially is light rather than
sees it, into all the complexity of mature seeing. These frettings
then are none other than the eye's routes, its always bodily orienta-
tion and accommodation to the presence of the visible; in making these
frettings, reality is discovered.
It is man's immersion in this process Stevens describes which
is Merleau-Ponty's flesh. The flesh, he informs us, is "an ultimate
notion" (VI, p. 140). He refers to it as a "circle which I do not
form, which forms me" (VI, p. 140) and describes it as "a sort of
incarnate principle that brings a style of being wherever there is a
fragment of being . ." (VI, p. 139). To understand it totally he
suggests it would be necessary to use the old term "element" and to
think of the flesh as an element of being which gives to every fact its
facticity (VI, pp. 139-40). The flesh, as such, "prevails over every
ordinary discordance." Since it is man's bridge to what Merleau-Ponty
calls "wild being" (Wallace Stevens' vulgatee" 40), the flesh is, in
fact, the primary source of all human ordering and imagining.
The flesh then is for him "elemental being, self-positing posture,
self-moving motion, adjusting itself to the routes and levels and axes
of the visible."42 It is "the dehiscence of the seeing into the
visible and of the visible into the seeing" (VI, p. 153).43 And in
this dehiscencee" of being, this bursting open, the original contents,
or seeds, are what I have called the more than rational distortion.
The "eye-pouch" of a major man stores these seeds, from which are gener-
ated, through the mediation of art, new routes for visibility, new
"iris frettings on the blank." (For a further explanation of the flesh
as Merleau-Ponty described it, see Appendix IV.)
As this theory of the flesh as the source of creativity makes
apparent, simple realism in art is insufficient, for it is not faithful
to the creativity inherent in art's role in the process of dehiscence.
Thus for a visionary artist like Fellini, constructing fictions out of
the contents of his eye-pouch, "realism" has always seemed unfaithful
to his imaginative experience of reality. Fellini did begin his
career in the neo-realist movement, but he soon outgrew it. For as
Andre Bazin clearly saw, with Nights of Cabiria (1956) Fellini took
neo-realism as far as it could go and went "through it," as if through
a wormhole in space, to emerge on the "other side" of realism.45 The
neo-realist director De Sica liked to speak of "My little sister
reality," and Fellini's break with the movement was due to a tempera-
mental reluctance to accept such an essentially maudlin, condescending
attitude. For all of its genius, neo-realism was proprietary: the
real was a little sister; man was the big brother who watched over it
as if it needed a guardian and protector.
To Fellini's imagination, reality seems no little sister, but
rather a "big mother" (just as to Stevens in "Notes Toward a Supreme
Fiction" it is a "Fat girl, terrestrial"), and from within her mystery
he works her materials into form. Within that "big mother," he found
it impossible to subscribe to the Rossellini neo-realist aesthetic of
"Things are. Why manipulate them?" Instead, as Fellini has suggested,
as a filmmaker he came to realize that: "Every detail is an opening
onto a world of its own. You may see a tiny tail poking out through
a hole, tug at it, and out comes an elephant" (Strich, p. 104). Neo-
realism never pulled the tail which is, in effect, the more than
rational distortion. Fellini, however, pulled again and again with
his imagination and thereby created movies which actualized cinema's
great power to not only "condition the beat of the heart, the breathing
of the lungs . ." but "change more profound rhythms on the level of
our imagination and feelings."46 Consequently, his movies bring to
fruition a process which Andre Bazin erroneously believed would be
culminated in the work of De Sica and Zavattini, the attempt to
make cinema the asymptote of reality--but in order that it
should ultimately be life itself that becomes spectacle, in
order that life might in this perfect mirror be visible
poetry, be the self into which film finally changes it.
(Bazin, II, 83; my italics)
As this asymptotee of reality," the movies of Fellini are the work of
what I will call mimicry; that is to say, they are not a copy or an
imitation, not mimesis as the West has thought of it since the Greeks,
but rather part of an evolutionary transformation (as Rainer Maria
Rilke described it: see Appendix V) which serves an almost biological
function of adaptation and accommodation to the ways of the earth,
or, as I will call it in Chapter Two, the "ways of the flesh." For
the flesh, as Merleau-Ponty defined it, is the true "big mother"
within which the Saying of the more than rational distortion becomes
incarnate in works of art in order that, in the case of film, "life
might . be visible poetry" to accommodated eyes trained by its
showing forth of the mother's ways.
That Fellini's works are an art of mimicry and a discovery that
there is nothing to discover, and not merely the product of a wild
fancy, Lina Wertmuller seems to have intuitively discerned. She seems
to have sensed in Fellini's imagination the presence of the "necessary
angel," and her insight into Fellini's method becomes therefore a
wonderfully generative "seed crystal," the exploration of which should
clarify not only our perception of Fellini's films, but our under-
standing of the nature and function of human imagination as well. The
journey toward such a clarification, which is in reality the solution
of Wertmuller's koan carried out through an examination of Fellini's
work in search of the presence of the discovery that there is nothing
to discover, will be necessarily a complex one, but I am convinced that
the light at the end of the tunnel, and at the end of this essay, like
the light which Guido sees ahead in the opening sequence of 8 1/2,
will provide, when experienced firsthand, enough illumination to
justify the "difficulty of the passage"; for that light is the
This primary search-image with which I will explore Fellini's
films is the paradigm of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, to whose
understanding of the term I am greatly indebted. Rilke once attempted
to explain what he meant by the Open in a letter to his Russian
translator in this way:
the animal is in the world; we stand before it by virtue of
that peculiar turn and intensification which our consciousness
has taken. By the "Open," therefore, I do not mean sky, air,
and space; they, too, are "object" and thus "opaque" and
closed to the man who observes and judges. The animal, the
flower, presumably is all that, without accounting to itself,
and therefore has before itself and above itself that indes-
cribably open freedom which perhaps has its (extremely
fleeting) equivalents among us only in those first moments of
love when one human sees his own vastness in another, his
beloved, and in man's elevation toward God.48
When Rilke speaks of a flower's being all that surrounds it, he means
that, having no consciousness, no will, it is a receiver unshielded by
any "violence" of its own which might serve as a defense against what
Wallace Stevens liked to call "the pressure of reality."
In Sonnets to Orpheus, II, 5, Rilke presents a vivid image of all
this in his description of an anemone. The anemone is a flower
which opens outward so fully during the daylight hours that it is some-
times unable to close itself up at night. In this, Rilke suggests, it
is an open receiver to "the polyphonic light of the loud skies" in a
way that man can never be, for man is violent, willful, assertive,
closed to raw experience in order that he may be "longer lasting" than
the poetically receptive anemone. As a result, man finds himself "turned
around," no longer in the world, but, rather, over-against it, as
Rilke describes in the eighth Duino Elegy:
We've never, no, not for a single day,
pure space before us, such as that which flowers
endlessly open into; always world,
and never nowhere without no: that pure,
unsuperintended element one breathes,
endlessly knows, and never craves.50
But even within his violent alienation from the ways of the earth, the
possibility of a future openness to the earth summons man's work toward
the realization of a mirror-image of the initial unshieldedness of
Rilke's anemone. In the Open, then, man would, as Heidegger has sug-
gested, achieve his greatest goal, to feel "no need." "The pain which
must first be experienced and borne out to the end" (both in the indi-
vidual and in history itself) is, Heidegger writes,
the insight and the knowledge that lack of need is the
highest and most hidden need. . Lack of need consists
in believing that one has reality and what is real in one's
grip and knows what truth is. 51
As I will show, the movies of Federico Fellini, from The White Sheik to
Amarcord, represent in their development the experience and realization
of the "highest need" of which Heidegger speaks and of the pain which
must be endured to fulfill that need.
This achievement of no need Fellini's critics have misconstrued
almost laughably as "a fatalistic resignation to the human condition,"
to use one interviewer's assessment of the nature of Guido's realization
at the end of 8 1/2, or as his inability to attain a "true tragic vision."
Fellini's reply to such unperceptive comments is revealing: to him,
Guido's achievement is not a failure,
Not a fatalistic resignation, but an affirmative acceptance of
life, a burgeoning love for life. The return of Guido to life
in 8 1/2 is not a defeat. Rather it is the return of a victor.
When he finally realizes that he will never be able to resolve
his problems, only to live with them--when he realizes that life
itself is a continuous refutation of resolution--he experiences
an exhilarating resurgence of energy, a return of profound reli-
gious sentiment. "I have faith," he says, "that I am inserted
into a design of Providence whose end I don't and can't and
never will comprehend--and wouldn't want to even if I could.
There's nothing for me to do but pass through this panorama of
joy and pain--with all my energy, all my enthusiasm, all my love,
accepting it for what it is, without expecting an explanation
that does not involve me, that I am not called upon to give.
(Playboy, p. 61)
Guido's new understanding reveals a faith in the course of individuation,
a triumphant amorr fati," as Nietzsche called it, unattainable for such
earlier Fellini characters as Ivan in The White Sheik, all the vitelloni
except Moraldo, Augusto in Ii Bidone, Zampano in La Strada, and espe-
cially Marcello in La Dolce Vita, whose dissatisfaction with his dis-
integrating values is the very antithesis of Guido's tacit trust.
Guido's unquestioning acceptance, his refusal to leave the earth
in the spaceship prepared for him by his producer and his Cartesian
writer Daumier, his final rejection of Claudia and the ideal and all
symbolism, and his denial of failure, a homologue of Cabiria's miracu-
lous return to life and "the way" at the end of Nights of Cabiria, such
become increasingly the common destiny of later Fellini figures: Juliet
in her garden at the end of Juliet of the Spirits, content with "the
daily miracle of simple reality," comes most readily to mind.53 This
acceptance even becomes the guiding myth behind the strangely alien
Fellini-Satyricon, at least in Fellini's own description:
Encolpio, Ascyltos, Eumolpus, Giton, Lichas, Tryphaena . .
make their fabulous adventures relive, without glamourizing
them as sadistic or erotic. Even if their adventures were
sometimes so cruel as to be revolting by our standards, if
they were obscene in such a grand and total way as to become
innocent again, yet beyond their ferocity, their eroticism,
they embody the eternal myth: man standing alone before the
fascinating p tegy of life, all its terror, its beauty, and
And after its trying-out in the quasi-documentary films The Clowns and
Roma, in which Fellini himself is present as an active discoverer, it
becomes co-equal with Fellini's own vision of reality in the autotelic
narrative of Amarcord, where the discovery that there is nothing to
discover discovers immanence even in human memory. That Fellini's
films are a narrative evolution, a process of realization of "no need"
inseparably interconnected with the evolution of human perception and
imagination is my thesis, for the relationship of the discovery that
there is nothing to discover to acute, fully embodied human perception
is an angelic "interpenetration both ways."55
An ancient Zen Buddhist parable describes the necessary order of
this evolution exactly, and its archetypal wisdom will serve here as a
paradigmatic guide for my understanding. According to it, the student
who undertakes the study of Zen, at first totally unaware of anything
other than common sense reality, sees mountains as mountains, trees as
trees, and rivers as rivers. While in the process of obtaining enlight-
enment, however, mountains are no longer mountains, trees no longer
trees, and rivers no longer rivers; as in the emergence from the cave
in Plato's famous allegory in The Republic, the physical world is seen
as a mere shadow, a phantasm and a simulacrum which imprisons the upward,
infinite reaching of out spirit. But after enlightenment, the parable
continues, comes a third stage, almost unknown in the West, in which
the student, a prodigal of the real, again sees mountains as mountains,
trees as trees, rivers as rivers. Every human history, this parable
implies, is a Journey Out and Back.56 That this essentially circular
sequence is inevitable in a complete human evolution is the cardinal
principle of all Zen Buddhist thought, but its narration of the process
of individuation is implicit in the thought of the West as well.
Martin Heidegger, who at the end of his life came to embrace many
Zen-like ideas and perceptions, has provided a possible explanation of
why our evolution must occur, individually and historically, in just
this manner. For Heidegger, the "oblivion of Being" (his name for
the first stage in the Zen parable) is absolutely essential to the
establishment of individuality for all existing things (figures) from
out of the ground of Being:
This Fate, which is to be thought in the manner of the his-
tory of Being, is, however, necessary, because Being itself
can open out in its truth the difference of Being and beings
preserved in itself only when the difference explicitly takes
place. But how can it do this if beings have not first en-
tered the most extreme oblivion of Being, and if at the same
time Being has not taken over its unconditional dominance,
metaphysically incomprehensible, as the will to will which
asserts itself at first and uniquely through the sole prece-
dence of beings (of what is objectively real) over Being?
(EP, p. 91)
This most difficult of passages must remain for the moment uninter-
preted; but suffice it to say that it contains a philosophy of history
without which nothing that I have to say about Fellini will make much
sense. lellini's development as an artist, his discovery that there
is nothing to discover, will be plotted using this process of individ-
uation of human experience as a basis for orientation.
The following chapters might best be labeled, if a label is nece-
ssary, as a "thinking" in Martin Heidegger's sense of the term.
Heidegger has observed that thinking's real goal is not the attainment
of Truth or the disciplining of our rationality. It is rather that
activity with which we "cut furrows into the soil of Being"; it is
ultimately a "coming into the nearness of distance,"57 the way of our
own releasement to the ways of the earth: our realization of no need.
The word itself, Heidegger reminds in a moving passage, has etymological
roots in the verb "to thank" ("CCP," p. 85). Thinking is therefore
both an infinite resignation and a grace in itself; it is a reception
of a gift. My purpose here must then be not to analyze or criticize
Fellini's work, since neither of these piecemeal activities is really
faithful to man's whole evolutionary development, but to thank him for
his work by thinking-out the presence of the discovery that there is
nothing to discover within it; it is a receiving of a gift, a hermeneu-
tic of his art.
Hermeneutics traditionally has been thought of as "the study of
understanding, especially the task of understanding texts,"58 or, more
completely, as "the inquiry concerned with the presuppositions and
rules of the interpretation of some form of human expression, usually
a written text, although it could also be an artistic expression of
some kind."59 As Richard Palmer points out, hermeneutics, true to its
etymology (the word is derived from Hermes, the Greek god responsible
for conveying the intentions of Zeus in the form of messages to mortals),
is really translation from one world to another. The etymology of
"hermeneutic" is revealing. In Greek the hermeios was the Delphic
priest; hermeneuein, the verb, and hermeneia, the noun, both point back
to Hermes and the function of transmitting that which is beyond intel-
ligence into a form with which man can deal. The Greek word is closely
linked in development to sermo, to say, and this is certainly no acci-
dent, for to the Greeks language and writing were thought to be the
gift of Hermes (Palmer, 13-14).
