"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Even While It Was Happening It Wasn't Happening 

You owe it to yourself to read Harold Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech. It is often uncomfortable - or worse - to know how others see you, but such knowledge is the necessary prerequisite to self-examination and understanding; these are still, after all, valuable commodities. And so reading the thoughts of an intelligent and brutally honest critic such as Pinter, as excruciating, as embarrassing as they are, is important.

There will be many among the usual suspects who will savage Pinter for his address, painting him two-dimensionally as an icon of "blame America first" disloyalty. They are, of course, free to do so. They cannot, however, deny the factual truth underlying Pinter's analysis (odd, given that he begins by questioning the very existence of what we commonly describe as the truth). The horrors in Nicaragua happened. The subversion of democracy in Chile happened. The unlawful invasion of Iraq, rationalized by a tapestry of lies, is happening even now. And it cannot be denied that these things did not merely "happen," but they happened because someone - specifically, someone residing on Pennsylvania Avenue - made them happen. And yet, as Pinter notes, people behave as though they never happened, and so what if they did.

This is no accident - rather, it is what Pinter calls "a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay." And although he doesn't say so explicitly, I think it is clear that the abuse of language terrorizes the writer even more than the abuse of innocent men, women, and children. For my money, the core of Pinter's speech lies in this passage:
I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

There is dark humor in this passage, relying (as so much dark humor does) on a close resemblance to reality - it is only barely a parody. It is appropriate to laugh, but only gently. Pinter elicits here the laugh of uncomfortable recognition, the laughter that staves off horror.

You likely will not agree with everything Pinter says - I don't - but that's not important. What is important is that you read it, and think about it. He begins his address with an examination of the creative process in which he engages when setting out to write a play - there is an internal dialogue in his mind among the characters (he says they always begin as "A," "B," and "C," and only later do they take on names) which he allows to play out without his conscious participation. Do him the honor of staging your own internal dialogue, between the part of your conscience which cannot allow itself to believe that the truth is as he states it, and the quiet dignity of his voice, reminding you what is happening and what has already happened. As I said - you owe it to yourself.




Holy cow, Rod. Powerful stuff. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Larry B.
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