PolySciFi Blog

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Nobel Prize

Hearing that Pinter won a Nobel did my english-major-heart good; he's always been a personal favorite. But although Pinter's plays are undeniably brilliant, he's on record as being harshly critical of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq. So of course, the nutjob patrol on the right has decided that this is another example of the rest of the world promoting mediocrity as a swipe at the President. Except it's not the Nobel Prize in Opposing the Iraq War, and say what you will about Pinter's politics, he's a genius of a playwright. And, as usual, the right's prize monkeys twist the facts to match their grand narrative of political persecution from Old Europe. Here, for example, is part of PowerLine's take:
Pinter is not our kind of guy; his site headlines this quote:
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.
A lot of leftists subscribe to this theory of epistemology. As a trial lawyer, I wouldn't try to sell Pinter's theory to a jury.
Well, let's leave the implicit assumption that the Nobel Prize should be awarded to "our kind of guy" alone for now. Let's just look at Pinter's endorsement of a relativistic worldview in context. Here's what he actually wrote:
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?
Wow—it looks almost like Pinter is repudiating relativism in politics! Saying almost exactly the opposite of what Hinderaker wants you to believe! That doesn't make much sense to me, because if Pinter were really concerned with hard facts about politics, he would certainly have come to the same conclusions as the honest people at Power Line—only a soft, fuzzy understanding of reality could lead someone to abhor Bush, right? Right?

Hinderaker's post is deliberately misleading, but PowerLine at least acknowledges that politics shouldn't be a disqualification for artistic achievement. Michelle Malkin and LGF get it wrong when they sum Pinter up as an "anti-war" playwright. I haven't read anything Pinter has written since 1993's Moonlight, but I read all but a few of his pre-1993 plays. None of them are about war. All of them show the same genius for language. Deciding an author is no good because of his politics is pernicious bullshit. And I'm not really sure where the idea that Pinter has produced nothing good in 40 years came from, but it's nonsense. Betrayal, which is where I'd recommend anyone who wants to read him start, is from 1978. And Moonlight, from 1993, is astonishingly beautiful. Here, for example, is one of Bridget's monologues; she's a ghost, talking about the afterlife:
I am walking slowly in a dense jungle. But I'm not suffocating. I can breathe. That is because I can see the sky through the leaves.

I'm surrounded by flowers. Hibiscus, oleander, bougainvillea, jacaranda. The turf under my feet is soft.

I crossed so many fierce landscapes to get here. Thorns, stones, stinging nettles, barbed wire, skeletons of men and women in ditches. There was no hiding there. There was no yielding. There was no solace, no shelter.

But here there is shelter. I can hide. I am hidden. The flowers surround me but they don't imprison me. I am free. Hidden but free. I'm a captive no longer. I'm lost no longer. No one can find me or see me. I can be seen only by eyes of the jungle, eyes in the leaves. But they don't want to harm me.

There is a smell of burning. A velvet odour, very deep, an echo like a bell.

No one in the world can find me.
Read that aloud. It's strange and wonderful (and for all that, it's minor Pinter--read Old Times once you've got a taste for him). Whether or not the Nobel committee had political motives for recognizing Pinter this year in particular doesn't matter; he deserves the award. And twisting someone else's words to fit some grand stereotype of leftist epistemology, the way Hinderaker does, is contemptible.


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