Somebody correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I’ve read several reactions to Harold Pinter’s aggressive Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and I get the feeling I’m the only one here who actually knows Pinter’s work.
Harold Pinter has spent his career studying the way human beings lie. It is his obsession, his medium. A play is called “Pinteresque” when the audience cannot trust a single character on stage. His working class Brits deceive, intimidate and overpower each other in tightly packed, oppressive rooms. They speak with great volume and speed, but they never mean anything they say — their words are either weapons of cruelty or pathetic pleas for help.
By the time a Pinter play ends, at least one character has been completely destroyed, and at least one character has won a petty, hollow victory. The audience shuffles out of the theater feeling both excited by the naked display of power and guiltily complicit in the depraved brutality of human aggression.
A Pinter play is not a feel-good event. See “Spamalot” if you want to laugh, and see “Rent” if you want to sing. Don’t ever take a first date or a business partner to a Pinter play, unless you want distrust to hang in the air like a DeLillo dark cloud when the evening ends.
The Nobel Prize acceptance speech he delivered yesterday was entirely Pinteresque. Like the virulent father in The Homecoming who howls with impotent rage at his three repulsive sons, Pinter is yelling because he’s sure nobody is listening. Pinter won the Nobel Prize for literature, not the Peace Prize; he offers no positive message, just fury at the stupid waste of it all. Like the friendless jazz musician in The Birthday Party, he sees no way out, so he’s going to bang on his drum.
“You see this fist?” Pinter said in his videotaped acceptance speech, imagining himself as a militant world leader. “This is my moral authority. And you better not forget it.” This is the basic truth Pinter sees behind recent world events — everything else is propaganda and decoration.
I love Harold Pinter’s plays — they are masterpieces of controlled tension and layered ambiguity. I entirely agree with Pinter’s extreme disgust at the foolishness of the world we live in, and as an American Jew I probably relate to the fact that Pinter is a British Jew, a member of the world’s most famous and most hated minority. Literary ideals aside, it takes a lot of rage to create a body of work as sharp and paranoid as Pinter’s.
Putting aside my general high regard for everything this writer says, I do not personally agree with his words about the United States of America or Britain, and he certainly does not speak for me. I hated and still hate the fact that my country invaded Iraq, and I am deeply embarrassed and horrified at my country’s inability to comply with a simple universal policy against torture as an interrogation technique. However, there is already plenty of anti-USA rhetoric spinning around this planet, and I don’t think it helps to single out USA or Britian among all the other corrupt, greedy, dishonest governments in the world. They’re all equally bad, and nationalism itself is a bigger enemy than any single nation.
I wish Pinter had delivered a more forward-looking, forgiving and hopeful speech. But Pinter ain’t Gandhi, and it would have been entirely out of character if he had done so. He’s using words as a blunt weapon, because that’s what words are in a Pinteresque world. See this fist?