‘Art, Truth and Politics’ was the title of the speech given by Pinter at the Nobel Prize for Literature reception ceremony in 2005.
He wasn’t in Stockholm. He couldn’t leave London because of his illness so he sent a video recorded in the Channel 4 studios.
The speech summarises Pinter’s life perfectly.
There’s Pinter the author, with his tales, his meanings and the creative genesis of his characters. There’s his theatre – often taken to be a kind of elusive search for the truth.
Then there’s Pinter the man, with that capacity of his to feel, first and foremost, a citizen rather than a writer.
In this famous speech, Harold opens a window onto the world too. The real world where “… the search for truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.” He is referring to the Anglo-American war being waged in Iraq, and he is mostly attacking those politicians who are more interested in maintianing power than looking for the truth.
Pinter’s well known commitment to civil and political rights began in the seventies after the shocking death of Allende at the hands of General Pinochet and his cohorts. He regulalry supported the oppressed and was a fierce defender of human rights. And from this time on, while he was writing his masterpieces, he would air his disgust in papers and on TV (and not only late into the evening when viewers were scarcer) at the murder of Monsignor Romero in Salvador, the new tyranny in East Timor, Apartheid in South Africa, the bombings in ex-Yugoslavia, the war in Nicaragua and the invasion of Afghanistan.
His feelings led him to befriend the great Arthur Miller, with whom he undertook a mission to Turkey in 1985. At a speech held at the American embassy that year he denounced Turkish oppression of the Kurd opposition, voicing his dismay at the torturous practices he had seen inflicted on this people. This didn’t go down well: together with Miller (to whom the evening had been dedicated), he was literarlly thrown out of the embassy!
A keen supporter of humanitarian associations like Amnesty International, Pinter founded an anti-Thatcherite group called the 20 June Group in 1986. Salman Rushdie joined up and was rewarded with Pinter’s loyalty when his novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’, roused the ire of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran: the playwright fought against the fatwa which would dog Rushdie’s life for so many years.
There’s no empty rhetoric in Pinter’s defense of the weak, his condemnation of injustice, his tirades against the abuses of power or his criticisms of politicians. His speaking was direct, plain and to the point. At times he could be humorous and provocative, as in the opening of his honourary doctorate speech at Turin University in 2002: “‘If you are not with us, you are against us,’ President Bush has said. He has also said: ‘We will not allow the world’s worst weapons to remain in the hands of the world’s worst leaders.’ Quite right. Look in the mirror chum. That’s you.”
Always in search of the truth, our Harold. In the theatre as in life. Because the stakes are high: “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.”
These are the last words of that speech. Almost a last will and testament. Without doubt a warning – to all of us, no matter what your views are.