Archive for December 8th, 2005

Very Well, Manuel

Some handy relief from Manuel Estimulo:

Golf is why Spanish Civil War was fought. Communists in Republican government want to convert beautiful golf courses into fields for food and to build houses for filthy campesinos and their atheist friends. Undermine entire Spanish economy and also Spanish image abroad as great place to play golf.

Is shame Jesus Gil is now dead and burning in hell. He make many wonderful golf courses in Marbella and kick out the local peasants.He burn in hell, by the way, for being Atletico boss, not for being greedy fat bastard.

An Honorable Mistake

Separation by a common language, as revealed by Don’t Bomb Us .

Royal Seal of Approval for Creeping Repartition?

The Queen visits her loyal subjects in the most northwesterly part of her kingdom today: Counties Antrim and Down.

Crap Last Tape?

Not according to Michael Billington, who finds a Beckettian feel to Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture.

The other day Johann Hari said that Harold Pinter does not deserve the Nobel Prize.

Despite buying the odd book because it has been nominated for a prize, I think that literary prizes are generally a bad idea. And as I know neither what the criteria are for winning the prize, nor anything about Harold Pinter’s oeuvre, I cannot put myself in a position to judge if he deserves it or not.

However, I find Hari’s contention that Pinter does not deserve it rather curious.

He identifies two general arguments against Harold Pinter – the literary and the political – and fuses them to make his case:

Literary prizes shouldn’t be subject to ideological litmus tests, so normally I wouldn’t discuss his political views in this context. Some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century had horrific politics – D.W. Griffith was a Klansman, Bertolt Brecht was a Stalinist, Rudyard Kipling was a bloodthirsty imperialist – and no sane person would deny them artistic garlands for it.

Yet I would say that any literary prize is in itself a sort of ideological litmus test, in so far as the winning candidate is the writer who best meets the criteria of the judges. The criteria could be anything from being ‘a right rollicking read’ to an uncovering of ‘the precipice under everyday prattle’ (Pinter’s citation).

What constitutes ‘everyday prattle’, what makes it objectionable, and how it ought to be uncovered, and indeed, if a prize ought to be awarded for doing so, are subjective concerns. They are also political concerns. Prizes depend on prevalent political and social mores. Imagine handing posthumous garlands these days to the likes of Kipling or Brecht. What would one call the honour? Greatest Imperialist Novelist of the 20th Century? Best Stalinist Playwright? The Nobel is no different; it can’t exist in a far-flung republic of letters, unsullied by political stuff. In that sense, I suppose Hari could be entitled to object to Pinter’s award on account of his political activities.

The difficulty I have with his article and his judgement is the arbitrary separation of literature and politics: here is the literature, which is crap, and here are the extra-mural activities – the politics, which are also crap, ergo he doesn’t deserve the prize. A more compelling examination of the literature would have been more convincing.

Based on what he says of the literature alone, his case is poor. He quotes, (inaccurately, unless he’s quoting another version) an extract of a recent Pinter poem, as if to show to the reader that the extract is somehow reflective of the totality of Pinter’s work.

He asks:

How did the world’s leading literary prize go to a man whose most recent works include this: “We blew the shit right back up their own ass/ And out their fucking ears./ It works. / We blew the shit out of them,/ They suffocated in their own shit!/ We blew them into fucking shit./ They are eating it./ Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth”?

This is a crude, puritannical trick, perhaps becoming of the likes of Richard Littlejohn. I don’t think the lines in question are much good, but if the work of every poet or playwright were subjected to such an evaluation, there might not be too may left to appreciate.

Take Sylvia Plath: Not God but a swastika/So black no sky could squeak through./Every woman adores a Fascist,/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you.

Nor would much of the work of Hari’s hero – Beckett – withstand this sort of blunt, decontextualised, ‘would you fling this filth at your kids?’-style appreciation.

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December 2005