Oh Pinter my Pinter

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I have to confess that I have never read any of Harold Pinter’s plays, nor seen one of them. Of course I know the name, as most semi-educated university graduate in the arts will. But, the actual content, what he stands for, I have no idea. However, having read his Nobel acceptance speech in the Guardian this morning, I feel positively galvanized to find out more about his work, and not necessarily because the Nobel accolade is attached.

He starts out simply:

Harold Pinter – Nobel Lecture
Art, Truth & Politics

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

This alone will stand clear and beautiful in its clarity. The art of good writing is to render what is sublime and poetic, what seeks to evade comprehension, into language. I have often thought that situations are often so complicated that one has to marvel at those who can tell you flatly what’s right and what’s wrong: I tend to laugh at these aunties, full of the type of commonsense advice that on closer examination often reeks of absurdity…. absurdity and fear.

For, what are we capable of saying in the face of the nameless horror other than niceties? (No, we are not animals, and we are capable of some better response, I believe.)

Pinter’s speech, though, reaches back out towards reality, revealing an interesting aspect of his thought: often in his speech, his poetics are deeply coloured by political and social motivations. For his acceptance speech, the full breadth of his marvelous use of rhetoric, timing, pacing and sarcasm are put to a social cause: the full dismissal of the US as a country representing anything other than rapacious dictatorship. In short, the speech lays waste the image of the US as the leader of the free world.

And so I begin my rant:
I have American friends, and there are many American things I’m quite fond of. However, I would be amiss if I didn’t also include that the American notions of justice and democracy are mocked to no end by its actions both abroad and domestically. I would also hasten to add that some of its best critics are now dead. The golden generation, the George Plimptons, the Susan Sontags, that wonderfully erudite and socially conscious minority is slowly slipping away. They are being replaced by shrieking political pundits, late night sarcasm (often laced with nihilistic debauchery), a formerly fat woman waving Prozac flavoured books, and an idiot laced into political office by his father’s bootstrapping cronies. Men replaced by clever monkeys. They smirk, and simper, but offer none of the courage so desperately needed right now, the courage to say that it stinks, and we’re not going to be cool anymore. We’re going to be uncool and talk about the problem.

And the problem is difficult to talk about because it is very complicated. I think Pinter does a fair job in pointing out the facts behind some of the US’s political manoeuvers. His first-hand account of what the Contra-Sandinista disaster in Nicaragua is grounded in concrete facts. But, I think the problem with the US is not so one-sided as that. The US is not a government hell-bent on raping the world. There must be some good will in there to have created institutions which make apathy so ripe in our generation. There must be some good in a social system that makes millionaires out of blond pre-pubescents begging for more one more hit. And there definitely must be some good in a generation where we can call in sick because we have iPod finger.

I'm making myself sick, and perhaps I'm becoming a bombastic blathering socialist. This subject deserves a better critique than the unresearched shouting I'm performing. So be it. I stand where I stand, and perhaps tomorrow I'll learn a little bit more.

Please, consult the original speech or video for yourself on the Nobel website. Predictably, none of the major online media sites, such as nytimes.com, bbc.co.uk, and cnn.com, with the exception of the Guardian, are carrying the transcript to the speech or any video footage. Who wants to see a dying man in a wheelchair call you a pussy, even if he is one of the greatest writers on earth?

addendum (excerpt from the last paragraphs of the speech):

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

The question is how to enact our political vision? How to make ourselves into resourceful and active agents in our struggle for a better world? I think, I make art, I write, I do what I can, but it never feels like enough.