It was the phenomenological tradition in philosophy which attempted
to revive the buried function of hermeneutics revealed by its etymology.
Wilhelm Dilthey, for example, came to think of hermeneutics as being at
least partly "divination," a kind of participatory understanding of
human activity. He asserted that hermeneutics was essential to the
development of western thought because "the quantifying, scientific
grasp of the natural world" which became predominant in the nineteenth
century did not permit the play of a "personal knowledge" of "lived
experience" (Palmer, pp. 130-32, 41). But it was Martin Heidegger who
was most responsible for the modern sense of the function of hermeneu-
tics. In Being and Time, for example, he elevated hermeneutics to
the rank of a "regional ontology" and made it a primary tool with which
to explore not just texts, but Being. lie restores to it its etymological
significance as a study of angelic imagination, of "the bringing of
tidings," and he thinks of it as a "playful thinking" which is "more
compelling" than logical thought (OWL, pp. 29-32). Thus with Heidegger
hermeneutics becomes the means by which to understand the messages
which Being secretly transmits and which, in a sense, the work of art
receives. It is, in other words, the study of Saying, and as such it
has a "fundamental announcing function" (Palmer, p. 130). But what
does it announce?
In his essay "Language in the Poem" Heidegger suggests that every
great poet speaks out of a place which his poetry itself illuminates
(OWL, pp. 159-198). The function of the critic he suggests is to seek
to find it by establishing a dialogue with the poet. The critic thus
searches the work in order to make manifest an "overarching poem" which
lies behind any individual work. This search is hermeneutics. It is,
as Richard Palmer observes, not a matter of correctness, the primary
aim of all objective points of view of works of art, especially New
Criticism, but is instead a disclosure of what is hidden in the work,
what is not showing; above all, it is "a receiving of a gift" (Palmer,
Heidegger knew that the search for the place of the unsaid poem
is not a substitute for the poem itself; lie might well have even agreed
to the "heresy of paraphrase." But he also understood that if violence
were not done to the text, nothing would remain but explicitness, and
the work itself would become an idol. As Dilthey rightly saw, the
practice of "scientific" objectivity sacrifices in its striving for
correctness lived experience (Palmer, p. 158).60 All objective criti-
cism of a work of art fails to acknowledge that its methodology is
itself derivative, that the seeing of a work of art is already an inter-
pretation, and that that seeing is, as Heidegger insists, "from the
outset . dominated by the traditional interpretation of all beings"
(PLT, p. 39; Palmer pp. 20-22). That is, it forgets how it is with
Being, failing to heed the work's Saying. Heeding instead the demands
of methodology alone, it establishes between the critic and the work
only and "I--it" relationship, as Martin Buber would say, not an
"I--thou" interchange. Hermeneutics, as Palmer rightly insists, is,
however, not at war with objective or contextualist criticism; rather
by heeding and then answering the Saying of a work, it attempts to
The hermeneutic I am developing here is, as I have suggested, in
part a demythologizing of hermeneutics which seeks to ground not texts,
as is usually the case with such an approach, but movie narratives by
locating their point of origin in the world's flesh through a genetic
interpretation of their Saying, for it is a movie's tacit Saying which,
by revealing its topological source, shows forth the accomplished orien-
tation of the eye which generated it and hints at the subliminal
glimpses of the more than rational distortion which are at work in its
mimicry. It is a hermeneutic of what Heidegger called "answering."
Answering is the appropriation of Saying in such a way that human nature
and human art become the instrument for "the way" to come forth (OWL,
p. 128). By "the way" Heidegger means something like destiny, but
in the present context it could perhaps best be explained as the pro-
gressive Journey Out and Back, the learning of the routes of the world's
flesh. The function of criticism then is to enter the "hermeneutic
circle" in order to ascertain the place from which the work can be
understood, to grasp its horizon, and to follow its way (Palmer, p. 25).
One of the most basic distinctions of Heidegger's hermeneutical
thought from Being and Time on is the difference between earth and
world. The two exist in constant tension, a tension which it is really
the function of hermeneutics to follow and to answer. The earth is to
Heidegger the primordial mother (for his thought is, as William Barrett
has suggested, radically feminine 62), while the world is that which man
constructs with his work, including works of art, out of the presence
of Being (see "The Origin of a Work of Art" in PLT); it is all that he
has discovered and all that he has made, and yet it is so unobtrusive,
so all-encompassing, that it is never seen as such; instead we see
though it (Palmer, 132-33). Art, therefore, sides with the world,
for it takes on form, but by so doing it "lets earth be earth" by
showing forth its materials. Art, as Richard Palmer observes, is not
a matter of shallow agreement with something already given
(i.e., the traditional view of truth as correctness); it
brings the earth into the open in such a way that one can
see it. (pp. 160-61)
Art is therefore a messenger, but its message is the earth.
Now the material of the movies is light, and their distinctiveness
then is their ability to show forth to what extent earth is that light.
(Since, as Charles Sanders Peirce correctly saw, a photograph--and by
extension the movies themselves--is a "quasi-predicate" whose "quasi-
subject" is the light itself, the photograph therefore serves as the
"index" of the part light plays in our relationship with the flesh and
with the earth. 64) The movies let earth be light by showing forth the
Saying which the light transmits. It has been suggested that hermeneu-
tics is to the text of a poem like an "oral interpretation of it" which
requires an understanding of the text in order to restore to it what
was lost when it was printed (Palmer, p. 18). A hermeneutics of film,
I can now suggest, discovers the unglossed light of the earth which lies
within the movie, restoring its unglossed Saying of the way, of man's
evolving mimicry of the earth. (See Appendices I and V.)
In the hermeneutic of Fellini's films which follows I will seek to
answer their narration of the ways of the earth, following the evolving
orientation within the flesh which they make present by heeding those
promptings of the more than rational distortion, embodied in the works'
Saying, which were the originary source of that orientation, in order
to ascertain if Fellini's imaginative journey achieves that accommoda-
tion to the earth which I have called the Open and Lina Wertmuller
describes as the discovery that there is nothing to discover. My
thinking-out of Fellini's work will rely heavily on the thinking of
others, especially those who have intensified my own perception, in
particular, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Wallace Stevens,
William Carlos Williams, and Rainer Maria Rilke. The discovery that
there is nothing to discover seems to come as a "shock of recognition,"
and all these men have felt the shock together despite the vast differ-
ences in their individual imaginations; for as Melville saw, "Genius
the world round stands hand in hand." I will use my sources, therefore,
in order to construct a theoretical (literally, since the etymology of
the word is in the verb "to see") groundwork on which my thinking will
be based, for purposes of comparison andillumination in my attempt to
understand the nature of creativity, and as genuine inspirations for
my own vision of Fellini's films.
J. Dudley Andrews recently observed that a film theory must be
applicable to more than just the movies that generate it, otherwise the
critic would be only a "connoisseur."65 His point is, I believe, well
taken, but even though I am "wildly partisan" in the pages to follow on
Fellini's behalf (as Baudelaire insisted every critic must be in order
to keep pace with genius), I do not think I can be accused of narrowness.
The search for the Open as I will outline it here is certainly not the
sole province of Federico Fellini, but a major paradigm of twentieth
century art and of the movies in particular. But Andrews presents one
other guiding principle about film theory with which I cannot agree. A
theory, he insists, should never be "like its subject." For is botany
like a flower?66 This false analogy, if accepted, would, I believe,
give a work of art over to that which it attempts to escape from: the
confines and glosses of abstract rationality. The hermeneutic I will
seek to develop here will attempt to answer Fellini's art with imagina-
tion comparable to his own. Only in that way can I learn from it.
The following work is divided into five chapters. Chapter Two,
The Ways of the Flesh, is concerned with all of Fellini's movies,
however briefly, and seeks to establish the presence and imaginative
function of certain preoccupations or "eternal recurrences" in Fellini's
art, the key themes, images, gestures, or ways in the movies upon which
the discovery that there is nothing to discover plays: failure, the
elements, the grotesque, madmen and clowns, children, inside/outside,
and the face-to-face.
Chapter Three, Juliet of the Spirits: From Love to Autochthony,
studies in depth an Outside Narrative, a product of the "then there is
no mountain" stage, but which is itself a complete Journey Out and
Chapter Four, Amarcord: A "Celebration of the Light," has as its
subject an Open Narrative, a product of the "then there is a mountain"
Chapter Five, The Open, is primarily an attempt to recapitulate and
re-think this term in light of the work as a whole and to discover the
full meaning of the discovery that there is nothing to discover as
revealed in Fellini's work.
Five Appendices complete the study, all of them theoretical and all
intended to provide depth and to add clarity to the preceding discussion
by elaborating on the meaning of several of the key ideas of this work:
the nature of creativity, the more than rational distortion, Saying,
the flesh, and the movies as mimicry.
1John Huddy, "Lina Wertmuller," Miami Herald, 15 Aug. 1976, p. H-1.
2David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (New York:
Morrow, 1975), pp. 167-68.
3Quoted in Angelo Solmi, Fellini (London: Merlin Press, 1967),
p. 24, and in "Interview," Playboy, Feb. 1966, p. 58, respectively.
All future references to these works will be cited in the text.
4Quoted respectively in Edward Murray, Fellini the Artist (New
York: Frederick Ungar, 1976), p. xi, and in Fellini on Fellini, ed.
Christian Strich (New York: Delacourte Press, 1976), p. 100 (hereafter
referred to as Strich). All future references to these works will be
cited in the text.
5Gilbert Salachas, Federico Fellini (New York: Crown, 1969),
p. 109. All future references to this work will be cited in the text.
6Charles Samuels, Encountering Directors (New York: Putnam's,
1972), p. 133; my italics. All future references to this work will
be cited in the text.
7Pierre Kast, "Federico Fellini," Interviews with Film Directors,
ed. Andrew Sarris (New York: Avon, 1969), pp. 182-83. All future
references to this work will be cited in the text.
8Eugene Walter, "Federico Fellini: Wizard of Film," Atlantic, 216
(Dec. 1965), p. 67.
Quoted in Suzanne Budgeon, Fellini (London: British Film Insti-
tute, 1966), p. 91. All future references to this work will be cited
in the text.
10"Literature and Religion," Relations of Literary Study, ed.
James Thorpe (New York: MLA, 1967), p. 126.
11Rainer Maria Rilke also thought of imagination as a tracing of
"lines"; the artist, he explained, is like "a dancer whose movements
are broken by the constraint of his cell. That which finds no expres-
sion in his steps and limited swing of his arms, comes in exhaustion
from his lips, or else he has to scratch the unlived lines of his body
into the walls with his wounded fingers." Quoted in Norman 0. Brown,
Life Against Death (New York: Vintage, 1959), p. 65; my italics. The
bread crumbs which Garry Trudeau refers to in the epigraph are, pheno-
menologically, probably another name for these lines.
12John Simon, Ingmar Bergman Directs (New York: Harcourt, Brace
and Jovanovich, 1972), pp. 221-22.
13Doris Hamblin, "Which Face is Fellini?" Life, 71 (30 July 1971),
14Quoted in Jose de Vilallonga, "Fellini on Fellini," Vogue, 25
Aug. 1972, p. 95. All future references to this work will be cited
in the text.
15Quoted in Eileen Hughes, On the Set of Fellini-Satyricon (New
York: Morrow, 1971), p. 157.
16Opus Posthumous (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957). All future
references to this work will be referred to as OP and cited in the text.
This theme is pursued throughout Stevens' Necessary Angel as well (New
York: Vintage Books, 1951), see in particular pp. 24, 31, 33, 59,
60-61, 130, 139, 154. All future references to this work will be re-
ferred to as NA and cited in the text.
17Collected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1954), pp. 334-35;
my italics. All future references to this work will be referred to as
CP and cited in the text.
18Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other
Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977),
pp. 16-18, 25-28, 115-154. All future references to this work will be
referred to as 4T and cited in the text. A more complete explanation
of Heidegger's thinking can be found in Appendix III.
19"Introduction," The Question Concerning Technology, p. xxix.
20The French film critic, Amedee Ayfre observed once that the
movies' greatness stems from their symbiotic nature, for "film, far
from being a cold record of the world, is a record of . a symbiotic
rapport between intention and resistance, between author and material,
matter and mind." Quoted in J. Dudley Andrews, The Major Film Theories
(New York: Oxford, 1976), p. 249.
For two good working accounts of Fellini during the entire course
of filming a movie see Deena Boyer, The Two Hundred Days of 8 1/2 (New
York: Macmillan, 1964) and Eileen Hughes, On the Set of Fellini-
Satyricon. Fellini has given a vivid description of his own style in
the account of the first time he felt fully the heat of his imagination:
It's a true story, but every time I tell it people look at
me as if I'm telling some invented anecdote. However, it
did happen just like this. One morning I found myself on a
small boat, which having left the pier at Fiumcino, was on
its way to meet a motor fishing boat on the high seas that
was carrying the cast and crew of The White Sheik. They
were waiting for me to start shooting; they were waiting
for the director. I had said goodbye to Giulietta, almost
at dawn, with the same beating of the heart and fear that
the schoolboy has when he goes to take exams. I even went
to church, attempting a prayer. I took my car, and on the
road to Ostia one of my tires blew out. The troupe, as I
told you, had already embarked. And down there, in the
middle of the sea, I saw my destiny. I was to shoot a very
complicated scene between Sordi and Brunella Bovo. As I
approached the fishing boat, I saw the faces of the workmen,
the lights already on. I kept repeating to myself: "What
will I do now?" I didn't recall the film anymore, I didn't
remember anything. All I wanted to do was escape. In the
few moments between the pier and the fishing boat, I had
become a demanding, detail-conscious director with all the
defects and all the good qualities that I had always envied
in real directors. (Tullio Kezich, "The Long Interview," in
Juliet of the Spirits (New York: Ballantine Books, 1966),
p. 20; all future references to this work will be cited in
22Harvey Cox, "The Purpose of the Grotesque in Fellini's Films,"
Celluloid and Symbols, ed. John C. Cooper and Carl Skrade (Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1970), pp. 97-98.
23Stanley Burnshaw, The Seamless Web (New York: George Braziller,
1970), pp. 97-98.
24The poem can be found in Williams' Collected Earlier Poems (New
York: New Directions, 1951), pp. 1-13. See J. Hillis Miller's discus-
sion of it in The Poets of Reality (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1965), pp. 291-92, 341.
25Picasso once commented on Chagall that "When he paints you
can't tell whether he's asleep or awake. He must have an angel in his
head somewhere." Quoted in Alfred Werner, ed., Chagall: Watercolors
and Gouaches (New York: Watson Guptill, 1970), p. 12.
