Art, Truth & Politics


Art, Truth & Politics

"Art, Truth & Politics" is the controversial Nobel Lecture delivered on video by the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter to an audience projected on three large screens at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm and simultaneously transmitted on Channel Four in the UK on the evening of 7 December 2005. The 46-minute television transmission was introduced by friend and fellow playwright David Hare. Subsequently, the full text and streaming video formats were posted for the public on the Nobel Prize and Swedish Academy official websites. In these formats Pinter's Nobel Lecture has been widely watched, cited, quoted, and distributed by print and online media and the source of much commentary and debate. A privately-printed limited edition, "Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture", is published by Faber and Faber (16 Mar. 2006).Pinter's "Nobel Lecture: Art, Truth & Politics" is posted online on the official website of the Nobel Prize, "nobelprize.org". All in-text parenthetical references are to the Faber and Faber publication, "Art, Truth & Politics".] It is also published in "The Essential Pinter" by Grove Press (10 Oct. 2006) and in the "Appendix" of "Harold Pinter", the revised and enlarged edition of Pinter's official authorized biography by Michael Billington (2007).

DVD and VHS video recordings of Pinter's Nobel Lecture (without Hare's introduction) are produced and distributed by Illuminations.

"Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture"

In his highly-controversial Nobel Lecture "Art, Truth & Politics", speaking with obvious difficulty while seated in a wheelchair, Pinter distinguishes between the search for truth in art and the avoidance of truth in politics (5–10).

He describes his own artistic process of creating "The Homecoming" and "Old Times", following an initial line or word or image, calling "the author's position" an "odd one" as, experiencing the "strange moment … of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence," he must "play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek" during which "the search for the truth … has to be faced, right there, on the spot." Distinguishing among his plays "The Birthday Party", "Mountain Language", and "Ashes to Ashes", he segues into his transitions from "the search for truth" in art and "the entirely different set of problems" facing the artist in "Political theatre" to the avoidance of seeking "truth" in "power politics" (5–9).

He asserts:quotation|

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [of the artist] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al-Qaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11, 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
Charging the United States with having "supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War," leading to "hundreds of thousands of deaths," Pinter asks: "Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy?" Then he answers his own question: "The answer is yes, they did take place, and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it" (9–10).

Revisiting arguments from his political essays and speeches of the past decade, Pinter reiterates:quotation|

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.' (15)

In imagery recalling , Pinter adds:quotation|

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US. (16)

Toward the end of the lecture, after reading two poems referring to "blood in the streets", "deaths", "dead bodies", and "death" by fellow Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda ("I'm Explaining a Few Things") and himself ("Death"), in a whimsically-humble gesture, Pinter offers to "volunteer" for the "job" of "speech writer" for President George W. Bush, penning a ruthless message of fierce aggression masquerading as moral struggle of good versus evil yet finally proferring the "authority" of his (Bush's) "fist" (17–22). Pinter demands prosecution of Tony Blair in the International Criminal Court, while pointing out, with irony, that he would do the same for Bush had he not refused to "ratify" that Court (18). Pinter concludes his Nobel Lecture with a call for "unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies" as "a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all," one which he regards as "in fact mandatory," for, he warns, "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" (23–24).

Critical response

In an article published in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" on 11 November 2005, entitled "Pinter's Plays, Pinter's Politics," Middlebury College English professor Jay Parini observes that "In the weeks that have passed since Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature, there has been incessant chatter on both sides of the Atlantic, some of it unflattering," as "from the right, in particular, the American reaction to the Pinter award has been one of outrage," whereas "the reaction to the award from Pinter's peers––Michael Frayn, David Hare, Tom Stoppard, and others––has been uniformly positive"; in response to naysayers, Parini concludes: "it may be true this time around that the Nobel Prize in Literature was given to the right man for the right reasons. Few writers in our time have demonstrated such a passionate concern for victims of oppression, whether in the family's living room or in the torturer's faraway bunker, as Harold Pinter. And few dramatists have been so vastly influential, transforming our basic sense of what happens when we enter a theater."

In response to his videotaped Nobel Lecture broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, heated critical debate about Pinter spiked in the public media and spread throughout the blogosphere. Such criticism of Pinter encompassed thousands of commentaries and focused mostly on his political activism, particularly his purported "anti-Americanism" and his generally-"leftist" views. [As a sample of published accounts, see articles by Allen-Mills, Anderson, Billington, Chrisafis and Tilden, Eden and Walker, Hari, Hitchens, McDowell, Riddell, N. Smith, and Traub. Pinter has replied to such criticism in his post-Nobel Prize interviews with Billington, Koval, Moss, Rose, and Wark, among others; Paul Bond, Donald Freed, David Hare, John Pilger, Tom Stoppard, and others have defended Pinter's views and the artistic integrity of his work against widespread critical assaults.] Billington observes that "the reactions to Pinter's Nobel Prize and Lecture" were "fascinating" and "overwhelmingly positive," though he thinks "it is worth picking out the few negative ones" as examples. He observes, "The most startling fact was that Pinter's Nobel Lecture on 7 December was totally ignored by the BBC," adding: "You would have thought that a living British dramatist's views on his art and global politics might have been of passing interest to a public service broadcaster"; yet "There was ... no reference to the speech on any of BBC TV's news bulletins that night or indeed on its current affairs programme, "Newsnight" ("Harold Pinter" 424). While "in the press, there was also a handful of attacks on both the award and the Lecture," Billington dispatches criticisms by three of them: "the normally sensible Johan Hari," who "dismissed the Lecture in advance [of its broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK] as a 'rant' and falsely claimed that Pinter would have refused to resist Hitler"; "in fact," Billington says, Pinter "has repeatedly said that, had he been of age, he would have accepted conscription in World War II" (424–25). "More predictably, Christopher Hitchens was wheeled out to dismiss Pinter as 'a bigmouth who has strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage for far too long' ", and, finally, Billington cites Scottish historian Niall Ferguson's "attack" on the Lecture in "The Daily Telegraph", quoting in part Ferguson's statement that in his Nobel Lecture Pinter " 'pretend [s] that [US] crimes were equivalent to those of its Communist opponents ...' "––a distortion according to both Billington and Pinter: "he never made any comparison in his speech between atrocities committed by the Soviet Union and China and those of America"; " 'All I ever said,' [Pinter] retorts, 'is that Soviet atrocities were comprehensively documented but that American actions weren't. I didn't go into comparisons as to who killed more people as if it were a contest. Ferguson distorted the whole bloody thing' " (Qtd. in Billington, "Harold Pinter" 425). Billington also points out that the Harold Pinter Archive in the British Library contains "two large boxes containing the thousands of letters Pinter received from friends, colleagues, public eminences and total strangers applauding both the prize and his political stance" (425). The "Harold Pinter Community" Forum hosted on Pinter's official website illustrates further critical debate among its participants about Pinter's politics.

Notes

References

External links

*" [http://www.illuminationsmedia.co.uk/ourfilms/product/6/harold_pinter_art,_truth_politics.html Art, Truth & Politics] ". Copyright © Illuminations, 2006.
*" [http://www.faber.co.uk/book_detail.html?bid=36276 Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture] " at Faber and Faber (Pinter's publisher in the UK).
* [http://www.groveatlantic.com/grove/bin/wc.dll?groveproc~book~5254 "Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture"] in "The Essential Pinter", published by Grove Press (Pinter's publisher in the U.S.).
* [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/leaureates/2004/bio-bibl.html "Bio-Bibliography"] at "nobelprize.org".
* [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture.html "Nobel Lecture: Art, Truth & Politics"] at "nobelprize.org".


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