Harold Pinter’s Nobel lecture
Harold Pinter, writer of some of the most memorable and distinctive plays of our time — more than 30 of them (and two dozen film screenplays), brilliant actor, bad poet, tireless political campaigner but with a regrettable penchant for the shrill rant, aged 75 and recent cancer sufferer, has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, apparently to his own and many others’ surprise and almost universal delight. Too sick to go to Stockholm to receive his prize and deliver the customary lecture in person, he recorded his lecture on video for display on giant screens at the ceremony.
Pinter’s Nobel lecture has caused a considerable stir, not just because in it he described in fascinating and unusual language some of the creative process involved in writing his plays, with vivid examples, but also because of his lecture’s ferocious attack on United States foreign policy, not just over Iraq, but throughout the period since the second world war. As the Guardian’s theatre critic, Michael Billington, wrote on 8 December 2005, —
In fact, the speech was all the more powerful because it was delivered in a husky, throaty rasp. The facts are that Pinter, having recovered from cancer of the oesophagus, was earlier this year stricken by a condition in the mouth which affected his vocal chords. Then 10 days ago he was re-admitted to hospital with severe leg pains. But he briefly emerged on Sunday to record his Nobel speech.
The hearts of many of us sank when we heard that Harold Pinter had used his lecture to launch another attack on the United States. I half expected a shallow diatribe of the kind he has sometimes delivered on previous occasions: the kind of polemic with whose substance most of us would no doubt agree, but whose shrillness often seemed poorly calculated to convince the not yet persuaded. But Pinter certainly rose magnificently to the occasion of the Nobel lecture: here was the writer and actor deploying all his formidable skills of eloquence, irony, comedy and passion, all in his own distinctive voice — metaphorically, at least. And the politics are superbly backed up by chapter and verse: the charges are specific, detailed, lethal; unanswerable. Five cheers for Pinter! Let’s hope that he will be widely read and heard, especially in the US.
The lecture has been published by many newspapers and magazines already. But it remains available on the Web both in text form in an ordinary web page (also available as a .pdf file) and as streaming video, the latter allowing us to hear again and again that distinctive, passionate, rasping voice. And this time there are no Pinteresque pauses.
Harold Pinter on the set of The Go-Between, 1969