December 10, 2010
What’s your tolerance for controversy? What kind of controversy, you ask? We suffer controversies all around us so what do I have in mind? The color of a tie, a barking dog, e-mail spam, people eating veal, Michael Jackson’s nose, BP’s cover ups, Osama bin-Laden’s muffled threats on tape, Wikileaks releases of semi-truths or maybe the origin of cosmos. These are all valid controversies that many if not all of us suffer, cherish or ignore.
Once in a while something pops up that hits you in some special way. I’m referring to Harold Pinter’s 2005 lecture called “Art, Truth and Politics”. If you don’t know, Harold Pinter was a British actor, screenwriter and playwright. His works were somewhat mysteriously labeled “absurdist and realistic while displaying despair and defiance about the human condition”. If you, like I, didn’t quite catch that, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” was one of his movie credits. Moreover, he won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature. He got the French Legion d’Honneur as part of a mile long list of awards and honors. He was a controversial, outspoken leftist political activist.
The Nobel Price lecture was pre-recorded, and shown on video on December 7, 2005, in Börssalen at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden. Pinter, 75, suffered major health issues and could not attend in person. Death is one of the controversial themes in the lecture and clearly on Pinter’s mind but did not lessen the fury, passion and personal honesty displayed By Pinter. He died three years later, in December of 2008.
Pinter was controversy personified. He was and is the left-winger that right-wingers love to smear. The US and British post WWII policies in the Middle East and Central and South America gave Pinter the political platform he needed. Yet he is also a keen observer of the phobias of mankind on an individual level. Therein lays the greatness of his lecture. He bridges the gap between the national horrors and our personal sphere of “lies, lies and lies around us”.
The lecture ties our personal, moral culture to the corrupt top level political arena. In the latter, he targets the two Bushes’ wars in Iraq, extending it to the US deadly meddling in Central and South America. You may or may not agree with his leftist views – that is not the main point. It’s not about whether or not Pinter hates America. It is about whether you and I have the courage to see and react to what is around us. That’s the point missed or ignored by his critics.
You will find plenty of controversy; as good as it gets in civilized circles. Take the time to sit through the lecture (link below). It probably won’t change your life. But the lecture will make you think. It may anger you or it might make you jump up and cheer. In either case, the real point is how we personally relate to a world of violence on the highest level. It is about opening one’s mind. I know. That’s a hard one.
The lecture ends with a poem by Pinter. Labeled “Death”, it pinpoints the gruesome reality of death with a question about love. “Did you wash the Dead Body”?. “Did you kiss the Dead Body”? The macabre horrors of the world are not distant events but events that affect us morally, ethically and personally every day of our lives. His final point is about our loss suffered from the “lies, lies, lies”. We have “lost the Dignity of man”.
Below is the link to the 46 minute lecture as presented to the Swedish Academy on December 7th of 2005.
The Official link: http://nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=620
Here is one of the responses, as merciless as the lecture itself:
“Christopher Hitchens, a US-based British polemicist alerted American conservatives to the full horror of Harold. He warned, in The Wall Street Journal, that the new Nobel laureate was “a thuggish big mouth who has strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage for far too long”. Hitchens also declared he had experienced more wit and enlightenment on the walls of a public lavatory than he had by attending Pinter’s plays.”
And here is the other side as expressed by the price awarders of the Nobel Prize:
“Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest honor available to any writer in the world. In announcing the award, Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy, said that Pinter was an artist “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”.