Ponder This

Harold Pinter: Art, Truth and Politics (Video)

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Screenshot from video recording for NobelPrize.org.

There are few among us who can see straight through the lies the United States Government spins to justify waging numerous wars around the world. Harold Pinter was one such person. As an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and poet nothing, it seems, could escape his razor sharp observations – even during his battle with cancer three years before he died when he gave what seemed like the final performance of a one-act play, alone on a stage, before cameras.

It was a speech to acknowledge winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, and shown on 7 December that year in Börssalen at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, when Pinter was too ill to travel there to receive his prize.

“Our beginnings never know our ends,” Pinter said. But it seems to me that he remained true to himself as a conscientious objector at 18, expecting to go to jail when he refused the draft into National Service in 1948, for this is a provocative, poetry-infused political monologue which makes clear his sentiments about the war atrocities committed by the United States – especially in Iraq and Latin America. Why were they killing priests?

It is riveting. It would shake up a person who still believes the lies the media spin about war. It could wake up someone sleepwalking through life. Yet for those of us who are awake, it injects a sense of urgency to go into action…to pull apart the curtains on our world stage to reveal the truth.

But first, Pinter acknowledges the poet and playwright within him and talks briefly about how he writes a play – a fascinating process of starting out with just one word or sentence, which then begs a series of questions to expand it. The Room was Pinter’s first play, but he is best known for The Caretaker, The Homecoming, and The Betrayal. Pinter wrote 29 plays. Start at 10:40 if you are only interested in Pinter’s talk about the U.S. foreign policy of “full spectrum dominance.”

A full transcript of this video is available at the Nobel Foundation.

Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy, announced Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize and said that Pinter was an artist “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”.

In 2002, Pinter was made a Companion of Honour by the Queen for services to Literature.

For poetry opposing the war in Iraq, Harold Pinter was awarded the Wilfred Owen prize. Read his Acceptance Speech.

Harold Pinter began the above lecture by quoting what he wrote in 1958:

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

If we want to hold onto some semblance of democracy, I believe that we all need to keep asking: What is true? What is false?

This is the gift of wisdom Harold Pinter has left us to ponder.


Harold Pinter Article in The Guardian

Harold Pinter’s Best Friend Reveals Playwright’s Painful Secrets

Harold Pinter’s First Play: The Room (Video)

Robert Altman directs this adaptation of Harold Pinter’s play The Room. Starring Linda Hunt, Donald Pleasance, Annie Lennox, Julian Sands, David Hemblem and Abbott Anderson.