Sunday, October 16, 2005

Plain English

The Backword blog is your one-stop shop for commentary on Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize in Literature. But one contribution that might escape Dave's eagle eye is a surprising mostly pro-Pinter piece in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. Now one might think they hid this nod in their new Saturday edition (subs. req'd) so as to get below the radar screen of their more true-believing readers, but they've also provided a free link, so they're not ashamed, notwithstanding the intro:

Another Left Turn in Stockholm
An America-hating playwright wins a Nobel. Surprisingly, he deserves it.


Which is an accurate summary of the article. The funniest bit is

Even Noël Coward, who had no use whatsoever for trendy theatrical innovation, was impressed by his ability to stir up profoundly unsettling emotions through the simplest of means. " 'The Caretaker,' on the face of it, is everything I hate most in the theatre--squalor, repetition, lack of actions, etc.--but somehow it seizes hold of you," he wrote in his diary. "Nothing happens except that somehow it does."

Indeed, having seen Penelope Keith swanning through the role of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit a little while back, it's tough to imagine her being able to do the same thing with a Pinter play. Anyway, it sounds like Teachout had to talk down some of his more excitable friends:

Within minutes of the announcement, I received this email from a friend: "Do you believe that big phony Pinter won the Nobel?" But Mr. Pinter is no phony--at least not when he's writing plays--and you don't have to be completely convinced by his fill-in-the-blanks style to admire his uncanny knack for portraying the myriad ways in which people talk past one another, never quite managing to say what they mean.

Not quite the praise that fans of a President who "says what he means, and means what he says" could stand for.

UPDATE: Well, the WSJ may have felt they had to atone for tolerting Pinter in Saturday's paper, and so the penance is Hitchens in Monday's (subs. only). Not much to say really, although:

Let us also hope for a long silence to descend upon the thuggish bigmouth who has strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage for far too long.

Indeed. The thuggish bigmouth who spun for the higher-ups in Abu Ghraib, who can take time out of Keyboarding for Kurdistan to pen a defence of Karl Rove in the Plame affair, and even did his bit on the side for the Swift Boat Liars -- bring on the silence.

FINAL UPDATE: The Hitchens article becomes the focal point for the War on Pinter; this contribution from Jonah Goldberg summarises the quality of the analysis:

I will confess here and now I know very little of Pinter's work. I've caught bits and piece over the years, read the occasional criticism (and many since the Nobel announcment) but I think it's fair to say I'm perhaps a few inches shy of real ignorance about Pinter's literary contributions ...
But here's the real reason I think it's ok to complain about Pinter's Nobel without being fully fluent in his oeuvre ... I am not a particularly literary guy ... If that makes me a Philistine, I can deal with that.

And smart conservative John "Midgette" Podhoretz provides the icing on the cake:

Pinter Shminter.

Meanwhile, Hitch really walked into it with the thuggish bigmouth reference. Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber goes for a riposte similar to ours, while Hitchens Watch wonders if the usage is malicious, given Pinter's cancer.

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