Friday, October 14, 2005

Harold Pinter wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Last week, I hedged on ElBaradei's Nobel Peace Prize win. Although I acknowledged that the Nobel Peace Prize is more often than not a prize with a political message -- in this case a pro-U.N. and likely anti-U.S. message with regards to the containment of nuclear proliferation -- I concluded that it wasn't necessarily inappropriate for the Nobel Committee to recognize the IAEA's efforts 60 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Well, we can debate all that.

But not this, which is unabashedly and unambiguously political. British playwright Harold Pinter has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: "Harold Pinter, the English playwright, poet and political campaigner whose work uses spare and often menacing language to explore themes like powerlessness, domination and the faceless tyranny of the state, won the Nobel Prize for Literature today."

Now, I could argue that there's no way Pinter should have won -- but, fine. He's a brilliant, "Pinteresque" writer, and some of his plays stand out as masterpieces of the genre.

Besides, the Nobel Prize for Literature is hardly the definitive statement on a writer's work. Many of its winners have been truly deserving (such as, in recent years, Guenter Grass in 1999, Jose Saramago in 1998, Octavio Paz in 1990, Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982). Some have been completely and utterly ridiculous picks (such as last year's winner, Elfriede Jelinek). Others are merely overrated (such as 2003's winner, J.M. Coetzee). And, of course, some of the truly great writers didn't win at all (such as Italo Calvino, Mikhail Bulgakov, Karel Capek, Raymond Queneau, and Junichiro Tanizaki). Personal picks for the future: Milan Kundera, Don DeLillo, and Josef Skvorecky.

But, all that aside, here's what really matters:

He is vehemently opposed to the Iraq war, to the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair and to what he sees as bullying American imperialism in the Middle East and around the world. A recent poem, "The Special Relationship," refers to the alliance between the United States and Britain but concerns itself with bombs exploding, limbs being blown off and the atrocities committed at places like Abu Ghraib.

If Mr. Pinter's poems are often cries of pain against war and state-sponsored destruction, he also gives impassioned speeches and writes polemics against what he once he called "the nightmare of American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence."

"We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East,'" he said last March, accepting the Wilfred Owen Award for his anti-war poetry. "But, as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos."

In other words, whatever his merits, he was in the right place at the right time, and the Nobel Committee went for the politically correct pick (from its rigidly leftist perspective). Which is unfortunate, because it seems to me that Pinter's rabid anti-Americanism distracts and perhaps detracts from his undeniable and at times quite profound contributions to literature (which set him well apart from Jelinek, whose win demeaned the award entirely).

As was the case last year, the Nobel Committee seems to have forgotten that this is an award for literature, not politics.


Needless to say, the right-wing blogosphere is pissed off. If you care, which I barely do, see Michelle Malkin, Power Line, and Outside the Beltway.

But here's Roger Kimball, whom I generally respect (despite his opposition to Grass and Saramago -- great writers whatever their political leanings), at The New Criterion: "The Nobel Prize committee long ago demonstrated that its prizes for the arts were exercises in politically correct sermonizing. By choosing Harold Pinter, they have demonstrated that their sermons are ridiculous as well as repellent."

The Nobel Committee could have done a lot worse than Pinter, whatever the right's grumbling, but it also could have done a lot better. And that's the shame of it all.

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  • It's a shame that the Nobel Committee uses the prize as a political tool. Do they think that this somehow increases the public's respect for such prizes?

    I can't speak to the quality of Pinter's work--and I certainly can't speak about what qualifies for a Nobel Prize. But this is obviously, shamelessly political. Pinter isn't just opposed to the war--he is virulently opposed to anything American. His statements about the US make it clear that it is more than just opposition to particular polices-he hates the United States with a passion--like many other leftists in Europe I guess and sees no redeeming characteristics. I have no problem with someone like that receiving the prize if he deserves it. But this seems to be an obvious F-U to the US. Well, guess what--somehow I doubt that George Bush or many other Americans are going to stay up nights worrying about the fact that Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize. This will have about as much effect on American policy as the anti-war rally the other day, ie, none at all. All it really does is lower the standing of the Nobel committee.

    It just shows how petty and ineffectual intellectuals really are.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:17 AM  

  • He deserved it mainly for his writing. If this includes his political writing -- good. In a saner society Chomsky would have won a Nobel prize for peace. Because you criticize policies of invasion and killing you are not a lefty -- you are human.

    By Blogger Christopher Willard, at 11:37 AM  

  • Christopher Willard,

    I oppose the war as well, but by the same token, simply because you oppose the war doesn't make you a human. That's the way I feel about Pinter and Chomsky. (By the way, are you denying that Chomsky is a leftist? I don't think he would.) The fact that Pinter is against the war doesn't obviate the fact that he and Chomsky basically consider the US the embodiment of evil. In fact, they seem to think there is no evil in the world other than the United States. Chomsky has cast doubt on whether the Cambodian massacres occurred, over whether Japan was really an aggressor in WW II and probably a host of things like that. Pinter has made statements to the effect that the United States (and I'm paraphrasing here) is the cause of more misery than any country in history (apparently including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union). The fact is, they aren't really against war or oppression in general--they are simply against the presence of the United States in world affairs.

    I find your conflation of left-wing politics with all political morality to be specious. Many people support the war for highly idealistic and noble reasons. I disagree with them, but to simply equate opposition to the war with "humanity" is just a typical way of demonizing political opponents. That's what Pinter and Chomsky do, in my view.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:53 PM  

  • I take it you've never read Coetzee then.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:16 AM  

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