Saturday, October 15, 2005

Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this week. Although I am not particularly impressed with the Nobel committee, which has demonstrated some remarkably bad judgment at times, Pinter deserves honor not only as a writer but as a human being. There is a good collection of his poetry and some stuff about his plays up at his website. Here is a sample of his poetry.
    God Bless America

    Here they go again,
    The Yanks in their armoured parade
    Chanting their ballads of joy
    As they gallop across the big world
    Praising America's God.

    The gutters are clogged with the dead
    The ones who couldn't join in
    The others refusing to sing
    The ones who are losing their voice
    The ones who've forgotten the tune.

    The riders have whips which cut.
    Your head rolls onto the sand
    Your head is a pool in the dirt
    Your head is a stain in the dust
    Your eyes have gone out and your nose
    Sniffs only the pong of the dead
    And all the dead air is alive
    With the smell of America's God.

    Harold Pinter January 2003
And for more about him as a person, John Pilger has a good tribute.
    ...I first met Harold when he was supporting the popularly elected government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. I had reported from Nicarugua, and made a film about the remarkable gains of the Sandinistas despite Ronald Reagan's attempts to crush them by illegally sending CIA-trained proxies across the border from Honduras to slit the throats of midwives and other anti-Americans. US foreign policy is, of course, even more rapacious under Bush: the smaller the country, the greater the threat. By that, I mean the threat of a good example to other small countries which might seek to alleviate the abject poverty of their people by rejecting American dominance.

    What struck me about Harold's involvement was his understanding of this truth, which is generally a taboo in the United States and Britain, and the eloquent 'to hell with that' response in everything he said and wrote. Almost single-handedly, it seemed, he restored 'imperialism' to the political lexicon. Remember that no commentator used this word any more; to utter it in a public place was like shouting 'fuck' in a covent'. Now you can shout it everywhere and people will nod their agreement; the invasion in Iraq put paid to doubts, and Harold Pinter was one of the first to alert us. He described, correctly, the crushing of Nicaragua, the blockage against Cuba, the wholesale killing of Iraqi and Yugoslav civilians as imperialist atrocities.

    In illustrating the American crime committed against Nicaragua, when the United States Government dismissed an International Court of Justice ruling that it stop breaking the law in its murderous attacks, Pinter recalled that Washington seldom respected international law; and he was right. He wrote, 'In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said to the Greek Ambassador to the US, "Fuck your Parliament and your constitution. American is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows keep itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked for good..." He meant that. Two years later, the Colonels took over and the Greek people spent seven years in hell. You have to hand it to Johnson. He sometimes told the truth however brutal. Reagan tells lies. His celebrated description of Nicuragua as a "totalitarian dungeon" was a lie from every conceivable angle. It was an assertion unsupported by facts; it had no basis in reality. But it's a good vivid, resonant phrase which persuaded the unthinking...'

    In his play 'Ashes to Ashes', Pinter uses the images of Nazism and the Holocaust, while interpreting them as a warning against similar ' repressive, cynical and indifferent acts of murder' by the clients of arms-dealing imperialist states such as the United States and Britain. 'The word democracy begins to stink', he said. 'So in Ashes to Ashes, I'm not simply talking about the Nazis; I'm talking about us, and our conception of our past and our history, and what it does to us in the present.'
And here is a short speech Pinter gave earlier this year: Torture and Misery in the Name of Freedom.

Steve Bell of the Guardian reinterprets Pinter's winning of the Nobel Prize from the point of view of Mr. Bush and Mr Blair:


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