Media

Harold the Great?

Michael Billington came to praise Pinter, but nearly winds up burying him.

Bllington contrasts the hero worship afforded Pinter abroad with the relatively understated acclaim he receives in his home country. Billington thinks he knows why this might be:

One answer may be that we think writers should keep out of politics.

I don’t believe this stands up. Trevor Griffith, Howard Baker, Tom Stoppard…they’ve all dabbled – some more than others – but unlike Pinter they stopped short of substituting politics for their art.

Billington continues:

But Pinter’s later, overtly political work, such as One For The Road, Mountain Language, Party Time and Ashes to Ashes, has fallen into a strange limbo. And Pinter’s espousal of political causes – from his vocal protests over the Israeli government’s illegal abduction of Mordechai Vanunu to his comprehensive attacks on American foreign policy – is seen by many as an unfortunate aberration.

Again, I think this is wide of the mark. The thing with Pinter’s “overtly political work” is that it is not very good. And even where it does rise above the mediocre, it is still light years behind his earlier stuff. We ought not to criticize Pinter for failing to churn out a new Caretaker every couple of years – non-one else is doing that, after all – but comparisons with his very best work are inevitable, and much like I cannot quite believe that it’s the same person playing Arkwright and Norman Stanley Fletcher, I’m waiting for the imposter responsible for “War” to be revealed.

Billington, Pinter’s biographer, once again:

What we fail to appreciate is that Pinter’s politics are inseparable from his life and work. His early plays explore the repressive politics of sex, domesticity and marriage. His later plays explore the personal consequences of political attitudes.

I see nothing so subtle in Pinter’s later output, and I’m not just talking the Iraq bilge. I share at least some of Pinter’s politics and admire his past work to highlight injustice and torture in South America and Turkey, but truth be told, at least so far as is writing is concerned, Pinter hasn’t “explored” anything since “Mountain Language” and has opted instead to force feed his audience the didacticism du jour and dare them to spit it out.

“Explore”? It’s ‘show and tell’ as performed by a literary Torquemada.

The unkindest cut of all:

For Pinter, politics and the personal are indivisible. That is what the Nobel committee seems to have instinctively understood….What I suspect matters more [than the prize money] is that Pinter’s constant campaign against the devaluation of language – particularly words like “freedom” and “democracy” – and his moral opposition to the abuse of human rights, has been internationally recognised.

I pray it isn’t so. By which I mean, I hope Pinter received the Nobel Prize because he has been a phenomenally good playwright. To suggest his politics played a role in the award is to invite the sniping and ill-will that has already accompanied the announcement.

To be clear, in saluting his greatness and congratulating him on this deserved award, I’m prepared to leave Pinter’s relativism, unadulterated anti-Americanism and support for fascistic ‘insurgents’ at the door, but only if his fans agree to do the same.

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