Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Harold Pinter's Darkness and Double standards

Nick Cohen pays bitter tribute to the recently departed playwright

The most flattering image of the artist is that of the unacknowledged legislator, the speaker of truth to power. Pinter lived up to the high ideals by returning to Britain and writing Mountain Language, a short political play as relentless in its dissection of fanaticism and despair as Miller’s The Crucible.

... it was easy for Pinter and hundreds of thousands of anti-American leftists like him to play at being the true comrades of the Iraqi opposition. Criticising America and supporting the victims of America’s clients raised no hard questions.

The mountain peoples of the former Yugoslavia did not receive solidarity from the author of Mountain Language, for the crass and shameful reason that the murderers and rapists from the Serb militias were America’s enemies rather than America’s allies.

... he insisted that we should turn our eyes from the author of the first concentration camps Europe had seen in 50 years and recognise that the real enemy was an America which was telling the world: “Kiss my arse or I’ll kick your head in.”

Perhaps it was for this that the Swedes gave him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 2003, he and I argued in Red Pepper about whether to support the American and British attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I knew I was unlikely to change his mind; I understood that he wanted the annihilator of the mountain people of Kurdistan to be left in power for good as well as bad reasons. I still could not and cannot understand, however, why he and all the liberals and leftists like him did not oppose America while supporting Kurd and Arab Iraqis who wanted something better than the Baathist gas canister or al-Qaida suicide bomb.

I know you should never judge artists by their politics. Pinter’s double standards and defences of tyrants may not stop history seeing him as a great playwright any more than Auden’s support for communism and Yeats’s flirtation with fascism in the Thirties stopped them being great poets.


At 12:14 PM EST, Blogger Marcia Miner said...

I don't measure Hannah Arendt's worth as a philosopher on her relationship with Heidegger, Hemingway's work with his big game hunting which I appalled, T.S.Eliot's work with his alleged antisemitism.

Pinter was a great playwright and a great observer.

Perhaps the irony is that he had such strong views, yet his plays tell us nothing can be verified. Explain that contradiction.


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