Thursday, October 13, 2005

LIT: Pinter wins Nobel

British Playwright Wins Nobel Prize in Literature
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS, The New York Times, October 13, 2005

Harold Pinter, the British playwright known for enigmatic plays such as "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming" and a well-known peace activist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today.

Mr. Pinter, 75, has also acted, directed, written poetry and written for film, including the screenplay for "The French Lieutenant's Woman," during his long career.

Mr. Pinter was treated for cancer of the esophagus in 2002 and has announced that he has retired from writing to focus on working for peace. He is a prominent anti-war activist in Britain, writing frequently in British newspapers about his staunch opposition to the United States-led invasion of Iraq. Mr. Pinter's trademark style is full of tense silences and spare dialogue, and he is among a handful of writers whose name has inspired an adjective: "Pinteresque." His plays, which have been labeled as absurdist, are deeply psychological. His characters speak to each other, but have difficulty truly communicating, and are often unable to finish sentences or express their desires.

In awarding the $1.3 million prize, the Swedish Academy said Mr. Pinter "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms." The citation added, "Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles."

Influenced by James Joyce and Samuel Beckett - who became a friend -- Mr. Pinter wrote plays, particularly those during the 1960's, that veer unexpectedly from comedy to examinations of fear and evil. In his early plays, menace lurked just beneath the comedic surface of things - a style that became known as the "comedy of menace."

Mr. Pinter was born in London in 1930 to working class Jewish parents and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Central School for Speech and Drama. As a child, he grew up during the Blitz, and he and his family were forced to evacuate London for three years. That experience, he said later, informed his desire to work for peace.

As a teenager, he twice refused national military service, and was fined.

The Nobel committee has on occasion presented awards with a political tinge, and this is the second Nobel Prize in a week that has gone to an opponent of the Iraq war. Last Friday, the peace prize was awarded to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei; in the weeks before the 2003 United States invasion, Mr. ElBaradei openly disputed the American contention that Saddam Hussein had rebuilt a nuclear weapons program.

After devoting time to poetry and acting, Mr. Pinter's first play, "The Room", was performed at at Bristol University in 1957.

His second play, "The Birthday Party", was generally demeaned by critics, with the exception of Harold Hobson, who was among the most influential theater critics in Britain at the time. Despite Mr. Hobson's praise, the play closed after about a week. When Mr. Pinter achieved commercial success with "The Caretaker" in 1960, "The Birthday Party" enjoyed a second, successful run.

The drama takes place in a run-down boarding house near the seaside that has only one resident, a man named Stanley. Later, two men, Goldberg and McCann, arrive at the house and appear intent on possessing Stanley's persona.

In the 1970's, Mr. Pinter became outspoken on political issues, especially about human rights violations. In 1985, he and the American playwright Arthur Miller traveled to Turkey. During remarks at a party at the American embassy, Mr. Pinter said he had spoken to Turks who had been the victims of torture by the Turkish government, including having their genitals electrically shocked. Although the party was held in his honor, he was asked to leave the embassy.

In recent years, Mr. Pinter criticized the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.