26Rilke has defined his Angel in this way:
The "Angel of the Elegies has nothing to do with the Angel
of the Christian heaven (rather with the angelic figures
of Islam) . The Angel of the Elegies is the creature in
whom that transformation of the visible into the invisible
we are performing already appears complete . The Angel
of the Elegies is the being who vouches for the recognition
of a higher degree of reality in the invisible--therefore
"terrible" to us, because we, its lovers and transformers,
still depend on the visible. (Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke:
1910-1926 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1948), pp. 375-76)
27Existence and Being (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949), pp. 153-54.
All future references to this work will be referred to as EB and cited
in the text.
28The Tradition of the New (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960),
29The Christian mystic Jacob Boehme once speculated about a time
when pure "sensual speech" reigned; could this not be a description of
No people understand any more the sensual language, and the
birds in the air and the beasts in the forest do understand
it according to their species. Therefore man may reflect on
what he has been robbed of and what he is to recover in the
second birth. For in the sensual language all spirits speak
with each other, they need no other language, for it is the
language of nature. (Quoted in Norman 0. Brown, p. 72)
On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper
and Row, 1971), p. 123. All future references to this work will be
referred to as OWL and cited in the text.
oetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York:
Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 53, 140. All future references to this work
will be referred to as PLT and cited in the text.
32Irrational Man (Garden City: Doubleday, 1958), pp. 214-15.
33Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1956), pp. 275-78, 348.
34Alphonso Lingis, "Translator's Preface," The Visible and the
Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1968), p. liii.
35J. Hillis Miller meant much the same thing when he identifies
the source of poetry in his essay on William Carlos Williams in Poets
of Reality (pp. 321-22):
Instead of seeing an object as an example of an abstract cate-
gory the poet must see it only as if it had just been created,
and then the depths of his being opens up to receive, in a
flood of emotion, the being of the thing he sees. Vivid sensa-
tion is a "prize" which pierces to the heart of the poet's
being, and "wakes" him to another level of existence, a level
closer to the heart of creation. . To see things in terms
of their existence is to see them at such a depth that it can
be recognized that their creation is something which goes on
36Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Bantam, 1974), pp. 135-36.
37Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas, ed. Constantine Fitzgibbon
(New York: New Directions, 1967), p. 87; my italics.
38Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, p. 143.
All future references to this work will be referred to as VI and cited
in the text.
39"The first time we see light," Condillac wrote, "we are it rather
than see it"; quoted in Zuckerkandl, p. 342.
40Levi-Strauss' designation of "the Raw" likewise names the same
aspect of perception; see Octavio Paz, Claude Levi-Strauss (Ithaca:
Conrell University Press, 1970), p. 47; as do Martin Buber's "world
order," the opposite of the "ordered world"--Buber's equivalent of
Levi-Strauss' "the Cooked"; see I and Thou (New York: Scribner's, 1958),
pp. 31-33; and Martin Heidegger's use of the term physics; see Intro-
duction to Metaphysics (Garden City: Doubleday, 1959). All future
references to this last work will be referred to as IM and cited in the
By "wild being" Merleau-Ponty seems to refer to the sensible
previous to any human cultivation or orientation; "wild being" becomes
part of the flesh through the intervention of the "wild logos" (see
below). For Stevens' vulgatee," see Appendix II.
42Lingis, pp. Iv-lvi.
43For Merleau-Ponty, this process is not automatic. "Perception,"
he explains, "is not first perception of things, but perception of
elements, . of rays of the world, things which are dimensions, which
are worlds . ." (VI, p. 218). The image must be plucked out of its
"constellation," for it is, in reality, part of a "texture" which is
"the woof of the simultaneous and the successive" which generates it
44Merleau-Ponty thought that in a creative mind the new routes of
the flesh in his experience would begin to press upon the given structure
of language to such an extent that language's enclosure of the world
would be forced open to contain it. This is the thesis, in part, of
The Prose of the World, ed. Claude Lefort (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1973). Might not the same be said for a visual
artist like Fellini, that he expands, pushes open, the formerly real?
45See "Cabiria: The Voyage to the End of Neorealism," in What
is Cinema, Vol. II, ed. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California,
1971), pp. 832-92. All future references to Bazin will be referred to
by volume number and cited in the text.
46Irving R. Levine, "'I Was Born for the Cinema': an Interview
with Federico Fellini," Film Comment, Vol. IV, No. 1 (1966), 84. All
future references to this work will be cited in the text.
I borrow the expression from Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Morrow, 1974), pp. 181 ff.
48Quoted in "What Are Poets For?" by Martin Heidegger in Poetry,
Language, Thought, p. 108. This essay is an examination of Rilke's
idea of the Open.
49In M. D. Herter Norton's translation the poem reads:
Flower-muscle, that opens the anemone's
meadow-morning bit by bit,
until into her lap the polyphonic
light of the loud skies pours down,
muscle of infinite reception
tensed in the still star of the blossom,
sometimes so overmanned with abundance
that the sunset's beckoning to rest
is scarcely able to give back to you
the wide-sprung petal-edges:
you, resolve and strength of how many worlds!
We, with our violence, are longer-lasting.
But when in which one of all lives,
are we at last open and receivers.
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1942), p. 79. All future references to this
work will be referred to as SO and cited in the text. Quoted by permis-
sion of the publisher.
50Duino Elegies, translated by J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1939), p. 67; my italics. All future referen-
ces to this work will be referred to as DE and cited in the text.
The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper
and Row, 1973), p. 102. All future references to this work will be
referred to as EP and cited in the text.
See Francis Marion Burke, "Fellini's La Dolce Vita: Marcello's
Odyssey to Annulment," Dissertation, University of Florida, 1974, for
an excellent discussion of this theme.
53Juliet of the Spirits, ed. Tullio Kezich, p. 215.
Quoted in Dario Zanelli, ed., Fellini's Satyricon (New York:
Ballantine, 1970), p. 46, my italics. All future references to this
work will be cited in the text.
55William Carlos Williams, Paterson (New York: New Directions,
1963), p. 3.
For one retelling of the Zen parable, among many, see William
Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth (New York: Harper and Row, 1974),
pp. 97-103. Thompson has accounted for the evolution depicted in this
parable in a yantra which can be seen on the inside front cover of
this work. In his Politics of Experience (New York: Ballantine Books,
1967), pp. 100-145, the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing describes a
similar passage which he has observed in the insane, a going crazy, or
"leaving the formation," in order to become sane again. He refers to
this process as the "Journey Out and Back," and I will sometimes use
Laing's name to designate the evolution described in this Zen parable.
57"Conversation on a Country Path About Thinking," Discourse on
Thinking (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 68. All future references
to this work will be referred to as "CCP" and cited in the text.
58Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in
Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1969), p. 8. All future references to this work will
be cited in the text.
59Van Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Macmillan,
1964), p. 117.
60Compare Palmer's assertion in the following: "'Science manipu-
lates things and gives up living in them,' the late French phenomenolo-
gist Maurice Merleau-Ponty tells us. This, in one sentence, is what
has happened to American literary interpretation" (Palmer, p. 7).
61Criticism is dominated by what Owen Barfield likes to call RUP
(residue of unresolved positivism). Although its practitioners know
better, they still behave in relation to the work before them as if the
subject/object dichotomy still holds sway, even though philosophically
they are opposed to such polarization. See Evolution of Consciousness:
Studies in Polarity, ed. Shirley Sugerman (Middletown: Wesleyan
University Press, 1976), pp. 13-14.
62Irrational Man, pp. 248-49; Barrett observes how Sartre is
genuinely afraid of "being in itself"; see for example Roquentin's
reaction of "nausea" to it in the novel of the same name.
63See "The Worldhood of the World" section in Being and Time,
trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row,
1962), pp. 91-145. All future references to this work will be referred
to as BT and cited in the text.
See Peter Wollen's discussion of Peirce's theory of signs in
Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1972), pp. 122-24.
65Andrews, p. 5.
66Andrews, p. 241.
THE WAYS OF THE FLESH
Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it is
caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that
of a thing. But because it moves itself and sees, it holds
things in a circle around itself. Things are an annex or
prolongation of itself; they are incrusted into its flesh,
they are part of its full definition; the world is made of
the same stuff as the body. This way of turning things
around, these antinomies, are different ways of saying that
vision happens among, or is caught in, things--in that place
where something visible undertakes to see, becomes visible
for itself by virtue of the sight of things; in that place
where there persists, like the mother water in crystal, the
undividedness of the sensing and the sensed.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Eye and
The poems composed by every great poet are attempts to put
into words one single poem. His greatness depends on the
extent to which he has entrusted himself to this unique poem,
for it is this which enables him to maintain the purity of
his poetic utterances by keeping them within the ambit of
their single origin. This unique poem in a poet remain un-
uttered. None of the individual poems, nor all of them
together, say everything. And yet each poem speaks out of
this unique uncomposed poem and each time says what is the
In La Strada, the fool, 11 Matto, tries to comfort Gelsomina about
her difficulties with Zampano. When the fool first appears in the film
he wears angel wings and not only crosses a dangerous high-wire above a
city square, but manages to perform the incredible yet ordinary task of
eating a plate of spaghetti at the same time. To Gelsomina he continues
to fulfill a hermetic function, attempting as he does to explain life's
meaning to her, and his message appropriately enough concerns the
mundane. "There's nothing useless in this world," he informs her.
"You see this pebble? Everything has a use, even this pebble." When
Gelsomina inquires, "What use?" Il Matto replies
How do I know? If I knew, d'you know who I'd be? I don't
know what this stone does, but it's useful. If it isn't
useful then even the stars aren't useful. (Solmi, p. 112)
II Matto's faith is the faith of a story teller, for later we learn
that Zampano, who in his animal solipsism is blind to such wisdom as
the fool's, detests him because "he is always making up stories about
me." It is, however, Fellini's faith as well, for his movies are nar-
rative tryings-out, part of an imaginative journey set against the road
markers of the always present commonplaces of earth, seeking to under-
stand their use.
That Fellini's films share certain always repeated commonplaces,
even the least acute Fellini critics have noted. His "style" and his
"themes" are now so familiar to most cineastes that "Felliniesque" is
about to enter the dictionary as an adjective describing a preoccupation
with, among other things, enormous earth mothers, all types of gro-
tesques, dwarves, hunchbacks, cripples, hermaphrodites, nymphomaniacs,
madmen, clowns, and scatology of all kinds. In Leslie Fiedler's
recent book Freaks, for example, the references to Fellini are more nu-
merous than to any other artist except Rabelais, and in all of them,
"Fellini" is considered to be nearly synonymous with aberration and
deformity.I At least since Juliet of the Spirits it has been critically
fashionable to dismiss these recurrences as obsessions, as the director's
"doing a Fellini," and as proof of his artistic degeneration and, to
some at least, even of his madness. The minds of film critics and
reviewers, like the minds of moviegoers, are predisposed against
repetition; the culture itself requires, after all, constant change
and continual newness, especially from its art, and so it is little
wonder that Fellini's preoccupations seem to many a banal treading-of-
But it is not merely the film-goer and reviewer who require con-
stant newness. Even such a poet as Wallace Stevens tends to think of
repetition as anti-life and anti-imagination. In a section of "Notes
Toward a Supreme Fiction" appropriately entitled "It Must Change," he
finds the essentially repetitive singing of sparrows, jays, and wrens
to be an "idiot minstrelsy," a "granite monotony" which would all but
extinguish man's fiction-making capabilities if he did not flee its
influence, and although he makes peace with repetition by the end of
the poem, he never surrenders the idea that repetition is essentially
Fellini, however, has from the very beginning of his career
seemed to almost relish repetition. When his own voice describes at
the end of Roma how the revelers at the Fiesta de Noantri eat and drink
"not much different from the beginning of this picture, or a hundred
years ago, or forever and forever," he seems to find consolation in
the fact. All of the ever recurrent subjects of his films, all of those
which are traditionally thought of as Felliniesque and those not as
commonly noticed by the critics, failure, the elements, children, the
face-to-face, all return again and again as if, like II Matto with
the pebble, Fellini is trying to understand them, to heed their Saying
and abide by it. Has he not insisted, after all, that he has always
been making the same movie?
In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche described for the first
time a phenomenon which he called "eternal recurrence." In order to
explain what he meant by the phrase, he asks us to imagine:
How, if some day or night, a demon were to sneak after you
into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life,
as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live
once more and innumerable times more; and there will be
nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every
thought and every sigh . must return to you--all in the
same succession and sequence--even this spider and this
moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I
myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over
and over--and you with it, a mere grain of dust." Would
you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse
the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a
tremendous moment when you would have answered him: "You
are a god, and never did I hear anything more godlike!" If
this thought were to gain possession of you, it would change
you as you are, or perhaps crush you. The question in each
and everything, "do you want this once more and innumerable
times more?" would weigh upon your actions as the greatest
stress. Or how well disposed would you have to become to
yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than
this ultimate eternal confirmation . ?
The "eternal recurrences" of Fellini's films, which I will hereafter
call ways of the flesh, seem to serve as just such an "ultimate eternal
confirmation" of life on earth. As Nietzsche well knew, that which
brings the news that there is nothing new need not be thought a demon;
for he who accepts "eternal recurrence" and comes to feel no need as
a result, trusting tacitly in his autochthony, the demon becomes an
angel. The ways of the flesh are angelic presence in Fellini's imagi-
nation, not symbols or representations but rather, as he himself has
explained (in attempting to describe the function of his actors and
characters), "the incarnations, the real body of something within my
imagination" (Levine, p. 82; my italics), the imagination of a major
I have called these "eternal recurrences" ways of the flesh because
they are, first of all, primary routes of the visible to be learned
within what Merleau-Ponty called the flesh, that realm of interaction
between the seer and the seen. As presence, they must be learned,
that is, the relationship of the seer to them must become instanta-
neous; their distance and difference need to be brought near in order
for their being to be felt. They are not objects, thrown in the way,
but rather means of orientation, ways. But they are as well the way
itself, the path of man's evolution and of the development of an indi-
vidual imagination. The Journey Out and Back is a figure set over and
against the ground which their presence establish. They might as
easily be called the "gestures" of the flesh, since "gesture" literally
means "to bear, or carry," and these gestures of the flesh bear toward
man the way of the earth, abducting him into a relationship to it,
achieved through mimicry of it, which I have called the Open. They
carry forward what Gerard Manley Hopkins thought of as "instress," the
"inner energy of being which upholds things" in their patterns, textures,
colors, etc. They are gestures in the Oriental sense as well, each
a "gathering of a bearing" set always against a background of emptiness
(OWL, pp. 17-19). As in Japanese No-drama, where the gestures of the
actors are judged excellent according to how well they summon the image
of the surrounding vastness, the gestures or ways of the flesh, al-
though they ground man's journey, allude as figures to a more encompas-
sing ground, the light in which, in movie narratives at least, they
find a home.5
No semiotics of film can do justice to these ways of Fellini's
imagination, for they are the very opposite of a code as Christian
Metz understands it. They are not a logical, non-physical mechanism
by which Fellini imposes significance on his imagery. Their function
is instead rather like the Zen Buddhist koan: to stop human judgment
and rational manipulation by directly pointing to the inscapee" (as
Hopkins would say) of the obvious reality which lies right before the
eyes. In the education of a Zen Buddhist monk, the student returns
again and again to his master with possible solutions to the problem
presented in the koan until he attains understanding. Similarly,
Fellini returns again and again to the ways of the flesh in each cine-
matic experiment at getting it right, offering possible narrative
solutions to the perplexing presence of each. As a result, his Juliet
can be viewed as a homologue of his Cabiria, since they spring from the
same source, and the wind at the end of Amarcord is as well the homo-
logue of the wind in the first image of The White Sheik. Each presence
asks only to be heeded for its own sake, in its own being. Fellini's
preoccupation with the ways of the flesh, his imagination's struggle
with the koan-like puzzle which they present, is as well then a
"topology of Being," as Heidegger describes it, a seeking out of the
whereabouts of Being's actual presence, which is hermeneutics' purpose
to follow (PLT, p. 12).
