Friday, August 31, 2007

Art, Truth & Politics

In his controversial Nobel Lecture "Art, Truth & Politics", speaking with obvious difficulty while seated in a wheelchair, Harold Pinter distinguishes between the search for truth in art and the avoidance of truth in politics.

He describes his own artistic process of creating The Homecoming and Old Times, following an initial line or word or image, calling "the author's position" an "odd one" as, experiencing the "strange moment . . . of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence," he must "play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek" during which "the search for the truth . . . has to be faced, right there, on the spot." Distinguishing among his plays The Birthday Party, Mountain Language, and Ashes to Ashes, he segues into his transitions from "the search for truth" in art and "the entirely different set of problems" facing the artist in "Political theatre" to the avoidance of seeking "truth" in "power politics" (Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture.

He asserts:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [of the artist] 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.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al-Qaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

Charging the United States with having "supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War," leading to "hundreds of thousands of deaths," Pinter asks: "Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy?" Then he answers his own question: "The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it".

Revisiting arguments from his political essays and speeches of the past decade, Pinter reiterates:

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

In imagery recalling his description of "speech" as "a constant stratagem to cover nakedness,"

Further information: #Pinter's "two silences": a "continual evasion" of "communication"

Pinter adds:

It's a scintillating stratagem. 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 does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

Toward the end of the lecture, after reading two poems referring to "blood in the streets", "deaths", "dead bodies", and "death" by fellow Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda and himself, in a whimsically-humble gesture, Pinter offers to "volunteer" for the "job" of "speech writer" for President George W. Bush, penning a ruthless message of fierce aggression masquerading as moral struggle of good versus evil yet finally proferring the "authority" of his (Bush's) "fist".

Pinter demands prosecution of Tony Blair in the International Criminal Court, while pointing out, with irony, that he would do the same for George W. Bush if Bush had not so shrewedly refused to "ratify" that Court. Pinter concludes his Nobel Lecture with a call for "unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies" as "a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all," one which he regards as "in fact mandatory," for, he warns, "If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us — the dignity of man


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