Pinter's 'Art, Truth & Politics'

01/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Harold Pinter, who died two days ago at 78, received the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 2005. Too sick to travel to Stockholm to accept the award, he gave his Nobel Lecture on video. The lecture begins with a quotation:

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Pinter moves from an analysis of "language in art" as "a highly ambiguous transaction" to an indictment of "political language," which is utterly unambiguous because politicians are not interested in truth but only in maintaining power. And so they turn language into "a vast tapestry of lies," none more so in recent times than the lies of American politicians.

Pinter singles out the United States, citing its support for the Somoza regime in Nicaragua and the subversion of the Sandanista revolution that overthrew it as a prime example, not because he exempts the former Soviet Union's "systematic brutality," "widespread atrocities" and "ruthless suppression of independent thought" within its own borders and throughout Eastern Europe -- "All this has been fully documented and verified," he points out -- but because "U.S. crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all."

The invasion of Iraq is just its latest crime. He notes:

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Inexplicably, Pinter never mentions the war in Vietnam, a crime against humanity even greater than the war in Iraq.