Title: To discover that there is nothing to discover
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098914/00001
 Material Information
Title: To discover that there is nothing to discover imagination, the Open, and the movies of Federico Fellini
Physical Description: xii, 272 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Lavery, David Lee, 1949-
Publication Date: 1978
Copyright Date: 1978
Subject: English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Filmography: leaf 260.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 261-271.
Statement of Responsibility: by David L. Lavery.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00098914
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000083380
oclc - 05205778
notis - AAJ8714


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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.

Black Elk

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

hope to.

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.




ABSTRACT . . . .



The Elements .

The Grotesque .

Madmen and Clowns

Children . .


Face-to-Face .

MAJOR MAN . . . . . . . .

OF THE FLESH . . . . . . . .

TO AUTOCHTHONY . . . . . . .


CHAPTER FIVE: THE OPEN . . . . . . . . .

LEXICON . . . . . . . . . . . . .




APPENDIX IV: THE FLESH . . . . . . . . .


FILMOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . .

. . 90

. . 125

. . 164

. . 180

. . 185

. . 201

. . 209

. 223

. . 229

. . 260

BIBLLOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . . . . 271



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
unthinkable consummation.

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?)

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I obtained not the least thing from unexcelled, complete
awakening, and for this reason it is called "unexcelled,
complete awakening."


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.

Wallace Stevens


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--
Auguste reconnoiterings,
grotesque sagas

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



David L. Lavery

August, 1978

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.



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
Federico Fellini.

Carry Trudeau

I have invented myself entirely: a childhood, a personality,
longings, dreams, and memories, all in order to enable me to
tell them.

One's film is like a naked man. I am compelled to be sincere
in my films.

Federico Fellini

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

experience/imagination, that

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

is true."13

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

own statement:

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
Are fastened
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
its passion.54

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,

pp. 146-7).

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

ground it.

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),
p. 60.

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
the text)

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),
pp. 121-26.

29The Christian mystic Jacob Boehme once speculated about a time
when pure "sensual speech" reigned; could this not be a description of
Saying's origin?
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
(p. 132).

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.



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

Martin Heidegger

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
to express.

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

the movie.

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).

The Elements

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

elemental bequest:

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

voice explains.

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"

of spring.

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,"

Heidegger writes,

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.

The Grotesque

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 Open.

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

(p. 335-36).40

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

Chapter Three).

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.

Gaston Bachelard

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

inside stories.

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.

The 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

would suggest?

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
his forerunners.

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),
pp. 3-38.

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),
p. 74.

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),
p. 220.

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.

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