The attainment of such a solution requires attention to the Saying
of each of these ways. But in order for this to take place, as
Heidegger suggests, it is necessary
For something . to come about by which the vast distance
in which the nature of Saying assumes its radiance, opened
itself to the messenger's course and shone upon it. . A
stilling would have to come about that quiets the breath of
the vastness into the structure of Saying which calls out to
the messenger. (OWL, p. 53)
Fellini's preoccupation with the ways of the flesh should be seen as a
search for that stillness, a search for the Open. That such stillness
is unattainable is the thesis of the auteur theorist, for to them
"noise" is always clogging the channels, but auteur criticism is a stan-
dard capitulation to an aesthetics of failure which has found a prominent
voice in the twentieth century and to which Fellini has never subscribed.
Georges Poulet, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot, Samuel Beckett,
all have proclaimed that art is systematic failure, a fundamental defeat
in which man remains always one step removed from reality, always
unable to capture his own shadow or establish any face-to-face exchange
with his world. Beckett, a Nobel-prize winner, has, for example,
announced his dedication to the aesthetics of failure most radically
when he extolled in an interview the value of art "weary of pretending
to be able, of being able, of doing a little better the same old thing,
of going a little further along a dreary road." His commitment, he
insists, is instead to
The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with
which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to
express, no desire to express, together with the obligation
Every great artist, Beckett claims, realizes that "to be an artist is to
fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world." All of these
thinkers, to whom the oblivion of Being has become a paramount reality,
judge its sway to be permanent.
In 8 1/2 this problem of failure announces itself in the second
scene as one of the ways of the flesh. During Guido's medical examina-
tion, Carini, a writer, asks him "Are you preparing another film?
Another film that offers no hope?" Later, Conocchia, Guido's assistant
director, upset over Guido's neglect of him, lashes out against him with
the charge "You're not the man you used to be." And at the news con-
ference the producer Pace concludes vehemently that Guido in fact "has
nothing to say." These incidents mark 8 1/2 as perhaps the pivotal film
in Fellini's Journey Out and Back; in it his imagination has reached its
If 8 1/2 fails, the Journey Out and Back will end in the oblivion
of Being. None of the films which preceded it were able to generate
within their own narratives a completely affirmative birth. The White
Sheik (1952) ends in a compromise and conciliation with the powers
that be, its last image a fixed shot of a lifeless statue in the square
outside St. Peter's. I Vitelloni (1953) succeeds at least in starting
Moraldo on his prodigal journey, the train he rides on his way to Rome
rushing clandestinely by the rest of the "young veals" as they sleep.
La Strada's (1954) climax finds Zampano lying face down in the sand of
a beach by the sea, realizing for the first time his inhumanity and
lamenting the death of Gelsomina. In the finale of Ii Bidone (1955),
Augusto too lies in agony and defeat in the dirt and dies there. So
when at the end of Nights of Cabiria (1956), Cabiria falls to the ground
after being robbed of her life savings by Oscar and screams, "I don't
want to live," it comes as no surprise to followers of Fellini's develop-
ment. Fellini's eternally recurrent imagination has brought her to the
very same place as Zampano and Augusto. The aesthetics of failure seem
to have triumphed.
But then a miracle happens. A cut follows, and Cabiria walks
away from the scene of her tragedy back toward life. This tiny figure
who earlier proclaimed to the magician in The Lux that "I have every-
thing I need," who prayed to the Madonna (and secretly to herself, since
her middle name is Mary), "Mother Maria! Change my life," wanders back
onto the road, the eternally recurrent "la strada" of Fellini's imagina-
tion, the human way, and mixing with a band of angelic revelers, is
summoned back by what Fellini has described as a "serenade" in lieu of
an explanation for what had happened which would be unattainable
(Salachas, pp. 100-102), translating the smiling "Buena sera" which she
receives from one of the group into the hinting, epiphanal, shy half-
smile of resignation and the face-to-face glance of recognition she
confers upon the viewer in the full-frame image of her face which ends
But this first essential step of resignation to the ways of the
earth, to the concrete, even though it takes Fellini to the "other side
of neo-realism," does not bring him to the end of his way. With La Dolce
Vita (1959) the ways of the flesh present themselves again as prob-
lems and the film's center, Marcello Rubini, achieves no marriage with
his world. The film is, rather, as Frank Burke has shown, an "annul-
ment," ending in Marcello's inability to heed the beneficent smile of
the angel Paola, separated as they are by the very elements themselves.
He moves on along his way while Paola comes face-to-face with the camera
alone, the Saying of her image as yet unable to be integrated by the
"iris frettings" of either Marcello's or Fellini's forward thrusting
The question which Carini poses to Guido then is in fact a question
Fellini proposes to himself: will he accept the Beckettian aesthetic
of failure or seek to imagine what might lie on the other side of such
defeat? That Guido understands the nature of his impasse is apparent
throughout 8 1/2. Carini, Conocchia, Pace, Daumier, his wife Luisa,
and Claudia, all present to him incriminating evidence of his failures
as a man and artist. Daumier, for example, compares his work unfavor-
ably with the avant-garde and laments its "ambiguous realism." He pro-
tests too against its autobiographical quality, asking "How could the
story of your own life interest anyone?" Luisa berates him with the
question, "What can you teach others when you are not even honest with
your own wife?" and her apparition at the press conference beseeches him
with the question "Will you ever truly marry me?" And Claudia, during
their meeting on the Piazza after the screening, tells him that he
dresses like an old man and accuses him of being unable to film a love
story. Guido is, after all, about to direct a movie about the escape
of earth's last survivors to another planet in a rocket ship (which
would in fact only be a reenactment of his imagined floating-away at the
very beginning of the film). It is a subject perfectly suited to his
sense of unfulfillment. At the spaceship tower he openly confesses to
to Rossella his impotence, proclaiming in fact that "I have nothing to
say and I intend to say it." And when in his fantasies Guido tries to
escape his accusers by shooting himself, he seems to have surrendered to
Daumier's Cartesian desire to escape "all words, images, sounds--none of
which has any right to exist" and to seek instead "the only real perfec-
tion . nothingness."
But Guido insists as well throughout 8 1/2 that his real desire is
not to practice universal doubt and accept failure, but rather to make
a film in which he is able to "put everything in." And as he listens to
Daumier's monologue, it occurs to him that his wish can be realized, that
he need not continue to "film a lie." When the magician Maurice appears
to announce to Guido that "We're ready to begin," his words refer to
much more than the joyous parade about the circus ring which follows.
They mark the end of failure in Fellini's films and the beginning of the
opening of the Open, for Guido's desire to "put everything in" is really
the wish to include all the tacit data, the Saying of the unglossed
vision, which fill his "eye-pouch" and constitute the real body of his
imagination.9 And as a result, in the films which follow 8 1/2, the ways
of the flesh, the elements, the grotesque, madmen and clowns, children,
inside/outside, and the face-to-face, have their full say. In 8 1/2,
as Fellini himself has commented, he made "an agreement with life"
(Murray, p. 134).
In Fellini-Satyricon, after Trimalchio's banquet, Encolpio and
Eumolpus the poet are seen stretched out on a broad, flat, plowed
field beneath a night sky. Eumolpus, having escaped Trimalchio's ovens
and anticipating his own death, discourses to Encolpio. "The poets
are dying, poetry remains," he explains. And since at the movie's end
he does in fact die, requiring that all who would share in his new-found
wealth must eat his body, his observation seems accurate enough. But
what is the nature of the poetry which remains after the poet himself
has achieved consummation?
At the movie's close Encolpio does not partake of the poet's body,
for he is bound for the sea, boarding the ship with a young Greek, an
African, and others in search of undiscovered lands. He has no need to
share in Eumolpus' legacy, for in the earlier scene between them,
Eumolpus, then a man with no wealth, conferred on Encolpio a more
I leave you life itself. I leave you the seasons, especially
spring and summer. I leave you the wind and the sun. I
leave you the sea. The sea is good, and the earth, too, is
good. I leave you the color of ripe grain; and the torrents
and streams; the great clouds which fly solemnly and light . .
I leave you the trees and their busy inhabitants. Love, tears,
happiness. The stars, Encolpius, I leave you those too. I
leave you sounds, songs, noises; the voice of man, which is
the most harmonious of music. I
Eumolpus' gift, presumably the elemental constituents of the poetry
which would remain even if all poets were dead, is bestowed on a young
man who is fleeing from those very things which the poet leaves to him.
In the soliloquy with which the movie opens, Encolpio asserts defiantly
The earth has not succeeded in dragging me down into the abyss
and swallowing me! Nor has the sea swallowed me up, ready as
she is to take the innocent for herself! (Zanelli, p. 93)
A prodigal, one who finds himself "banished from my country,
abandoned," Encolpio at first seeks elemental union only with Giton,
who is in his eyes "the sun, the sea, the gods," but at the movie's
close, after his confession of treachery and waywardness before
Oenothea and his intercourse with the earth mother, he returns to his
prodigality in league with, and not in rebellion against, the elements.12
Healed, made potent again by Oenothea's fire, he embarks with the
young across the sea: "The wind is right, the clouds are breaking," his
Water, air, fire, and earth, and the seasons in which they manifest
themselves, constitute the most elemental phenomenal ways of the flesh
which man's mimicry seeks to accommodate; for it is only within the
climate which they present, the region of what Heidegger (and the
American Indian) liked to call the "fourfold" (PLT, pp. 149-50), that
man can abide in anything other than waywardness. As presence in
Fellini's films, they are predominant and the wisdom to be gained from
heeding their marking out of the way is literally proverbial.
Wallace Stevens thought of the discovery of the real as an
experience of "major weather," which would be, as he puts it in "The
Snow Man," merely a discovery of "nothing that is not there and the
nothing that is" (CP, p. 9). For to see our stay within the fourfold
for what it is, not ideally or symbolically, would be:
To discover an order as of
A season, to discover summer and know it,
To discover winter and know it well, to find,
Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
Out of nothing to have come on major weather.
It is possible, possible, it must
Be possible. It must be that in time
The real will from its crude compoundings come,
Seeming at first, a beast disgorged, unlike,
Warmed by desperate milk. (CP, 403-404; my italics)
Following the weathering/Saying of the elemental, Fellini's films seek
to disgorge the real, a feat performed most fully, as I will show in
Chapter Four, in Amarcord's saga of the seasons.
Fellini claims that his preoccupation with water and the sea stems
simply from his sense as an Italian of being surrounded by it. But
it is fascinating to him as well, he explains, because it is "an element
I have never conquered: the place from which come our monsters and
ghosts" (Strich, pp. 14-16).14 Monsters and ghosts do arise from it,
it is true, the shapeless fish at the end of La Dolce Vita, the massive
whale pulled on board Lichas' ship in Fellini-Satyricon, and the barge
full of invaders in Juliet of the Spirits. But the presence of water
plays several other roles as well in Fellini's imagination.
Fellini's "sense of an ending" seems to require the sea as a back-
drop. La Strada, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini-
Satyricon, Amarcord, all end with the sea present in some way. Il
Bidone, Clowns, and Roma are, in fact, the only major Fellini films in
which water does not figure prominently. Water even appears in unusual
places and often unexpectedly, infiltrating the prostitute's bedroom
in La Dolce Vita, overflowing the bathtub and flooding the hotel in
The White Sheik, casting an aura of opaque mystery over the attempt of
Fellini and his crew to "document" the Raccordo Annulare in Roma (the
people in the cars become almost phantom presence; the crumbling archi-
tecture appears haunted; and the shimmering headlights seem the product
of an almost hallucinogenic vision). In La Dolce Vita, a hard rain
creates a similar effect, falling on the scene of the "miracle" and
destroying the flood lights.
In the impenetrableness of water, the earth's refusal seems to
become manifest. For Fellini, as for Melville, "water and meditation
are forever wedded." By serving as a mirror in which is revealed the
futility of man's pursuit of the oblivion of Being, water brings to him
a revelation of the extent of his own waywardness. For those who have
never strayed into that oblivion, like Gelsomina in La Strada, it is
almost a home, a primal source, to which she feels attuned in her
deepest recesses. But for Zampano, it is the scene of his remorse and
despair. And when Marcello enters the waters of the Trevi Fountain in
pursuit of Sylvia, he finds himself mysteriously confessing to his own
Yes, yes, she's perfectly right. I've been wrong about
everything. We've all been wrong about everything.15
Air manifests itself in Fellini's films principally in the eter-
nally recurrent present of the wind. There is no more instantly identi-
fiable sign, although nearly invisible, of the presence of Fellini's
imagination at work. In the still first shot of The White Sheik, the
wind is alone moving and active, and twenty one years later it is still
blowing in both the opening and closing images of Amarcord. It blows
along the beach where the vitelloni wander. Gelsomina listens to it
attentively, as if for a message. Its noise, coupled with the roar of
the sea, makes it impossible for Marcello to understand Paola's summons
at the end of La Dolce Vita. It fills and lifts the white cloth on
Saraghina's chair, turning it into an object of wonder for young Guido
in 8 1/2. It provides the natural propulsion for Encolpio's "journey
out" at the end of Fellini-Satyricon. It howls around the road markers
at the beginning of Roma and through the construction site of the
Metra-Roma. And in Amarcord it blows into the Borgo the "little hands"
The wind is a force of change within the oblivion of Being, a push
along the way, the energy behind the breaking down of the old way
and the old gloss or description and the presentiment of the impending
creation of another step in man's evolving mimicry. When the wind
blows in Fellini's films, something is up. Like the wind which blows
"The Curtains of the House of the Metaphysician" in Stevens' poem, its
"long motions" are really "the ponderous/deflations of distance," part
of the baring of "The last largeness, bold to see" (CP, p. 62).16
Like the wind, fire transforms things. Exposed to Oenothea's
sensual fire, Encolpio rekindles the necessary potency for the comple-
tion of his journey, and within her own magical flames Oenothea, who is
the very source of fire itself for the local inhabitants, metamorphoses
from a beautiful young temptress into decaying flesh and then into a
voluptuous earth mother. That Encolpio even seeks out the power of
fire and exposes himself to it shows how much further advanced along the
way he is than Ivan in The White Sheik, who failed to heed the Saying
of the miraculous human flame thrower conjured for his witnessing by
Cabiria, and consequently attests to how far Fellini as well has jour-
neyed toward an understanding of the ways of fire. By Amarcord vir-
tually the entire Borgo participates and celebrates fire's power to
burn "the witch of winter" and usher in another spring in the ceremonial
lighting of the fogarazze. Fire seems the inescapable prelude to a
celebration of the light.17 It is the elemental "dark night of the
soul" through which all who journey toward individuation must pass.
And the earth itself functions in Fellini's films as the shelter of
the elements. In Fellini-Satyricon Trimalchio at the banquet glories in
his wealth by having a list read of his possessions and of the yield of
his fields and the births of his animals and slaves. Within the obli-
vion of Being, the elements are treated in this way, as something
owned, enumerated, catalogued, but their visual presence in Fellini's
films shows them to be something that never could be owned. They
endure there within what Heidegger called the "self-secluding," just
as their images endure within the projected white light that brings
them forth. "All things of earth, and the earth itself as a whole,"
flow together into a reciprocal accord. But this confluence
is not a blurring of their outlines. Here there flows the
stream, restful within itself, of the setting of bounds,
which delimits everything present within its presence. . .
The earth is essentially self-secluding. To set forth the
earth means to bring it into the Open as the self-secluding.
(PLT, p. 47)18
Earth, and concomitantly the Open, is set forth in numerous ways in
Fellini's films: in the ground to which Zampano, Augusto, and Cabiria
are brought in their defeats; in Ii Matto's pebble; in all those
natural things to which Gelsomina seems to be deeply attuned; in the
ground to which Pace pulls Guido after his attempt to "transcend"; in
Guido's own refusal to escape the earth later in 8 1/2 and the descent
of the cast and crew from the spaceship tower back to earth; in Juliet's
victory walk among the pines; in the brown furrows of the soil where
Eumolpus confers his gift; in the dirt center ring of The Clowns' last
scene; in the Metro-Roma sequence in Roma; in all the perambulations of
Amarcord's characters; in all the flesh of Fellini's animals, the
mysterious horses of La Strada, Fellini-Satyricon, and Roma, the ox of
Amarcord; and in the thoroughly corporeal, often grotesque bodies of
Fellini's characters themselves.
As I have already observed, Fellini's films are distinguished by
their grotesqueness. There is nothing more "Felliniesque" than his
repeated fascination with deformity, scatology, and excess of all kinds.
And yet Fellini himself insists that his works are not grotesque at all.
He has explained, for example, that
When I introduce rather odd characters into my films, people
say I'm exaggerating, that I'm "doing a Fellini." But it's
just the opposite; in comparison with what happens to me all
the time, I feel I'm softening things, moderating reality to
a remarkable degree. (Strich, p. 52)19
And to Eileen Hughes' complaints about the monstrous qualities of the
characters in Fellini-Satyricon, Fellini has retorted, "But they are not
monsters. They are innocent. You are less innocent" (Hughes, p. 62).
Few of Fellini's critics and observers have endeavored to see the
grotesqueness of his art as he himself sees it. Most have tended to
think of the Fellini-grotesque according to more traditional idealistic
and judgmental aesthetics, perhaps best articulated by Wolfgang Kayser
in his The Grotesque in Art and Literature. To him, the grotesque is
The expression of the estranged or alienated world. . [It]
is a game with the absurd, in the sense that the grotesque
artist plays, half laughingly, half horrified, with the deep
absurdities of existence. The grotesque is an attempt to con-
trol and exorcise the demonic elements in the world.
The "unity of perspective" attained by all grotesque art has its source,
Kayser insists, in the belief that "the divinity of poets and the
shaping force of nature have already ceased to exist." 21 But does not
Fellini (who has praised Toulouse-Lautrec's capacity for loving the
"disinherited and the despised . those who are designated as de-
praved by 'respectable' people" and applauded the painter's conviction
that "the purest and loveliest flowers thrive on waste land and rubbish
heaps," Strich, p. 56) see the "grotesque" in an entirely different
light?22 Like a Toulouse-Lautrec or a Sherwood Anderson, Fellini seems
to be drawn toward the grotesque by an intuitive sense that these
"gnarled apples" of experience are a prime shaping force for the imagi-
nation, an entry way into the mysterious, into what is hidden in the
oblivion of Being. His movies heed the Saying of the grotesque's
more than rational distortion. The grotesque is to Fellini a "dissonance
which leads to discovery" (see Appendix I).
Nowhere does the oblivion of Being proclaim itself in such an
unabashed and revealing manner as in the standard aesthetic response to
the grotesque. In it hidden transcendental biases become embarrassingly
blatant.24 When, for example, Mary Cass Canfield declares that the
grotesque testifies that
The artist is ill. Life is too literal and he takes to his
fancy. Life is too pervasively discordant and so his fancy
does not soar, does not sanely and safely create beautiful
rhythms, but becomes infected with unrest, turns ape to the
actual, is a rebellious slave to what it would be free from
and claims that all "Grotesques are damned,"25 or when Stuart
Rosenthal sees the midget nun in Fellini's The Clowns as "unbalanced
and threatening" (thus succumbing to the childish attitude which Fellini
evolves beyond in the movie itself!),26 they testify only to their own
tendency to gloss and thereby to judge the creation; the grotesque is
for them only a mirror which gives back to them their own reflections.
Canfield's diction is itself a revelation: the grotesque prevents the
artist from "soaring" (presumably above the earth), condemning him to
the mimicking or aping of the actual, of which Canfield evidently feels
he should be free. Canfield's Platonism is, however, strangely correct.
The grotesque is, as she insists, a revelation of immanence; it is
stamped "On the obverse of the medal of idealism."27
Of all the "useless baggage" which Fellini claims was laid upon
him as a child, none has merited more of his ire than Western civili-
zation's emphasis on the ideal. When he has talked or written of it,
his eloquence reveals the same kind of emotional coupling of anger and
disbelief that brings Grandfather out of his seat in Juliet of the
Spirits to stop the pageant yelling, "What are you teaching these poor
little girls?" Idealism is to Fellini the curse of the West.
In the 1965 Playboy interview, given during the filming of Juliet
of the Spirits, can be found the fullest exposition of his thinking on
the ideal. Ideals, Fellini argues, must be abandoned because they
'impose' impossible standards and unattainable aspirations
that can only impede the spontaneous growth of a normal
human being, and may conceivably destroy him. You must
have experienced this yourself. There arrives a moment in
life when you discover that what you've been told at home,
at school, or in church is simply not true. You discover
that it binds your authentic self, your instinct, your
true growth. And this opens up a schism, creates a conflict
that must eventually be resolved--or succumbed to. In all
forms of neurosis there is this clash between certain forms
of idealization in a moral sense and a contrary aesthetic
form. (p. 60; my italics)
Fellini has attempted to discover the possible source of this
neurosis of the ideal by outlining a miniature philosophy of history:
It all started with the Greeks when they enshrined a classic
standard of physical beauty. A man who did not correspond to
that type of beauty felt himself excluded, inferior, an out-
sider. Then came Christianity, which established an ethical
beauty. This doubled man's problems by creating the dual pos-
sibility that he was neither beautiful as a Greek god or as
holy as a Christian one. Inevitably, you were guilty of
either nonbeauty or unsaintliness, and probably both. So you
lived in disgrace: Man did not love you, nor did God. Thus
you remained outside of life. (Playboy, 60)
This "outside of life" is Fellini's version of Heidegger's oblivion of
Being (though Fellini came by it by intuition and not, like Heidegger,
through a lengthy study of Western philosophy). This labyrinthine
outsideness can, however, be escaped "by realizing that if you are not
beautiful, it's all right anyway; and if you're not a saint, that's all
right too--because reality is not ideality" (Playboy, p. 60). As a
recurrent way of the flesh in Fellini's imagination, the grotesque thus
seems to serve as the essential "contrary aesthetic form" which,
battling the ideal, seeks to overthrow the oblivion of Being and find
The grotesque is the very opposite of entertainment as Gene
Youngblood has defined it: it gives to us what we do not know we want.
For it is in fact a glimpse of the flesh which seems threatening to a
fixed and stereotyped vision of the world. But it is essential to a
world which can regenerate itself beyond the constrictions of any verbal
logos. It shows forth the absence of a center or of eternal models;
denying a perspective, it guarantees that the unfathomable ground will
always produce new stories. It is an image, a synecdoche, for the
source of narrative motion; beauty cannot make any such guarantee. As
Annie Dillard has reminded, if the earth were smooth, our brains would
be too. The dissonance of the grotesque is the earth's convoluting
power. A mimicry of the earth which fails to take account of the gro-
tesque will forever remain outside.
The idealistic sense of beauty which the West has developed out of
its commitment to a verbal logos is unfaithful to the hurling back and
forth through opposition (according to the sway of the primal energy
of what the early Greeks called physics the tension and unrest, which
is more primordial and of which the grotesque is the non-euphemised image
(IM, p. 113). The beautiful feigns ignorance of its source, pre-
tending to have sprung fully grown from the head of Zeus. The beau-
tiful, Heidegger reminds, "does lie in form, but only because the forma
once took its light from Being as the isness of what is" (PLT, p. 31).
Consequently then, the grotesque is no aberration; it is not, as
Wallace Stevens saw,
a visitation. It is
Not an apparition, but appearance, part
Of that simplified geography, in which
The sun comes up like news from Africa. (CP, p. 334)
When, therefore, a 1611 French and English dictionary defined the
grotesque as that
wherein . all kinds of odd things are represented without
any particular sence, or meaning, but only to feed the eye.3
it exhibited an unconscious wisdom. For the grotesque feeds the iris
frettings of the eye primordially, a vision of the "flawed nature of
The movies may very well be inherently grotesque. Bela Balazs
observed that all early films were thought grotesque, due to the dis-
tortions presented by huge eyes, mouths, etc. seen in close-up and the
bizarre decapitation and dismemberment of bodies by the edges of the
frame, all of which have now become conventionalized and so seldom seen
in their first structure. The movies have always presented an eccen-
tric vision of the world and of an ever-changing kaleidoscopic inter-
relationship with the flesh; obliterating the perspectivism of second
structure, movies have destroyed the ideal of a reality seen by a
spectator from a point of view. As early as 1923 Dziga Vertov extolled
the genius of the "man with a movie camera" to "co-ordinate any and all
points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My ways lead
toward the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain
in a new way the world unknown to you." 35 The grotesque is a vital
part of this "fresh perception" whose Saying is of the uncategorizable
uniqueness of the real.
By its reversal of the ideal, the grotesque overthrows as well
what the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin has called the "bodily canon of
art" which has dominated Western art since the Renaissance. In his
ingenious Rabelais and His World Bakhtin argues that in the past four
hundred years a preoccupation with politeness, taste, manners, and
rational, institutional values has eclipsed a previous fascination with
the "grotesque body" which had its roots in folklore and is readily
apparent as the shaping force behind Rabelais' exuberant but thoroughly
grotesque genius. The grotesque body depicted in pre-Renaissance art is
one which unashamedly "fecundates and is fecundated, that gives birth
and is born, devours and is devoured, drinks, defecates, is sick and
dying."36 The "bodily canon of art" which became predominant was, on
the other hand, an attempt to assert that man was somehow outside of
the hierarchy of the cosmos, beyond it (p. 364). It stresses that man
is a finished product, a character, and in its reductionism attempts
to seal off the bodily processes of organic life from their interchange
with the outside (p. 321). The bodily canon therefore seeks to:
1) eliminate protrusions; 2) close all orifices; 3) stop all mergers of
the body with something outside; 4) hide all signs of inner life
processes; 5) ignore all evidence of fecundation and pregnancy;
6) present an image of a completed, individual body (p. 320).
Now Fellini's imagination clearly has no respect for this canon.
Its every principle is violated in his movies. Movies are by their
very nature, as W. R. Robinson has shown, a "strip tease" which seeks
out the skin and body of the world as its subject, the conceptual and
abstract being for it an impossibility.38 Fellini's resurrection of the
grotesque body springs in part from his dedication to this innate
capacity of the movies. But it comes as well from a temperamental love
of it in a creator to whom, for example, a man named Fafinon in his
home town who could produce an unlimited number of farts on command
seems a "marvellous man!" (Strich, p. 24).39 Stripping away the gloss
of the bodily canon, Fellini's presentation of the grotesque within the
larger body of the flesh in general is of a body in the act of becoming,
"a point," Bakhtin would say, "of transition in a life eternally
renewed, the inexhaustible vessel of death and conception" (p. 318), in
which the cosmic elements enter into man and make him vividly aware of
the presence of the cosmos, that which is without, passing within him
A mother at the burlesque show in Roma ushers her young son into
the aisle to relieve himself, although another woman looks on aghast
and complains "What if we all started pissing?" In the same film, the
young Fellini, inspecting his new living quarters, happens on a jubilant
young boy triumphantly announcing from his perch on a toilet, "I've
done it!" In Amarcord urination is celebrated in the poems recited
by Grandfather. And in Fellini-Satyricon, Trimalchio and others void
themselves at table. Farting and belching are also prominent, almost
exhibitional, in Fellini-Satyricon at Vernacchio's and at the banquet
(where Trimalchio's burps are even read by an interpreter), in the
acts of the clowns, and throughout Amarcord. The scatological gro-
tesque increases in prominence throughout Fellini's career, reaching,
as I will show, its zenith in Amarcord.
Scenes of eating, in I Vitelloni, La Strada, La Dolce Vita,
likewise show the grotesque body's exchange with its world, culminating
in the gustatory exhibitions of Trimalchio's banquet, in the open-air
restaurants of Roma (where truly Rabelaisian wisdom--"What you eat, you
shit!"--is understood), and in Amarcord's family dinner scene. The
bodily canon's prohibitions against open orifices and protrusions are
further broken in Fellini's films by the often repeated gesture of a
wiggling, out-thrust tongue (in most of Fellini's children, in nympho-
maniacs and prostitutes, and in the Polynesian youth at the entrance
to the Insula Felicles). The canon's denial of sexuality and fecundity
is overthrown by the sensual passion exhibited by Sylvia in La Dolce
Vita, Saraghina in 8 1/2, Suzy in Juliet, the nymphomaniacs in Fellini-
Satyricon and Ariadne and Oenothea as well, the druggist's wife in
Roma, and Gradisca and Venus in Amarcord.
And all the deformity and aberration of Fellini's freaks, the
thousands of bizarre faces (which in Fellini-Satyricon even take on the
quality of a James Ensor or Francis Bacon image), the midget wrestlers,
gigantic and obese women, "tiny grannies," hermaphrodites, severed arms,
legless and armless men, shapeless sea creatures ("Is it possible that
nobody knows which is the front and which is the rear?" asks Pierone),
swollen heads, do not present evidence to Fellini's imagination that,
as Van Gogh put it, the world is "a study that didn't come off." They
make evident rather only what Annie Dillard has so beautifully described
as the shadows, the "blue strips" which run through the creation and
require of the seer that he regard it, not merely as a dark mark, but
as "making some sort of sense of the light." For as Dillard has seen:
They give the light distance; they put it in its place.
They inform my eyes of my location here . here in the
world's flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of
the nothingness between me and the light.41
The Saying of the grotesque in Fellini's films, by actively combating
the tyranny of the ideal, hints at a new realization that, as Annie
Dillard puts it, "Creation itself was the fall, a burst into the thorny
beauty of the real."42
Madmen and Clowns
In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault has shown how the Age
of Reason systematically excluded from its midst the presence of the
mad, locking them away in asylums in much the same way that lepers were
once banished from human society previous to the Renaissance. But with
this exclusion of those who were thought by the Middle Ages to be per-
fect emblems of the hazards of the passage of human life, the voyagers
par excellence, came, Foucault argues, the virtual neglect of the issues
which their presence raised. Is man mad? Is the direction of human
civilization a desirable one?43 (Foucault's thesis, it should be noted,
directly parallels Bakhtin's: both see civilization since the Renais-
sance as repressive of the most elemental aspects of the human journey.)
I have already shown how Fellini's art violates the dictates of the
"bodily canon's" injunctions against the grotesque and scatological, and
Fellini exhibits likewise a reluctance to accept the Age of Reason's
mandated exclusion of the mad from human view. The mad in his films
seem always present, most noticeably Guidizio in I Vitelloni, The Clowns,
Roma, and Amarcord, Gelsomina, Uncle Teo, and that special subset of
the mad known as clowns.
Gelsomina is apparently not "mad," but more specifically a "fool,"
or at least slightly retarded. Her mother explains to her at the begin-
ning of La Strada, when Zampano comes to purchase her, that "It's not
your fault you're different from the rest," and truly she seems to be in
touch with a level of reality which no one else in the film, except, of
course, II Matto can possibly understand. She reads the air and predicts
"it will rain in three days." She puts her ear to a telegraph pole and
seems to be able to read its inhuman vibrations. In the presence of the
sea she feels at home, directed by its motions. She plants tomatoes
at a stop along the way, although she will never see them grow. She
lives before the oblivion of Being, in her ignorance unable to gloss
her world and hence attuned to Sayings beyond mere rational speech.
Giudizio, likewise a fool, shares with Gelsomina a kind of mad
wisdom (his name, in fact, means "wisdom"). In I Vitelloni, he cannot
take his eyes off the angel which Fausto and Moraldo have stolen. In
The Clowns and Roma he is more Rabelaisian, making obscene gestures at
a woman in the former (who threatens him with castration) and in the
latter preferring to play with himself than indulge in nostalgia about
the greatness of Caesar and the past. In Roma he appears in one shot
staring out at the rain, his face pressed closely against a window
covered with water droplets. This identification of him with the ele-
ments continues in Amarcord where he becomes their herald (see Chapter
Unlike Gelsomina and Giudizio, Uncle Teo, Aurelio's mad brother in
Amarcord, is not free. When we first see him, he is locked away in an
asylum in the country. But Fellini's imagination seeks him out there
and brings him before the camera's inspection. Like Fellini's other
mad, he seems "out of his mind" from being too much involved in the
mysteries of the earth. His powers of attention are intense and his
sense of wonder is huge (see Chapter Four). He seems almost a proto-
type of the visionary artist in his ability to respect and to heed the
more than rational distortion present in the visible creation, lacking
only the necessary concentration to convert his experience into the
work of art.
Like the mad, Fellini's clowns also live in a world of wonder, but
they convert their wonder into an art form in the circus and by so
doing become much more than merely the reminder of the ever-present
mystery with which they have not lost touch: clowns are almost angels.
On numerous occasions Fellini has claimed that if it were not for the
movies, the circus would have been his vocation. Both, he observes,
are ways of living and creating at one and the same time and hence have
an instant appeal to his "seamless" imagination. The circus, he writes,
a way of life, a way of representing itself, which has
gathered together within itself, in an exemplary way, cer-
tain lasting myths: adventure, travel, risk, danger,
speed, stepping into the limelight. . and at the same
time, there is the more mortifying aspect of it which
keeps recurring, the fact that people come to see you and
you must exhibit yourself; that they examine you in this
monstrous way and have this biological, racial right to
come and say: "Well, here I am, make me laugh, excite
me, make me cry." (Strich, pp. 121-22)
As such, the circus is to Fellini not just a show. Like the movies,
which must be made "by living them, by making them vital rhythms"
(Levine, p. 79), the circus is "an experience of life. It is a way of
travelling through one's own life." The ecstasy Fellini claims to
feel in its presence is due to his own total commitment to "that noise
and music, to those monstrous apparitions, to those threats of death"
which the circus embodies. The type of show which the circus is, "based
on wonder and fantasy, on jokes and nonsense, on fables and on the lack
of any coldly intellectual meaning," he claims, "is just the thing for
me" (Strich, pp. 121-23). And the people of the circus, the exhibitors
of "joy in its purest form," remain to him the "only people in the world
I will always understand" (Vilallonga, p. 95).
The circus has long seemed to Fellini, ever since his first exper-
ience of it as a child, to be "almost a remembrance." "How is it," he
has asked, "that I already know all about the circus, about its
innermost recesses, its lights, its smells? I know it. I have always
known it" (Strich, p. 121). Because the magic circle of the circus,
"A world without frontiers, as vast as the imagination," is where
Fellini first made contact with "Life. Real Life. The one which is
beyond understanding" (Vilallonga, p. 96), the circus is to him,
consequently, a "shock of recognition" that his most tacit experience of
life is in rhyme with the world, with the world of the circus at least,
with its Saying. The circus proclaims to him that "reality is not
ideality"; its Saying is thus akin to his own genius.
And within the circus nothing has captivated his interest more
than clowns. In a marvellous essay entitled "Why Clowns?" written to
accompany his movie made for Italian television, Fellini provides an
extensive analysis of the importance they hold for his imagination.
The clown, Fellini writers, is
The incarnation of a fantastic creature who expresses the irra-
tional aspect of man; he stands for the instinct, for whatever
is rebellious in each of us and whatever stands up to the esta-
blished order of things. He is a caricature of man's childish
and animal aspects, the mocker and the mocked. (Strich, p. 123)
In the figure of the clown, moreover, the true nature of the grotesque
becomes apparent. The clown, Fellini suggests, is really only a "mirror
in which man sees himself in a grotesque, deformed, ridiculous image"
due to his own sense of inadequacy; he is the victim of a human tendency
toward the deformation of the world. As such, he is man's shadow, a
manifestation of his own weakness and of his projection of his own self
image into the world, a shadow which, as Fellini explains, can be eradi-
cated only by the sun's being directly overhead, as it is in the vision
of the "completely enlightened man" who eliminates the grotesque aspects
of the world by assimilating them into his own being (Strich, p. 124).
Because they are such true tests of accommodation to the ways of the
flesh, it seems only natural that Fellini regards clowns as his muses
and identifies them with his angel:
If pressed to do so, I might say that clowns--these grotesque,
off-beat versions of drunkards, gossip-mongers, tramps--in
their complete irrationality, their violence and their abnor-
mal whims, are an apparition from my childhood, a prophecy,
the anticipation of my vocation, "the annunciation made to
Federico." (Strich, p. 121; my italics)
Fellini has differentiated brilliantly between the two basic types
of clowns: the white and the Auguste. The white clown is a represen-
tative bourgeois, powerful, with a ghostly face, extravagant eyebrows,
a cold, narrow mouth, and dandified dress. He makes the Auguste, his
partner, do what he wants. He is bossy, overbearing, punctilious. He
is, says Fellini, "the perfect image of an education that shows life in
idealized and abstract terms" (Strich, p. 124-25). He stands for repres-
sion itself. He has his fine points: for he stands for "elegance,
grace, harmony, intelligence, lucidity" as well (Strich, p. 134), but
in all of his aspects he represents "What should be done." The Auguste
clown, on the other hand, is a sinner, the "child who dirties his pants"
and rebels against all these values, not because they are not attractive,
for he does admire them, but because, in the presence of the white
clown, they are "so priggishly displayed." The white and the Auguste
are, respectively, the Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel, the yang and the
yin of most comedy teams. Fellini has described beautifully the con-
flict between them as
the struggle between the proud cult of reason (which comes to
be a bullying form of aestheticism) and the freedom of instinct.
The white clown and the Auguste are teacher and child, mother
and small son, even the angel with the flaming sword and the
sinner. In other words, they are two psychological aspects of
man: one which aims upwards, the other which aims downwards;
two divided, separated instincts. (Strich, pp. 124-25)
In The Clowns Fellini originally even intended to include a scene in
which during his crew's travels about Rome everyone in the street, old
women, bishops, businessmen in bowlers, turned into clowns (Strich,
p. 129). If all of Fellini's own characters were thought of as clowns
and classified according to these categories, certainly Moraldo,
Gelsomina, Cabiria, Guido, Juliet, and the youth of Amarcord would
have to be considered as foremost examples of the Auguste personality,
while Ivan, Zampano, Oscar, Steiner, Daumier, Juliet's mother, and the
teachers of Amarcord are among the classic white clowns.
Fellini has even undertaken to classify some twentieth century
personalities using these categories of white and Auguste. Antonioni,
for example, is "one of those sad, silent, speechless Augustes," while
another Italian director, Visconti, is "a white clown with great
authority." Mussolini is an Auguste; Hitler is a white clown. Sigmund
Freud is also a white clown, while Jung, a Fellini hero, is an Auguste.
Picasso, another Fellini hero, is a "triumphant Auguste, brazen,
without complexes, able to do anything" (Strich, p. 130). These clas-
sifications are fascinating and revealing, both about the person who
is so classed and about Fellini himself, but one other of his charac-
terizations is, I believe, worthy of individual attention, for it not
only manifests Fellini's perspicacity and wisdom in an undeniable
manner, but provides as well another key to his films: it is his deline-
ation of Albert Einstein.
Einstein, although a physicist and a mathematician and considered
to be, by the layman at least, the most abstruse and otherworldly of
thinkers, Fellini sees as "a dreamy Auguste, entranced, saying nothing,"
who is able "at the last minute" to pull "out of his bag the solution
to the problem given him by the white clown" (Strich, p. 13). How can
this be? Einstein, the prime mover of the thought of the twentieth
century, of the era in which movies and the art of light have had
their birth, an Auguste? A sinner? Fellini's characterization,
interestingly, agrees completely with that of the scientist Jacob
Bronowski. According to Bronowski, Einstein's discovery of relativity
brought an end to the domination in western thought of a god-like view
of the world which had begun with Sir Isaac Newston, a believer in
absolute space and absolute time. Relativity, Bronowski argues, humbles
us, returning us to the indeterminancy of man's own participatory view
of the world.46 Thus Newton would then be the white clown of Fellini's
description, presenting to Einstein the problem of human perception to
which he supplied the answer: man is embodied and cannot have the
knowledge of a god; he can only from within his own flesh seek, through
the play of his senses, an imaginative interpenetration with his world.
The wisdom contained in Fellini's understanding of Einstein is in
fact also the real shaping force behind his art: Fellini's films, like
Einstein's scientific vision, are products of an Auguste imagination
which delights in puncturing the balloon of absolutism; they radiate a
new kind of humility (remembering that the word, having the same deriva-
tion as "humus," literally means a return to the earth) which has its
seeds in perception and imagination.
The presence of the Auguste clown and of the circus in Fellini's
art signals a return to the earth. Think of the group of circus musi-
cians who stand at the foot of the launch tower in 8 1/2, of the circus
in Juliet of the Spirits in which Juliet's guardian angel Grandfather
first meets Fanny, of the thoroughly pedestrian burlesque show in Roma,
of the re-unification of white and Auguste in the open center ring of
The Clowns--an image, to Fellini's own mind at least, of "the reconcili-
ation of opposites, the unity of being" (Strich, p. 124); all portray
immersion in the flesh, a commitment to that "Miraculous sin . by
which one lives" (Vilallonga, p. 95).
When Daumier shouts at Guido in 8 1/2 concerning the Saraghina
episode, "But these are only childhood memories; they mean nothing for
the film," he reveals the Cartesian, dualistic bias which prevents the
integration of past and present and makes it impossible to retrace the
bread crumbs (to use Garry Trudeau's analogy, see the epigraph to
Chapter One) and remember oneself with the quality of experience and
perception which lies before the imposition of the oblivion of Being.
Guido and Fellini thankfully ignore him, making the Saying of children
an important hinting of the way.
Fellini's own extraordinary sense of wonder and, consequently, the
very fabric of his imagination seems to stem from his "magic childhood."
He has claimed:
I had a magic childhood. . Three elements dominated it;
the sea, the circus, and the church. My childhood is a dream
I keep building my whole life long. Nothing real has ever
happened to me. I have invented it all. (Vilallonga, p. 94)
Fellini once explained that when he was a child "It didn't seem to me
that I would grow up--and basically I wasn't even wrong" (Kezich, p. 34).
"For me," as he told Lilian Ross, "it is exactly as it was thirty years
ago, when I was a boy. Inside myself I am exactly the same. . I
think I am a lucky man." Because he has retained so vividly in his
own eye pouch the sense of openness to the mystery which precedes even
the "first there is a mountain" stage, making it an all powerful
search image within his own perception, he has been able to transfer
its radiance to the children in his films. They seem to be in constant
contact with a world of mystery which most adults refuse to acknow-
ledge, with what Fellini has called "Life. Real Life. The one which
is beyond understanding" which he associates as well with the spectacle
of the circus.
The vibrant energy of the Fellini child in motion makes manifest
this "Real Life." The children in Fellini's films seem linked in spirit
and in earthiness to his madmen and clowns. They know that life is
spectacle and seem motivated to act as tour guides through that spectacle
for those whose attention might not notice the wonders. They drag
Gelsomina, a sort of fellow spirit, to a secret upstairs room to exhibit
Oswaldo, a boy with a giant head; they escort the young Fellini in
Roma to another secret room in order to see a "tiny granny" and dance
ecstatically at this revelation. And although they are themselves
sometimes afraid to look (as in The Clowns, where the ringmaster's
presentation of the Siamese twins--"You see them little boy? Aren't
they nice?--and of the other grotesques of the circus summons only
terror), is it not because their very education teaches them not to see
(as in Roma where the slide of a naked girl prompts from the teachers
frantic injunctions of "Don't look" and an abortive effort to block out
the image on the screen)? But their openness to the mystery is not
easily closed. They know the sesame which summons wonder, the Asa
Nisi Masa, which makes the eyes move in the still picture, and they
understand as well that "Where the eyes stare, that's where the treasure
is," an understanding which most Fellini adults never abide in, until
Juliet receives the gift of this wisdom from her television set (see
Although made to cross the Rubicon (as in the first scene of Roma)
into a relation with the earth which they would never choose for
themselves, their own version of morality, a kind of "pure draft"
kind (see Appendix V) at least momentarily holds sway. It is in
Amarcord that the world of the child, his lack of respect for the adult
forces which seek to dominate him, comes must fully into view (see
Chapter Four), but it is apparent in earlier films as well. In La Dolce
Vita, Steiner's boy "bursts out laughing with delight" at any thought
or image which interests him; all seems to him, in direct contrast with
the morbidity of his father, an object of play. And when his father
holds him, he exclaims over and over "Big-headed papa," perfectly under-
standing the severely abstract intellectuality which pervades everything
and everyone in Steiner's presence. To the Fellini child, the serious
things of adult life are games. In La Dolce Vita, for example, the
children who have seen the Madonna are actually playing a game.
Although thousands have turned out at the scene of the miracle, their
seriousness is ludicrously undercut by a close-up shot of the two
children who, as they run about haphazardly pointing to the location of
the Madonna, are seen to be furtively giggling to themselves at the
irony of their game's success. Even death seems to be a game. In Roma
at the young Fellini's first rooming house, a child's voice exclaims
triumphantly from an upper story "I'm throwing the cat." And in
Amarcord, at the death of Miranda, children play on as if nothing has
happened (see Chapter Four). Always Auguste clowns, always sinners,
Fellini's children seem the very medium of the vital reminders of
earth's regenerative power, of its leap beyond death into renewal. Their
Saying is like spring's. They exist in a prototype, "pure draft" open
which precedes all insideness and outsideness.
The nightmare is the result of a sudden doubt as to the
certainty of inside and the distinctness of outside.
One upon a time there was a little boy and he went outside.
Harry Partch (from a poster seen
in a children's publishing company)
In 8 1/2 Guido, in an often repeated gesture, pushes his glasses
down his nose and peers over the top at events before him which may be
taking place in "reality" or in his imagination, the appearance of
Saraghina, the reconciliation of his mistress Carla with his wife Luisa,
the various apparitions of Claudia, etc. To Guido, imagination and
reality seem to form a single "seamless web"; reality is for him
ceaselessly participatory and his imagination, as the screen tests
reveal, is made up of the same contents as his "real" experience.
Such a relationship with the world, in which the boundary line between
insideness and outsideness begins to break down, would seem to most
people insanity, or at the very least nightmarish, as Gaston Bachelard
has suggested (see above). But it is, as Owen Barfield and others have
undertaken to show, a very ancient attitude, one which shapes the
magical participatory universe of "primitive" peoples, a universe in
which we still tacitly remain, despite our claims of objectivity.
It seems natural that Guido, a movie director, should experience the
world so, for just such participatory imagination lies at the very
source of the art of the movies, a medium whose objective reality is
completely altered by the participatory spectating of the viewer
(see Appendix V).
And yet the advent of Guido's participatory imagination threatens
him at first with extinction. He begins the film enclosed claustro-
phobically within his car in a traffic jam in a tunnel, surrounded by
menacing, lifeless faces in the other cars, his only hope of relief
the light which lies ahead at the end of the tunnel. In the scene's
absolute silence, Guido finds himself solipsistically trapped inside a
world which his screenwriter Daumier later extolls as "the only real
perfection." But the easiest immediate solution to this insideness,
in which the self and the world seem hopelessly at odds, is to escape
altogether, as Guido tries to do, at first by floating up and away from
the earth, until Pace pulls him abruptly down, and later by continuing
with his project to film an apocalyptic story about the desertion of
the earth and by imagining his own suicide. That the earth needs to be
escaped is due, however, not just to the menacing presence of those who
surround Guido with their demands; it is a result of the basic incompat-
ibility of their realities with the summoning he receives in those
glances over his glasses: the hints of the more than rational distor-
tion to his burgeoning imagination.
For the pure presence of things, exerting its "pressure of reality"
on an individual imagination, can overwhelm it, as Jorge Luis Borges'
"Funes the Memorious" learns (see Appendix I). Gaston Bachelard once
observed that the business of the poet is to "put language in danger."
When the imagination passes from the insideness of a glossed perceptual
world out into the outsideness of a first experience with the "wild
logos" (Merleau-Ponty) of the flesh, the image itself, not language, is
put in danger. Outsideness threatens to shipwreck man, as the French
critic Roger Munier has warned, in an alien world (see Appendix V).
In 8 1/2 and in the films which follow it in the Fellini canon up
to Amarcord the conventional image of the world is put in danger by
Fellini's imaginative exploration of the play of the more than rational
distortion in his art: 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini-Satyricon,
The Clowns, and Roma, all follow the way of the flesh which might be
called outsideness. They are cinematic narratives in which, as in the
second stage of the Zen parable, "mountains are not mountains, trees
are not trees, rivers are not rivers." Each seeks to return from it,
to accomplish the feat which his producer Pace performs for Guido: to
bring the imagination down to earth and establish autochthony there.
Amarcord is, as I will show, this return, which retrospectively makes
sense of the outsideness of the films which precede it.
Richard Schickel once lamented that Fellini's 8 1/2 "represents .
the death of the cinema as a public art, whose function has been to
hold a mirror up to the physical world not the inner world of the
creator."52 What Schickel has here failed to recognize is the degree
to which the "inner" world of the creator comes to shape that physical
reality (which he believes the movies only need "mirror"); he does not
understand, as Wallace Stevens did, that every "potent figure" of
imagination, every "major man," "creates the world to which we turn
incessantly and without knowing it and . gives to life the supreme
fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it" (NA, p. 31) and
that 8 1/2 is the work of such a reality-generating imagination. To
call 8 1/2 a picture of an "inner world" is, in the first place, a half
truth unfaithful to what Bachelard called the "dialectic of inside and
outside" within which man begins, by heeding the Saying of the truly
concrete poetically, to make new facts. 8 1/2 is not an "inside" story,
as Schickel would have us believe. It is an outside story, dominated
by the sway of the more than rational distortion and its traces. Such
a story is essential, as the wisdom of the Zen parable and the Biblical
tale of the prodigal son recognize.53 But before such a narrative ever
could be, there must be as well a truly inside story from which to
emerge outside. Fellini's films before 8 1/2 are, I believe, such
An inside story is essentially a narrative of life within the
oblivion of Being. Heidegger has insisted that men live in such a way
that they "are not there" (OWL, p. 83) because they forget "how it is
with being" and do not even know that they have forgotten. In inside-
ness man does not participate in his world. It stands over against
him, an alien realm of depth to conquer set against the ground of an
always remote horizon, and yet one in which all is common and ordinary:
mountains are mountains and trees are trees. Insideness, if I may say
so, is therefore an outsideness as well, for since it denies partici-
pation and makes reason the only lifeline to the real, extolling the
ideal as the proper fruition of human activity, it abstracts man
from dwelling within the way of the earth, makes him an outsider, a
solipsist, who in his self-congratulatory way proclaims himself to be
the measure of all things.
The figures of this insideness in Fellini's films are striking:
Fausto in I Vitelloni and Zampano in La Strada, both uncaring egotists
bent only on their own pleasure; Matilda in Nights of Cabiria, the old
prostitute who nightly vents her lonely rage against everything; the
actor Nazzari in the same film, hidden within his fortress-home; Steiner
in La Dolce Vita, literally above the earth in his Tower of Babel
apartment, able to make contact with the ordinary ways of the flesh
only through the means of recorded bird calls and natural sounds, a
man whom his house guest Iris sees with great accuracy is really
"the true primitive. Primitive as a gothic steeple. . so high
that our voices grow faint in trying to reach up to you"; Daumier in
8 1/2, a nihilist, and Gloria, who is writing a "thesis on 'The Solitude
of Modern Man in Contemporary Theatre'"; Ascylto in Fellini-Satyricon,
who is really a throwback to Fausto and Zampano in his careless hedonism
and who remains at his death, as Encolpio observes "far . from his
destiny"; Remy in The Clowns, the clown historian who has clearly never
felt the clowns' true magic; the headless, bodiless vestments of the
clergy on parade in Roma's "ecclesiastical fashion show"; the college
of cardinals as mouldering skeletons; and the teachers of Amarcard,
detached, refusing to participate in any of the events of the seasons.
In both 8 1/2 and The Clowns, fakirs are locked up beneath the
earth, awaiting emergence, as are all figures in an inside narrative.
In an inside narrative Zampano's drunken declaration in the cafe at
the end of La Strada--"I don't need anyone"--predominates. Inside,
the ultimate value is, as Steiner explains to Marcello, "to love one
another outside of time, beyond time. Detached . To live detached."
Inside, the promptings of the angel cannot be heeded: in La Strada
Zampano's hatred for the fool's ability to generate stories about
him causes him to murder the angelic II Matto and Gelsomina's insane
lament--"The fool is not well"--could be taken as a comment on the
value which the Saying of the angel solicits in an inside narrative.
La Dolce Vita, when Paolo, who is, like II Matto, associated with angels
(Marcello tells her she looks like an angel from an Umbrian church),
cannot make herself understood by Marcello, it is because the narrative,
and Fellini's own imagination, is still inside. But with 8 1/2 the
angelic makes its presence felt and the emergence outside begins.
"Man," Bachelard has suggested, "is half-open being."54 It is
because of this that he is capable of "intertwining" with the flesh.
But the initial experience of this openness is an almost overpowering
revelation; it produces an estrangement from the ordinary in which
nothing is what it seems. In The White Sheik Rivoli and Wanda venture
out onto the sea and attempt to consummate their fantastic passion, but
what ensues cinematically is a whiteout created by the boat sail's
filling the frame. In Juliet of the Spirits, Juliet's head lowers,
filling the frame with the whiteness of her hat, and from this whiteness
is generated a barge filled with bizarre invaders. And in Roma the
Pope virtually disappears into the radiant whiteness which surrounds
him, while a female onlooker calls out to him "Come back! Come back!"
In each of these instances nothing is what it seems, for appearance is
threatened with extinction by the primordial whiteness which summons its
return. In outsideness, this whiteness seems menacingly present and
the ordinary meaning of the world seems always about to collapse:
like the woman before the Pope, man must call on physical reality to
"come back." For in outsideness man re-experiences that light which he
once was (Condillac) and glimpses for the first time his actual respon-
sibility for the creation. Heidegger's great question, "What is truth
that it has to happen in such a thing as something created?" (PLT,
p. 60) steers all the movements of outsideness and shapes its story.
With La Dolce Vita's "annulment" of man's marriage to the rational
and the institutional, insideness plays itself out as a narrative force;
at its end Marcello is left trying to orchestrate chaos. With 8 1/2
Fellini's imagination begins to seek in the midst of the dissonant
present of the re-memberings of his eye-pouch the form of outside nar-
rative. In so doing, traditional movie narration is abandoned, as
Richard Schickel observed. In the films which follow, in Juliet's
similar blend of imagination and reality, Fellini-Satyricon's bas-
relief, transitionless design, the autobiographical, imaginative
documentaries The Clowns and Roma (at the very beginning of which
Fellini explains that it "does not have a story," that it is rather
"another kind of story," full of "strange contradictory images"),
Fellini seeks to find a way to blend the "real" and the "imagined," to
develop what he has called a "cine-mendacity."
In Roma Gore Vidal explains that Romans are masterful "makers of
illusions" and ponders whether or not "the last illusion" (Stevens'
supreme fiction?) is at hand. Fellini's interview with Vidal appears
in a scene of the film which deals with the Fiesta de Noantri, "the
festival of ourselves," a scene intended, as Fellini's own narration in-
forms us, to complete his "portrait." But is not that completion the
coming of the last illusion as well? At Roma's end a mass of motor-
cyclists circle Roman landmarks at two in the morning. Their noise is
the only sound to be heard at all, aside from the continual flow of
the fountains. The camera follows their burst of acceleration and moves
with it as they disappear into darkness in the fadeout of the last
image. Four years before in Fellini-Satyricon, the narrative ended in
a journey, Encolpio joining the crew of a ship bound for Africa and
"for unknown lands." Boarding with him was a Negro, no doubt a slave,
who seemed joyous beyond description. He was happy, it seems clear,
because he was going home. Similarly, at the end of Roma Fellini's
imaginative burst is joyous. For it is the last vestige of waywardness
within him: in Amarcord he returns home. And although the motorcycles
of Roma return there, in the form of the playful Greased Lightning's
disruption of events, his presence is vestigial. He never roars into
the distance, for the distance has become proximal and man's relation
to the earth face-to-face.
For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face;
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am
I Corinthians, 13:12
In Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face, Tomas explains to Jenny after
her attempted suicide a private "incantation" whose magical function
he explains is to give to those who "do not believe" an experience of
what it would be like to feel real:
Now and then I say it over silently to myself. . I wish
that someone or something would affect me so that I can be-
come real. . To hear a human voice and be sure that it
comes from someone who is made just like I am. To touch a
pair of lips and in the same thousandth of a second know that
this is a pair of lips. Not to have to live through the
hideous moment needed for my experience to check that I've
really felt a pair of lips. Reality would be to know that a
joy is a joy and above all that a pain has to be a pain.55
Tomas' desire to confront the real is, of course, a manifestation of the
experience implied in the movie's very title. It is achieved in the
movie itself, however, only verbally, if at all. But in Fellini's films
the face-to-face becomes almost matter-of-fact, another way of the flesh.
By face-to-face I mean any occasion in which a character comes to
look directly at the camera, acknowledging its presence (which is, ordi-
narily, only tacit). In movies, such a device is sometimes used gratui-
tously in order to establish the authenticity of a character or the sup-
posed straightforwardness or honesty of a director's approach (as, for
example, in Alan Randolph's Welcome to L.A., where Geraldine Chaplin
addresses the camera in extended monologue the very first time she
appears, confessing all her doubts and insecurities).56 But as a way
of the flesh, does not a face-to-face need to be earned, discovered?
Are not the ways of the flesh much more shy than a director like Randolph
The face-to-face does not really make any decisive appearance in
Fellini's films until the end of Nights of Cabiria when Cabiria for a
second acknowledges her return to life by her glance at the camera.
In La Dolce Vita, it reoccurs in Paola's encounter with the camera in
that movie's last image, and it appears again decisively in Juliet of
the Spirits (see Chapter Three). In Fellini-Satyricon, it is used
prolifically: Encolpio and Ascylto both address the camera in soliloquy
(Encolpio in the movie's very first scene); various people at
Trimalchio's banquet boldly acknowledge the camera's voyeuristic
presence; and in a sense, all the characters come face-to-face in their
images on the broken wall at the finale. With Fellini-Satyricon, the
face-to-face ceases to be shy. In The Clowns, performers constantly
address the camera. In Roma, as befits its documentary style, many
answer the camera's probing into their doings directly (for example:
Core Vidal and Anna Magnani allow themselves to be interviewed by it),
and even the Roman paintings discovered in the Metro-Roma excavation
seem, to one of the members of Fellini's crew, to "be looking at us."
In Amarcord, direct address to the camera is common in the narrations
of both Giudizio and the Lawyer (see Chapter Four). The shy, reserved
glimpse of Cabiria's initial face-to-face evolves, after Juliet of the
Spirits, into a matter-of-fact and extremely direct confrontation and
an acknowledgement, consequently, of the presence of the art in the art.
For in Juliet of the Spirits, as I will show, the face-to-face comes
into its own; it is earned; its nature is discovered. But what is its
nature? The complete answer to that question will have to come later,
but it can at least be hinted at here.
Heidegger, noting that Goethe had a particular fondness for the
expression "face to face" in his writings, comments that a certain kind
of relationship prevails in face-to-faceness, one in which
all things are open to one another in their self concealment:
thus one extends itself to the other, and thus all remain them-
selves; one is over the other as its guardian watching over the
other, over it as its veil. (PLT, p. 104)
Such openness is impossible in the presence of calculative minds which,
in their attitude of dominance, establish a relationship with things
which is actually a regression to primitive and animal conditions,
where all tribal and social hierarchies are established by eye-to-eye
contact. Since the camera itself is not intrinsically calculative, the
movies should theoretically then be able, as the only art which, as
Bazin suggests, "derives an advantage from man's absence" (Bazin, I,
p. 13), to achieve the face-to-faceness with the world which Heidegger
describes. But the attainment of such face-to-faceness, in which one
of the ways of the flesh becomes the sheltering agent for the rest,
requires an evolution of imagination from the Inside to the Outside
to the Open. For the face-to-face of the movies can be in its Saying
the conferral of the achieved accommodation to the earth within the
work's mimicry on to the viewer, a transfusion which prepares the way
for Tomas' fervent wish to become real, to become a reality.
Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1978). Or see Philip Thomson's The Grotesque (London:
Methuen, 1972). Thomson, when he considers the role of the grotesque
in film, can think only of Fellini as an example (p. 57).
2Fellini himself has insisted that his "doing a Fellini" is not
all that unusual, claiming that his movies do not differ visually from
the basic "look" of any party he has attended (T. Burke, New York
Times, 8 Feb. 1970, p. 10).
3The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage
Books, 1974), pp. 273-74.
4Quoted in Miller, The Disappearance of God (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1963), pp. 287-88.
5For a further exploration of Fellini's art in terms of Oriental
aesthetics, see Chapter Four.
6Cited in Andrews, p. 224.
7Poulet, for example, declares that he is most attracted to a
writer who goes to the depths and becomes conscious of "a fundamental
defeat" (J. Hillis Miller, "The Literary Criticism of George Poulet,"
Modern Language Notes, LXXVIII (1963), p. 485). On Levinas and
Blanchot, see Lawall, Critics of Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1968), pp. 1-17. On Beckett, see below.
8Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit, "Three Dialogues," in Samuel
Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Martin Esslin (Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965), pp. 17, 19, 21.
9Guido's desire to "put everything in" has its twentieth century
poetic counterparts; it seems to be a "shock of recognition" in fact.
In William Carlos Williams' early poem "The Wanderer," for example,
the poet reaches a point at which he willingly takes the plunge into
the "filthy Passaic" of experience, at which point he feels
the river . enter my heart . .
Till I felt the utter depth of its rottenness
The vile breadth of its degradation
And dropped down knowing this was me now. (Collected Early
Poetry, p. 11)
And Wallace Stevens in "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," describes how
his "Canon Aspirin" returns from his abstractions, his search for the
"point/Beyond which thought could not progress as thought," to choose
to "include the things/That in each other are included, the whole./The
complicate, the amassing harmony" (CP, pp. 402-403).
108 1/2, Fellini has insisted, should be understood as "a film of
liberation--nothing more" (Murray, p. 155). In a sense, it is the ways
of the flesh which are liberated by it.
Z11anelli, p. 168. This is the speech as it appears in the pub-
lished screenplay. Although the one delivered in the film differs
from it, they are substantially the same.
It is interesting to note that in the screenplay (Zanelli,
p. 264) Oenothea refers to Encolpio as "My child . incestuous" as
she takes him in her arms. In Robinson Jeffers' sense of the word,
Encolpio is incestuous in his flight from the elemental, for as Jeffers
bitterly observed, man commits incest in his excessive preoccupation
with the human and his neglect of the earth.
13For a fuller exploration of the role of the seasons in relation
to the elemental, see Chapter Four.
14Fellini has also described a dream which reveals much about his
relationship with the sea. In the dream Fellini was a giant who
attempts to swim across it. lie questions himself: "I may be a giant,
but the sea's still the sea. Suppose I don't make it?" Succeeding in
his venture, however, Fellini found the dream "sustaining," restoring
his confidence in the sea (Strich, p. 5).
La Dolce Vita, Trans. Oscar De Liso and Bernard Shir-Cliff
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1961), p. 79. All future references to
this work will be cited in the text.
For Stevens, as I showed in Chapter One, the wind is also that
which makes "iris frettings on the blank."
17In The Psychoanalysis of Fire (Boston: Beacon Press, 1938),
Gaston Bachelard discusses the "dialectical" interplay between these
two phenomena, showing how, for example, the "calorism" of Novalis
is "sublimated into an illuminated vision." "In an infinite space,"
writes Bachelard, "light . does nothing. It awaits the eye."
And when it reaches earth, where things are separate, it turns to
fire in order to produce unity (pp. 106-107).
18In Roma, little respect is shown for the earth's "self-secluding"
nature; in the Metro-Roma sequence, the giant mole rips and tears the
earth savagely, but it appears that the earth is winning, for it has
taken the builders one hundred years, we are informed, to make the
progress which is shown and the earth, with its underground rivers, etc.,
continues to undermine their efforts.
19In his love of the grotesque, isn't Fellini a fairly atypical
Italian? Certainly Italian visual art has, for the most part, shunned
the grotesque and pursued instead perfect form and beauty. Fellini is
really more Northern European in his outlook; Brueghel and Bosch are
20Two notable exceptions to this are Harvey Cox, who sees Fellini's
grotesques as the establishment of a Buberian "thou" with the world
("The Purpose of the Grotesque in Fellini's Films, pp. 95, 99), and
Carl Skrade, who considers Fellini's grotesque to be "numinous" and
argues that "the grotesque is more beautiful than ugly, more fascina-
ting than fearful"; see God and the Grotesque (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1974), p. 114.
21The Grotesque in Art and Literature (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1963), p. 186.
22Fellini is himself the patron of the grotesques of Rome. They
flock to him when he is making a movie, hoping to be used by him. See
Harvey Cox's depiction of the set of Fellini-Satyricon, pp. 92-101.
23The expression "gnarled apples" is Sherwood Anderson's
(Winesburg, Ohio); the first chapter of Anderson's book is called
"The Book of the Grotesque" and Anderson observes that these gro-
tesques, these "gnarled apples," sometimes are the very sweetest
of all, despite their deformity.
24For example, G. W. F. Hegel, in his mammoth Philosophy of Fine
Art, 4 vols. (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920) seems to understand
that what Western thought presumes to be grotesque in the art of the
Far East is not really grotesque to them, but he cannot seem to grasp
what this insight could suggest for the aesthetics of the West.
Mary Cass Canfield, Grotesques and Other Reflections on Art and
the Theatre (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1927), pp. 9-10.
26The Cinema of Federico Fellini (New York: Barnes and Noble,
1976), p. 37.
27Canfield, p. 3.
28Fellini's camera-eye singles out for inspection the same kind of
grotesque figures as does the camera-eye of the American photographer
Diane Arbus. But a comparison of their use of the grotesque as a con-
trary aesthetic form would be most revealing, not only about them, but
about the whole question of illusion and reality. Arbus has written
that "I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do--that
was one of my favorite things about it, . and when I first did it
I felt very perverse"; quoted in Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York:
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1977), pp. 12-13; and claimed that "When
you see someone on the street, . essentially what you notice about
them is the flaw" (Sontag, p. 34). Unlike Fellini then, Arbus always
was able to "insinuate anguish, kinkiness, mental illness with any
subject" (Sontag, p. 34), and thus her photography would seem to be
still under the sway of idealism, despite her love for the grotesque.
See Sontag's excellent analysis of Arbus' work on pp. 31-48.
29See Expanded Cinema (New York: Dutton, 1970), p. 6. Entertain-
ment gives to us what we want, Youngblood explains, while art gives to
us what we did not know we needed.
30Dillard, pp. 142-43. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek should be viewed,
I think, as an investigation into what is usually called the "natural
31Among the many writers on the grotesque, G. K. Chesterton seems
to have most fully realized this. He identified the grotesque with
energy and found the instinct for "caricature" from which the grotesque
springs in nature herself. No one who lives close to nature is likely
to be upset by nature; grotesque as a term connoting horror, Chesterton
insists, is a product of "Claude-glass" approaches to art; Robert
Browning (New York: Macmillan, 1914), pp. 149-51.
32Quoted in Arthur Clayborough, The Grotesque in English Literature
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), p. 3.
33Dillard, p. 3. John Ruskin seems also to have understood
this. He wrote:
The reader is always to keep in mind that if the objects of
horror, in which the terrible grotesque finds its materials,
were contemplated in their true light, and with the entire
energy of the soul, they would cease to be grotesque, and
become altogether sublime. (Quoted in Clayborough, p. 48)
34Theory of Film: Character and Growth of a New Art (New York:
Dover, 1952), p. 35.
35Quoted in John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Viking Press,
1972), p. 17. This work is also an excellent source on the overthrow
of single perspective in modern art.
36Rabelais and His World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968), p. 319.
All future references to this work will be cited in the text.
The imposition of the bodily canon had catastrophic results
according to Bakhtin. Human folklore prior to the Renaissance had
struggled to "develop true human fearlessness," presenting against the
"cosmic horror" not any abstract hope but rather "the material princi-
ple in man himself," in which all the elements are combined. By extol-
ling the body's at-homeness in the world, folklore banished terror, for
it knew that "the individual is only one moment in the triumphant life
of the people and of mankind, a moment indispensable for their renewal
and improvement" (pp. 335-36, 341). For more on this "fearlessness" in
relation to the cinematic imagination, see Chapter Four.
See "The Imagination of Skin: Some Observations on the Movies
as Striptease," unpublished manuscript.
39Fellini's psychoanalytic critics (see, for example, David Herman,
"Federico Fellini," American Imago, Fall, 1969, pp. 251-268) would of
course see Fellini's scatological preoccupations as signs of anal fixa-
tion, but such a view seems entirely ludicrous in light of Bakhtin's
theory of the function of the grotesque.
40In the bowels, genitals, mouth, and anus, Bakhtin writes, "the
confines between bodies and between the body and the world are over-
come; there is an interchange and an interorientation" (p. 317).
Consequently, urine, dung, and all excremental products are for Bakhtin
"gay matter" which transforms fear into laughter (p. 335).
41Dillard, p. 64. The quotation from Van Gogh can be found on
p. 71 of Dillard.
42Dillard, p. 221.
43Madness and Civilization (New York: Vintage Books, 1961),
44For example: "It's quite possible that if the cinema had not
existed, if I had not met Rossellini, and if the circus was still an up-
to-date form of entertainment, I'd have very much liked to be the
director of a big circus . ." (Budgeon, p. 90).
See "Whom Do You Most Admire?" in Strich, pp. 142-49.
The Ascent of Man (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), p. 249. Rela-
tivity theory and quantum physics have thus brought about a rejuvenation
of a participatory theory of reality. See below.
47"Profile: Federico Fellini," New Yorker, 41 (30 Oct. 1965),
48Ted Perry has characterized Guido acutely as a "person who assimi-
lates and identifies spectacle (the film he is making, planning, thinking
about, has made) and life. . For Guido, the distinction between what
his imagination creates and the rest of experience is often meaningless.
For him, everything is imagined, in the sense that his imagination is
the constitutive power that creates his world"; Filmguide to 8 1/2
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), p. 57.
See Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry
(New York: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1971). Barfield sees man
as the "theatre on which participation has died to rise again" (p. 185).
That the "real" world is the product of participation is also the pre-
vailing view of modern science. The physicist John Wheeler, for example,
has written that
Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than
this, that it destroys the concept of the world as "sitting
out there," with the observer safely separated from it by a
20 centimeter slab of plate glass. Even to observe so minu-
scule an object as an electron, he must shatter the glass.
He must reach in. . one has to cross out that old word
"observer" and put in its place the new word "participator."
In some strange sense the universe is a participatory uni-
verse. (Quoted in Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (Berkeley:
Shambhala Press, 1975), p. 141)
50Daumier's entire speech is as follows:
We are stifled by words, images, sounds--none of which has
any right to exist! One must educate oneself to silence. . .
Guido my friend--silence, emptiness, nothingness are so beau-
tiful, so pure! If one cannot have everything, then the only
real perfection is nothingness.
51Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958),
52Quoted in Perry, p. 114.
53Rilke uses the prodigal son story in a very similar way in the
closing chapter of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Trans. M. D.
Herter Norton (New York: W. W. Norton, 1949).
54Bachelard, p. 222.