Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Pint of Harold Pinter Pointers

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, a playwright instead of a novelist for a change. Congratulations, and it's good that he's still alive to hear the news. This prize is not awarded for aesthetic excellence (which the writer needs merely to get near the waiting room), but rather more for humanistic idealism and for political agitation in support of individual dignity. These themes are explicitly spelled out in the very definition of the award, when founded by Alfred Nobel.

But what do we talk about when we talk about idealism and agitation today? H. Pinter opposes the US and British imperial misadventure in Iraq, but that's like saying that he opposes the stealing of candy from babies. There is more, and the following quotations from Pinter begin to suggest the nature of his stinging Socratic gadfly irritation to the system:

  • "The crimes of the U.S. throughout the world have been systematic, constant, clinical, remorseless, and fully documented but nobody talks about them."

  • "We are in a terrible dip at the moment, a kind of abyss, because the assumption is that politics are all over. That's what the propaganda says. But I don't believe the propaganda. I believe that politics, our political consciousness and our political intelligence are not all over, because if they are, we are really doomed. I can't myself live like this. I've been told so often that I live in a free country, I'm damn well going to be free. By which I mean I'm going to retain my independence of mind and spirit, and I think that's what's obligatory upon all of us. Most political systems talk in such vague language, and it's our responsibility and our duty as citizens of our various countries to exercise acts of critical scruntiny upon that use of language. Of course, that means that one does tend to become rather unpopular. But to hell with that."

  • 'In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said to the Greek Ambassador to the US, "Fuck your Parliament and your constitution. America 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 Nicaragua 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...'

  • "Being thrown out of the US embassy in Turkey with Arthur Miller -- a voluntary exile - was one of the proudest moments in my life."
    {see anecdote here: Pinter and Miller were told to leave by the US Ambassador because they spoke out at dinner against the US support of a regime of torture. Didn't go down well with the hors d'oeuvres.

P.S. See also link above for a related essay on Pinter versus the political cowardice of most British & American writers. The author claims that Pinter is uniquely engaged unlike the vast herd of quiet irresponsible scribblers who win prizes. This is not quite fair and certainly exaggerated, although his point ought to be considered. But Vonnegut comes to mind also because of his recent book that sounds a lot like the Pinter quotes above. Otherwise, it is true that a surprisingly large number of American writers went around supporting propaganda for the State Department with readings and anthologies, the upshot of which was to say "Don't hate us. We're good because we're multicultural and open-minded." Writers were foolish enough and naive enough to let themselves be used as mouthpieces for such utterly irrelevant distractions from the real issues of imperial abuse, foreign policy, and capitalist exploitation. But who is going to teach the writers? Certainly not the professoriate!


At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the "cyprus is a flea" quote is cooked .

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fuck your Parliament and your Constitution,"
said the President of the United States. Excerpted from “Greece 1964-1974” in the book
KILLING HOPE by William Blum.

See also:
The CIAs Greatest Hits
by Mark Zepezauer

This Ain't Your Momma's CIA
By Nicholas Thompson, Washington Monthly, March 2001

or go Google, Yahoo! et cet.

At 5:27 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

Thanks for the links. The William Blum has been on my blogroll outlinkage list on the right side of your screen for a while. That book should be assigned in every high school, which would go some way toward a more truthful American sensibility about their own influence in the world. As it is, graduates come away with ignorant illusions about American actions, intentions, and consequences. Such illusion foster continued abuses -- and of course continued terror all around.

As for the 'cooked quote" about Cyprus, this needs elaboration. Does that extend to the rest of the quote about Greece? About the elephant? Mostly it is not clear if you're claiming that LBJ didn't say that (according to whom?) or if _Harold Pinter_ didn't phrase LBJ in those words (according to whom?) --the latter is a very dubious claim. The former is possible, although LBJ usually spoke in very colorful and blunt Texan idioms. After straightening out those factual matters, then we'd be right about back where we started thematically: LBJ treated both Greece and Cyprus as if they were merely insects to be swatted by the heavy elephant of American power, in order to preserve the pregrogatives of US capitalism. No?


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