Harold Pinter (1930 – 2008)

In 2005 the late playwright, Harold Pinter, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Being too ill with oesophageal cancer to make the journey to the awards ceremony in Stockholm, and in lieu of the acceptance speech that would involve, he recorded the following piece to camera.

The title of his address is Art, Truth & Politics.

It doesn’t surprise me that he is using autocue. This was fourteen years ago, when speaking without notes was even more of a rarity that it is now.  It surprises me even less after he has explained how he writes. No one to whom producing words is so exacting and painful willingly speaks spontaneously.

For example at 02:10 he begins an epistrophe of such weight as to be tinged with purple. Passages like that are never spontaneous.

It isn’t unusual for authors to protest that their invented characters develop minds of their own, but Pinter takes this claim much further. He tells us almost that his creations invade his consciousness unbidden, and I fight the urge to write him off as pretentious beyond sufferance. I am stayed by the memory of a friend, a BBC drama director, assuring me almost 50 years ago that posterity would celebrate Pinter as the finest dramatist of his age. Today, though he undoubtedly still has his admirers, Pinter productions don’t exactly abound; nevertheless there should be plenty of posterity still to come.

The opening segment, with Art occupying centre stage, always has Truth flitting around the edges as a bit player but he brings Truth in general – and Truth in Politics in particular – to the fore at 09:45, segueing from The Birthday Party to Abu Ghraib

Thus begins a furious half-hour diatribe against George W Bush and US aggression, with Tony Blair and Britain cast as the obedient poodle. He is angry!

Eventually, at 43:15 he returns to the matter for which he earned his Nobel Prize – his literature. He recites his own poem, Death.

Requiescat in pace

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