Infanticide and anti-imperialism in Pasolini's Medea

Kvistad, Ivar 2006, Infanticide and anti-imperialism in Pasolini's Medea, in Medea : Mutations and Permutations of a Myth : an interdisciplinary conference organized by the Universities of Bristol and Nottingham, pp. 21-21.

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Title Infanticide and anti-imperialism in Pasolini's Medea
Author(s) Kvistad, Ivar
Conference name Medea : Mutations and Permutations of a Myth Conference (2006 : Bristol, England)
Conference location Bristol, England
Conference dates 17-19 July 2006
Title of proceedings Medea : Mutations and Permutations of a Myth : an interdisciplinary conference organized by the Universities of Bristol and Nottingham
Publication date 2006
Start page 21
End page 21
Summary Euripides’ Medea has been reinvented several times in the twentieth century. While some modern Medeas reiterate conservative tropes of the monstrous feminine or the evil of the cultural Other, the infanticidal figure of Medea is also open to more politically progressive usages. Indeed, several modern versions of Medea are overt in their politicisation of the problems of colonialism and/or institutionalised gender dissymmetry: the Medeas of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heiner Müller, Christa Wolf, and more recently the indigenous Australian version by Wesley Enoch, for example, enact resistance to the interpretative closures that construct Medea as a caricature of the evil Other. But what lends the Euripidean narrative to such politicisations? And what role does the infanticide have in modern politicisations of the narrative?

To answer these questions, the paper examines Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1969 film Medea from his Trilogy of Life series. Focussing on Pasolini’s representation of Medea’s signature act, maternal infanticide, the paper outlines the complex ways in which this motif is integral to the film’s contestation of imperialist ideologies, values and practices, and its affiliations with Marxist and feminist criticism. Drawing upon theories of subjectivity and postcolonial discourse, the paper argues that the infanticide motif is politically enabling precisely because it exalts the politics of the ways in which subjectivity is defined. That is, the apparent blessing of the sun god over Medea’s murderous act speaks to the ways in which subjectivity is formed by the symbolic order: a point recalling Medea’s earlier articulation that society systematically demonises and oppresses foreigners and women. The films representation of infanticide, then, can be read in the light of the narratives politicisation of the discourses that define subjectivity and the hegemonic practices that subjugate and dominate the subaltern. So, while Medea’s infanticide is sometimes dismissed as a demonising representation of the cultural and sexual Other, it can also be read as the key to understanding Medea’s political radicality, drawing attention to the discourses of rights-bearing subjectivity in both its ancient and modern incarnations.

Pasolini’s project of anti-colonialism, however, is fraught with certain paradoxes. To politicise the predicament of imperial subjugation, Pasolini’s Medea places the burden of authenticity on the cultural and sexual Other, on Medea - and on Medea’s culture of origin, Colchis. In this way, Pasolini’s Medea mobilises the problematic discourses of ‘First World’ modernity that define the ‘Third World’ as the carrier of the symbolic burden of authenticity as well as of ‘the sacred.’ Pasolini’s Medea thus offers an overly schematic and abstract representation of the relationship between coloniser and colonised. However, Pasolini’s Medea is not simply or finally a reification of these discourses; rather it strategically mobilises them – just as it strategically mobilises the monstrous act of infanticide – to make its political point.
Language eng
Field of Research 200212 Screen and Media Culture
HERDC Research category L3 Extract of paper (minor conferences)
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Document type: Conference Paper
Collections: Faculty of Arts and Education
School of Communication and Creative Arts
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