I was warmly reminded of an early enthusiasm of mine when I came across news about the concluding programs of Pinter at the Pinter, a year-long festival of the short plays of Harold Pinter (1930-2008) currently winding down in London. Staged in part as a celebration of the playwright on the tenth anniversary of his death, the festival produced all twenty of Pinter’s shorter plays (they’ll soon be published in a Faber & Faber anthology of their own here in the U.S.), including the recently discovered sketch “The Pres and an Officer,” published in The Guardian in 2017 and … well, let’s just say Pinter remains prescient even a decade after his passing.
The political dimensions of Pinter’s work have always been obvious, ever since his first plays of the late 1950s and 1960s limned the dimensions of tyrannical, gendered power wielded and suffered by his characters. But perhaps what differentiates his work from that on offer today (for those dimensions are at the center of much contemporary work too) is that Pinter seemed to have little faith in any illusions about the milk of human kindness, which is somewhat curdled even in the best of us. Like his mentor Samuel Beckett, he was interested in staging the reality of human experience, including political and cultural experience, rather than offering easy ways out through liberalism or progressivism. Pinter and Beckett knew what was wrong with the world. What they couldn’t offer was an easy way out, not least because what was wrong with the world was the people in it.
It’s always nice to take a look at Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize Lecture, “Art, Truth and Politics,” from time to time. Why not now?