Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pinter's Nobel

British playwright Harold Pinter wins the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He's a major figure in modern British theater, yes, for what that's worth. When my editor heard the name of this year's winner he said, "Well, at least I've heard of him." I suppose that's worth something, too. And he's old and sick, which might have influenced the choice.

But other writers seemed to be in line for the award before him. The Guardian reports, "Until today's announcement, Pinter was barely thought to be in the running for the prize," and names eight writers thought to have had a better chance, including Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, and Milan Kundera. The Academy, according to the Guardian, "has once again confounded the bookies."

What else might have gone into its thinking? Well, perhaps there's the fact that Pinter is -- even among serious literature writers -- fiercely opposed to the bulk of current American life, including our foreign policy. He has called Tony Blair a "deluded idiot" and President Bush a "mass murderer." He regards the liberation of Iraq from Saddam's tyranny as, "A bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law." His worldview seems consistent with that of the man he hails as a true hero: Noam Chomsky.

The Academy, in announcing Pinter's choice, praised not only his writing but his attention to "threat and injustice" and his work "as a fighter for human rights," taking "stands seen as controversial."

Pinter himself, according to the London Times, allowed that his political activism may have had something to do with it.

[A]ppearing on the steps of his West London home this afternoon, Pinter acknowledged that he was known not just for his 29 plays but also for political activities and opposition to the war in Iraq.

"I’ve been writing plays for about 50 years," he said. "But I am also very politically engaged and I am not at all sure to what extent that factor had anything to do with this award."