An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I thought that we did well the other day predicting the winner of the Man Booker but today the announcement that Harold Pinter had won the Nobel was literally out of left field. Indeed, so unexpected was it that when G read it out to me I thought she had said Pynchon. Not that I have no regard for Pinter it's just that I rarely consider playwrights for the Nobel: poets and novellists yes, but playwrights no.

The first news item I read about the award threw me for a while because the headline mentioned Pinter as a "controversial writer" and I thought "well maybe in the 60s and the 70s his style was controversial but surely that's all done with now?". On reading the piece it became clear that it was his current political stance that they were referring to. Now Pinter has called Tony Blair a mass murderer for his invasion of Iraq and has compared George W Bush's government to Nazi Germany (Pinter is a jew whose suffering at the hands of anti-semites in his youth helped to form his politics and his work) but surely that is all marginal in the award? Maybe not.

Firstly let me congratulate the artist and the ingenuity of the panellists who chose him. The BBC report acknowledged that Pinter is the UK's finest living playwright and elsewhere he is lauded as one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century. The academy however duly noted that "Pinter restored theatre to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretence crumbles." and also said that Pinter's work "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms". I suspect that the academy understands the importance of Pinter more than do British critics. Along with Beckett, Marlowe, and Shakespeare, Pinter is up there with the greats of all time.

Despite this encomium it is not without a hint of politicking that Pinter was chosen. The Swedish Nobel awards panels have been having a sly dig at the USA with this year's awards: first the UN's nuclear watchdogs and now an anti-Iraq war campaigner. I am sadly reminded of all the previous politically motivated Nobels for Literature (Alexandr Solzhenitsyn immediately springs to mind but there are quite a few in the last 30 years). I don't mind people having a pop at the USA's appalling foreign policies but when such political imperatives can be used to impugn the worth of a recipient it's all wrong.

Three cheers then for Pinter (although I still think Thomas Pynchon or Gilbert Sorrentino or Harry Mathews might have been better choices - all Americans though).

Three boos though for the Nobel committee for muddying the man's award.

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