Thursday, 14 February 2013

Pinterland. Hogs. Crabs. Parnassus. And a paucity of creative energy.

Let me be quite clear. I consider Harold Pinter a misogynistic writer who has never written a gender-affirming dramatic part for a woman (unless the part has been conceived by another more sensitive writer in the course of one of his adaptations for the screen, e.g. works by Penelope Mortimer, Robin Maugham, L.P. Hartley, et al). In my own view, Pinter positively relishes victimhood, particularly when women are on the receiving end. I also consider much of his Mockney vernacular to be positively clunky and frequently unconvincing, with speeches more often than not shaped for an actors voice (his) rather than driven by the authentic character of the East End.

As the Swedish Academy, in its Nobel citation, commented, Pinter, the chronicler of random acts of verbal and physical violence, is a writer who uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppressions closed rooms.’  This is the familiar Pinterland we recognize, with invariably a forced entry that is more thuggish-for-thuggishness’s-sake than redemptory or cathartic art. In short, the verbal menace of the rapper has been validated.

Is such nihilistic rapping nourishing to mind and spirit? I remain unconvinced. As well ask Tarantino.

ut it is not this particular aspect of his writings that has triggered this rather sour digression of mine. My point in raising a question mark over Pinters stagecraft is to identify a seeming dullness and dreary sameness in the very building blocks of the constructions he has fashioned as an actor/playwright.

I have no doubt that somewhere in that vast archive of his, maintained by his literary estate,
he is to be found on record defending a Pinteresque theory that grounded speech and action require no more for their emergence than the promptings of a minimalist stage set of one glass of water or the contents of a bureau drawer. Well and good, as writerly theories go, until you note the striking similarity between the opening scenes of A Night Out (1959) and The Homecoming (1964).

Why should this be worthy of our notice, you might ask. Isnt this quibbling of no account? I dont think so.  I think the dramaturgical repetitiousness I intend to expose here actually indicates a paucity of creative energy (see my observations on Elizabeth Bishop, in this regard, and this deficit may also be observed in Pinters characterization of women.

I am talking here about LAY FIGURES and the delimited OUTER THRESHOLDS of an artist’s imagination. You must judge for yourself whether there are, rather obviously, lay figures in the following plays, written five years apart, and whether these figures are merely manipulated to forms that come, in the end, to resemble first year students extemporary acting exercises, of the kind favoured by their teachers,
which depend on the suggestibility of minimal props composed of humdrum domestic objects.
Have you seen my tie? Wheres my tie? A Night Out 1959. (5 seconds into opening act, a search for necktie.)
What have you done with the scissors? Wheres the scissors? The Homecoming 1964 (5 seconds into opening act, a search through drawers.)
I believe the playwright has nodded at these moments, like a liar who lacks the invention to perpetrate a new lie so falls back on an old one, daring to risk exposure*

(We should also observe that in these two instances the Rule of Chekhov’s Gun, the rule of dramatic foreshadowing, is broken. ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise dont put it there.)

An intimate correspondent of mine share my doubts as to Pinter’s stagecraft. Pinters claim to stylistic uniqueness, my correspondent maintains, is debatable.  The circularity of his riffs of looping, regrouping repetitious speech (in German theatre, such declamations are called arias) find its origin, my correspondent believes, in an earlier exponent, the popular dramatist and novelist, Patrick Hamilton.

Compare Pinters The Homecoming (1964) with Hamiltons Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse (1953). If you dont concede theres a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about their mannerisms that summons up a prickly sense of déjà vu, then at least admit that Pinter has strayed out of his East End manor on to Hamiltons turf.
You and I were made for each other ...  he had said, either breathlessly or passionately (she could not tell which) after a protracted kiss ...
            In what way? she had then tried. Tell me ...
            In every way, he had said. You must know. I mean the whole hog.
            [She] had been (and still was) mystified by the exact nature of [his] Whole Hog, which, for some weeks now, had been appearing in his conversation.
            How whole was this puzzlingly allegorical animal? ...
            And so she had then braced herself to force [him] to give a much clearer picture of his own conception of his own Hog.
            When you say whole hog, she had said, what do you mean, exactly?
Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse
LENNY (to TEDDY): ... And here he is upstairs with your wife for two hours and hasnt gone the whole hog. ... What do you make of it, Joey? You satisfied? Dont tell me youre satisfied without going the whole hog?
JOEY: Ive been the whole hog plenty of times. Sometimes ... you can be happy ... and not go the whole hog. Now and again ... you can be happy ... without going any hog.
TEDDY: He had her up there for two hours and he didnt go the whole hog.
The Homecoming

I summon to the witness stand two acute observers on the deceptions of art to anatomize further, with greater skill than my own, the inauthenticity of the creative impulse. 

Here they strip the bones off two carcasses.

First up, Robert Graves, the visionary poet, attempts to demystify the quiddative conundrum of good art and bad art when defining the distinction between good poetry and fake poetry. 

‘When is a fake not a fake?’ Graves asks.
Answer: ‘When the lapse of time has obscured the original sources ... and when the faker is so competent ... that even the incorruptible porter at Parnassus winks and says “Pass, friend!” This sort of hermit-crab, secure in stolen armour, becomes a very terror among simple whelks.’

Next up, Aldous Huxley: ