Thursday, December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter, 1930-2008, R.I.P.

British playwright Harold Pinter died yesterday of esophageal cancer. He was 78.

While studying theater in high school I became interested in the Theater of the Absurd of which Pinter was a great proponent. Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee turned theater on its ear in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Pinter won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature.

However, I believe Pinter won this award not for his absurdist plays but for his absurdist politics.

Pinter has long been a critic of U.S. and British foreign policy becoming a conscientious objector as a teenager. He might be best known for his outspoken disdain for both the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq. Pinter referred to the latter as "an act of blatant state terrorism" and called for President Bush and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be hauled before the International Criminal Court. Indeed, when Pinter could not accept his Nobel in person he recorded a videotaped message in which he spent the lion's share lambasting the U.S. and the U.K. governments.

Pinter was also vociferously anti-Israel and signed several petitions to that effect. He also supported Fidel Castro's Cuba, was part the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic and for good measure compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler.

All this notwithstanding, Pinter made an immense contribution to the theater. There is little doubt he played a part in changing the theater's very structure and presentation. Yet I am afraid that he will be mostly remembered for having the correct political views amongst the intelligentsia and the literati. Pinter's views represented the lowest common denominator of left-wing politics.

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