[OPE-L] Nobel Lecture - Literature 2005

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Dec 08 2005 - 10:38:59 EST

Paul B:  Here's the lecture you directed our attention to.  I heard
about it (like Galloway's speech earlier this year) on the Net, not
in the mass media.  Anything too critical of US foreign policy or G.W.
Bush does not seem to make much of a splash here in the mainstream
(bourgeois) media.  All of the journalists here remember what happened
to Dan Rather.

In solidarity, Jerry


Nobel Lecture - Literature 2005


            Harold Pinter - Nobel Lecture
            Art, Truth & Politics

            In 1958 I wrote the following:

            'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what
is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing
is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true
and false.'

            I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still
apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a
writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen
I must ask: What is true? What is false?

            Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but
the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what
drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than
not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it
or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to
correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have
done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such
thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are
many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each
other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each
other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have
the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your
fingers and is lost.

            I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say.
Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is
what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

            Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an
image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image.
I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of
the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

            The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of
The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The
first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

            In each case I had no further information.

            In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of
scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else
he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that
the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or
about the questioner either, for that matter.

            'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair
of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I
found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened
visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

            I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

            In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a
stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an
ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A
was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This
was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to
become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you
mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The
dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you
call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest.
You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls
A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were
father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking
did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that
there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at
the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

            'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become
Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with
drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking
about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C
(later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her
back to them, her hair dark.

            It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who
up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is
fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it
can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an
odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The
characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they
are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them.
To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them,
cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally
you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your
hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their
own, made out of component parts you are unable to change,
manipulate or distort.

            So 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.

            But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop.
It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be
faced, right there, on the spot.

            Political theatre presents an entirely different set of
problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost.
Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to
breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict
them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He
must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles,
from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them
by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them
the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always
work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of
these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is
its proper function.

            In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of
options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before
finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

            Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It
remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play
do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that
torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to
keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by
the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts
only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on
and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again,
on and on, hour after hour.

            Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking
place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up
through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for
others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the
water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman
a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to
escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

            But as they died, she must die too.

            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.

            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 Quaeda 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.

            But before I come back to the present I would like to look at
the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy
since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is
obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some
kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will
allow here.

            Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and
throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the
systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless
suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully
documented and verified.

            But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same
period have only been superficially recorded, let alone
documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as
crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the
truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now.
Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of
the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the
world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche
to do what it liked.

            Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been
America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what
it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity
conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if
you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that
you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a
malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the
populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same
thing - and your own friends, the military and the great
corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the
camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a
commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I

            The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I
choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view
of its role in the world, both then and now.

            I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the
late 1980s.

            The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give
more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state
of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on
behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this
delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US
body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador,
later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in
charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners
built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have
lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the
parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health
centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers,
slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved
like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw
its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

            Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational,
responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly
respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then
spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you
something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a
frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

            Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

            Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people"
were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your
government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras
more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is
this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of
supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of
a sovereign state?'

            Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as
presented support your assertions,' he said.

            As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he
enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

            I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the
following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of
our Founding Fathers.'

            The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in
Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the
Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking
popular revolution.

            The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair
share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a
number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent,
rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable,
decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished.
Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were
brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given
title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite
remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country
to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a
free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third.
Polio was eradicated.

            The United States denounced these achievements as
Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government,
a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to
establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it
was allowed to raise the standards of health care and
education and achieve social unity and national self respect,
neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the
same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance
to the status quo in El Salvador.

            I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us.
President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a
'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media,
and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair
comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under
the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture.
There was no record of systematic or official military
brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There
were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and
a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were
actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United
States had brought down the democratically elected government
of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000
people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

            Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were
viciously murdered at the Central American University in San
Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained
at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man
Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is
estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They
were killed because they believed a better life was possible
and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them
as communists. They died because they dared to question the
status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease,
degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

            The United States finally brought down the Sandinista
government. It took some years and considerable resistance but
relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally
undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were
exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved
back into the country. Free health and free education were
over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had

            But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central
America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was
never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

            The United States supported and in many cases engendered every
right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of
the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay,
Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala,
El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United
States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and
can never be forgiven.

            Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these
countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases
attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did
take place and they are attributable to American foreign
policy. But you wouldn't know it.

            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

            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.'

            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.

            The United States no longer bothers about low intensity
conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or
even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or
favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United
Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it
regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own
bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic
and supine Great Britain.

            What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have
any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very
rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do
not only with our own acts but to do with our shared
responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look
at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge
for over three years, with no legal representation or due
process, technically detained forever. This totally
illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva
Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about
by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal
outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself
to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the
inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about
them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six.
They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed
they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike,
being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in
these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic.
Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit
blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary
said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister
said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States
has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay
constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or
against us. So Blair shuts up.

            The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state
terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of
international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military
action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross
manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act
intended to consolidate American military and economic control
of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other
justifications having failed to justify themselves - as
liberation. A formidable assertion of military force
responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and
thousands of innocent people.

            We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium,
innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and
death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and
democracy to the Middle East'.

            How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be
described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred
thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it
is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the
International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been
clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court
of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that
matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned
that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified
the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can
let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is
Number 10, Downing Street, London.

            Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place
death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis
were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq
insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths
don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as
being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American
general Tommy Franks.

            Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the
front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the
cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the
caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on
an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His
family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only
survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story
was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms,
nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any
bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie
when you're making a sincere speech on television.

            The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are
transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are
unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their
beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the
mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

            Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm
Explaining a Few Things':

              And one morning all that was burning,
              one morning the bonfires
              leapt out of the earth
              devouring human beings
              and from then on fire,
              gunpowder from then on,
              and from then on blood.
              Bandits with planes and Moors,
              bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
              bandits with black friars spattering blessings
              came through the sky to kill children
              and the blood of children ran through the streets
              without fuss, like children's blood.

              Jackals that the jackals would despise
              stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
              vipers that the vipers would abominate.

              Face to face with you I have seen the blood
              of Spain tower like a tide
              to drown you in one wave
              of pride and knives.

              see my dead house,
              look at broken Spain:
              from every house burning metal flows
              instead of flowers
              from every socket of Spain
              Spain emerges
              and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
              and from every crime bullets are born
              which will one day find
              the bull's eye of your hearts.

              And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
              speak of dreams and leaves
              and the great volcanoes of his native land.

              Come and see the blood in the streets.
              Come and see
              the blood in the streets.
              Come and see the blood
              in the streets!*

            Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem
I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's
Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry
have I read such a powerful visceral description of the
bombing of civilians.

            I have said earlier that the United States is now totally
frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case.
Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum
dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum
dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all
attendant resources.

            The United States now occupies 702 military installations
throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable
exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they
got there but they are there all right.

            The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational
nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert,
ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing
new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The
British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own
nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at?
Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows?
What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the
possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the
heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind
ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military
footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

            Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United
States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by
their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a
coherent political force - yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty
and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States
is unlikely to diminish.

            I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech
writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I
propose the following short address which he can make on
television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully
combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes
employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

            'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin
Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad,
except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not
barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in
freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the
democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy.
We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate
electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a
great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a
barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral
authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And
don't you forget it.'

            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

            I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I
shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

              Where was the dead body found?
              Who found the dead body?
              Was the dead body dead when found?
              How was the dead body found?

              Who was the dead body?

              Who was the father or daughter or brother
              Or uncle or sister or mother or son
              Of the dead and abandoned body?

              Was the body dead when abandoned?
              Was the body abandoned?
              By whom had it been abandoned?

              Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

              What made you declare the dead body dead?
              Did you declare the dead body dead?
              How well did you know the dead body?
              How did you know the dead body was dead?

              Did you wash the dead body
              Did you close both its eyes
              Did you bury the body
              Did you leave it abandoned
              Did you kiss the dead body

            When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts
us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes.
We are actually looking at a never-ending range of
reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror -
for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth
stares at us.

            I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist,
unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as
citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our
societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all.
It is in fact mandatory.

            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.


            * Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by
Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published
by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The
Random House Group Limited.

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