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December 10, 2005

Pinter, The Nobel Prize, and the Frozen Pool


Harold Pinter, on receiving his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize on Wednesday, spoke in an unadulterated voice rarely heard in the US. This from a NYT report:

He returned to the theme of language as an obscurer of reality, saying that American leaders use it to anesthetize the public. "It's a scintillating stratagem," Mr. Pinter said. "Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

This idea of language as an "obscurer of reality" is a potent one. Warm, fuzzy, easy conceptions keep us a managed population, as Curtis White has described. The fuzziness makes criticisms and harsh truths seem fantastic and truly out of this world. "This world" is a carefully manufactured set of safe, simple mental way points that keep away troubling thoughts about some of the assumptions that form the foundation of modern western consumer culture, and its leadership by the United States. As Pinter says, it is "a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."

He goes on:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Pinter also made some compelling and muscular comments relating to the creative process. On writing, he says

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection--unless you lie--in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

...language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

Posted by Dean Terry at December 10, 2005 02:46 PM




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