Rethinking Salò After Abu Ghraib

Alessia Ricciardi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom customarily has been read as a scandalous artistic exception. In light of the cases of prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib, however, the film can be taken to elaborate a critique of contemporary political conditions that is less than hyperbolic. Indeed, reading the film in contiguity with Giorgio Agamben's thinking on biopolitics, especially in Homo Sacer, Pasolini's Salò may be said to unveil its own critical and philosophical seriousness of purpose. Even hostile critics who tend to be dismissive of Pasolini's rhetoric thus may be forced après-coup to concede that the film paradoxically operates in a quasi-realistic register. Pursuing this line of argument, "Rethinking Salò After Abu Ghraib" examines the overlap between the visual iconography of cruelty in the film and the photographic documentary record of torture at Abu Ghraib, finding a troubling proximity. In particular, the essay dwells on three distinct layers of meaning in the film: 1) the reappropriation of the literary model provided by the Marquis de Sade's Les 120 journées de Sodome, 2) the film's ostensive historical background and setting of the Republic of Salò, and 3) the phenomenology of contemporary neofascism that Pasolini considered to be the raison d'etre of the film. "Rethinking Salo" also conducts an investigation of idiotic humor and stupidity as conduits to sadistic violence in both Pasolini's film and the record of torture at Abu Ghraib, making reference to Adriana Cavarero's pathbreaking study, Horrorism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPostmodern Culture
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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