10 December 2005

Pinter's Nobel Speech: Language and Politics

I was glad to see that Pinter used his Swedish opportunity to give the USA and its fawning poodles the UK government such a good kicking over the war in Iraq - and other political atrocities committed during the post-war period. I was even intrigued by his brief glimpse into the playwright's creative studio during the first part of the speech. But one thing worried me.

He claims that "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". Yet when it comes to the language of politics (to which he gives the most part of his attention) he claims that "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 remain 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."

Well, I agree with you sentiments Harold - but you can't have it both ways. Playwrights do not have a privileged claim upon some form of 'truth' which is allowed to be ambiguous. Writers and politicians, no matter how far apart aesthetically and morally, are on the same linguistic playing field. When politicians misappropriate language (as in friendly fire, collateral damage, rendition flights) it is the duty of all of us to draw attention to the truth behind the words. But it's not convincing when playwrights, novelists, and poets hide behind a smokescreen of 'ambiguity' masquerading as a higher truth about the meanings in their own works. They can claim that they don't know what's going on in their work. That's OK. But I think they're unwise to claim that it's morally superior.

1 comment:

skipper said...

Not sure I agree with this completely Roy. In politics language is used or appropriated for a specific purpose- to acquire or maintain power says Pinter, but in art the purpose is different, more like multi-faceted. Don't poets, novelists seek to express a number of meanings or achive several possibilities with words? Necessarily ambiguity will be involved and, I would have thought is central to artistic creativity.