October 10, 2017

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal”: Revisiting Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture


“As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?”

With these words, British playwright Harold Pinter—who would have turned eighty-seven today—began the lecture required of him as the recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature. Pinter, whose Nobel commendation notes that his work “uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms,” received significant pushback for the hostility to America that many saw in the lecture. “Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period,” he says at one point. “But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now.”

The twin themes of Pinter’s talk—the unaccountability of American power and the use of language to distort people’s sense of the difference between truth and falsehood—feel even more stunningly relevant today than they did when they were first delivered early in George W. Bush’s second term.

The lecture is certainly worth reading, but it is even more worth watching, if you’ve got a couple minutes. Put it on while you eat that sandwich. Let it soak in. This is important.