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Sunday, October 16, 2005


Nobel Pinter

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, drawing predictable condemnation. I am not, for today at least, linking to the over-influential rantings of Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin or Christopher Hitchens. If you ever find your arguments being condemned because they ‘objectively’ position you alongside some pretty nasty people, point out that this tactic, being thoroughly dishonest, is capable of being spun to discredit any position. Here is a selection of responses.

Much of this seems to use his poem American Football as a launch-pad, missing the point that the Literature Prize is not awarded for any particular piece of work, and to choose a political poem as representative of Pinter’s work is a sure sign, being generous, of remarkable ignorance. Regardless, I cannot say that I dislike his aggressive poem. Undoubtedly, but unconsciously, influenced by that poem I wrote this on the eve of the Iraq War:


Collateral Damage to the English Language (2002)

The machine gun fires; the bullets spit
And human beings are turned to shit

Cities to rubble, forests to muck
Our leaders they don’t give a fuck

A billion dollars in armaments
These people are such stupid cunts

Propaganda, lies and dirty tricks
For bragging rights to the biggest pricks


“We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their aeroplane because it's obscene.” (Kurtz, Apocalypse Now!)

More obscenity: beheading videos are obscene. But their consumption by, and distribution between, Americans in the same manner as are clips of grotesque pornography, crimes, accidents and injuries makes it seem inevitable that the whole process was brought in-house: US soldiers have been taking celebratory pictures of dead Iraqis, sharing them as if they were holiday snaps, and more, trading them for access to porn. Homemade murder pics are equivalent to Readers’ Wives. But then, this crude branch of American culture appears to be centred upon the degradation of other people; in their porn, their war, their prisons and their economics.

Andrew, I think you deserve the Nobel prize for literature for that poem. I can say no lower!
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I do hope Mr. Pinter’s Noble prize is based on a lifetime of real achievement, before he entered his second childhood.

When I was in high school we had washroom graffiti with more artistic accomplishment than “American Football.”

Steven dem Beste in one of his best comments described this sort of propaganda (summarizing):

A debate is held.
Side One gets up and to the best of his ability attempts to make a factual and logical argument.
Side Two gets up, goes to the center of the stage, drops their pants, gives the speaker from side One the moon, restores his pants to the customary position, and returns to his seat, to the cheers of his partisans.

Side One is convinced that side Two has no argument or side Two would have presented it. Side Two feels contented in their smugness. The undecided may or may not be convinced of side One they know side Two’s presenter will not convince them. Hopefully they look for better sources.

SDB was specifically talking about the Iraq war, though he did not mention that some his allies did the same.. We see that sort of logic from all to many people left and right and it accomplishes nothing especially for the people who use it.

A lot of SDB points were esoteric at best, but this observation on the state of public debate was right on.
Hank, I don't really understand what you're trying to say. What or who is "SDB"?

Pinter's poem "American Football" is satire: brilliant satire. Or do you, like Duff, simply object to people who swear? The point I think Andrew is trying to make is that, to use your terms, Side One are actually celebrating something which is almost unspeakably horrible and objectionable. Sometimes, a reasonable response to this is simply to be offensive oneself. How is it possible to have a debate with people who seem to think it's great to kill Iraqis? That's the context the poem was written in!

As Andrew says, the line from Apocalypse Now! sums it up rather well: how can it be wrong to write a swear-word on a bomb when we are then going to head off and burn some people alive with said bomb?

Of course, Pinter has also written what are regarded as some of the best English language plays ever, but don't let that get in the way of slagging him off for his political views, eh? After all, it wasn't a prize for literature which he won, was it?
Oh bother: sorry, SDM is clearly Steven dem Beste. Apologies.

I assume the plays you mention fully justify the prize.

Having lived in barracks where foul language is rather tolerated, I do not get upset by it. And even in that environment, excessive users (especially people in leadership positions) quickly lost respect. Leaders who avoided it gained respect. It is best used to encourage action where time or circumstances prohibit rational discussion. It does nothing to encourage rational discussion.

I can see that he meant it as satire, but a hyperbolic description of the hyperbolic cheers of sports fans, compared to alleging a view that was not held, except by a few, sounds like more shrill than satiric. I personally know of no one that felt the war was necessary who would have cheered like that, the attitude was more of resignation at the necessity. I really only saw that sort of thing in partisan press reports.

But my point is that if you want to convince some one you should use some sort argument that is likely to convince. In the period leading up to the war, outside of political science and military journals there was little serious discussion of the problems with the administration policy. Except for Pat Buchanan and friends on the Paleo-conservative right the argument was a statement of dislike and some sort of gesture of dislike (though often not as extreme as SDB’s satire.) But little logical argument from fact. But it would provides no basis that would be a reason to change ones mind. From Pinter’s poem we know he does not understand American football and he dislikes the war. We already knew that people get killed in wars. Except for the convinced, who is this going to convince? The administrations policies certainly needed more considered opposition, things like “American Football” don’t provide it and make it difficult for those attempt provide it.

Pat Buchanan is not as big a flake as he is usually accused, but he is flake. If he is putting out better arguments that the bulk of the anti-war movement, there is a problem.

As I noted this sort of argument is becoming more popular across the board, and I don’t like it for any cause.

Okay, point taken. Simple name-calling isn't argument.

However, to be fair to Pinter, I don't think he was trying to argue as such: he was trying to write a poem which summed up his disgust at the, as he saw it, military triumphalism that overcame many people after the first Gulf War. Yes, it's political, but I think it's first a work of art, while being a political statement a close second. I for one would find poetry very boring if everything had to be conducted in rational, reasoned language!

Doesn't Andrew's blog sum this up nicely? He usually writes very long, considered, rational pieces. His poem is this entry is hardly that, but it's a nice counter balance. Or at least I think so.

I haven't read much of Pinter's longer political works: I don't know, but suspect, that he isn't the most rational, careful debater. However, when compared to, say, Golloway or Hitchens, who seem to be full-time debaters (and not full-time play-writes and poets) he starts looking more reasonable!

What I objected to so much was your slight accusation that Pinter didn't deserve the prize, because he held naive views of politics, and expressed them in naive ways. That's just so wrong: he's produced some truly brilliant literature, and he deserves to win a prize *for literature* on that basis.

Point taken

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