Monday, December 29, 2008

Harold Pinter: Death may be ageing, but he still has clout

Pinter did what Auden said a poet should do. He cleaned the gutters of the English language, so that it ever afterwards flowed more easily and more cleanly. We can also say that over his work and over his person hovers a sort of leonine, predatory spirit which is all the more powerful for being held under in a rigid discipline of form, or in a black suit...The essence of his singular appeal is that you sit down to every play he writes in certain expectation of the unexpected. In sum, this tribute from one writer to another: you never know what the hell's coming next.
-- David Hare in Harold Pinter: A Celebration

My first experience with Harold Pinter’s work was in college when I took a Theatre of the Absurd course. It was one of my favorite classes while I was in college. It actually made me think ... and, it was a small class (some of my classes had 400+ students in them) so you could participate in some interesting discussions. I admired him from the first.

As Carey Perloff says about him:
Pinter had immense respect for the mystery, the privacy, the "unknowingness," of the people in his plays. This is rare in a writer. Pinter knew that his characters were hidden, silent, often lying, always evading. His job was to listen acutely to what they were willing to say, and wait for the moment when their masks would drop.
I loved that about his plays. I often didn't know exactly what was going on ... but I was feeling something intense anyway. His words were tapping into something core without explaining things to death.

Later, I got to know more about his politics and I admired him for that too. He was so outspoken when so many other writers, actors, and artists do nothing. From the article about him in Wikipedia:
In accepting an honorary degree at the University of Turin (27 November 2002), he stated: "I believe that [the United States] will [attack Iraq] not only to take control of Iraqi oil, but also because the American administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary." Distinguishing between "the American administration" and American citizens, he added the following qualification: "Many Americans, we know, are horrified by the posture of their government but seem to be helpless."

We mourn the loss of another great soul. May he be at rest.

Death May Be Ageing

Death may be ageing
But he still has clout

But death disarms you
With his limpid light

And he's so crafty
That you don't know at all

Where he awaits you
To seduce your will
And to strip you naked
As you dress to kill

But death permits you
To arrange your hours

While he sucks the honey
From your lovely flowers
Harold Pinter
April 2005

Another poem by Harold Pinter:


Laughter dies out but is never dead

Laughter lies out the back of its head

Laughter laughs at what is never said

It trills and squeals and swills in your head

It trills and squeals in the heads of the dead

And so all the lies remain laughingly spread

Sucked in by the laughter of the severed head

Sucked in by the mouths of the laughing dead.

To see an interview of Harold Pinter on Charlie Rose's show, go here. If you'd like to see Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture upon accepting his Nobel award, go here.

And, in today's San Francisco Chronicle, there is a wonderful piece by Carey Perloff, artistic director of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater (ACT). She quotes him in the article: "When you can't write, you feel as if you've been banished from yourself." If you'd like to read the entire article, please click here.

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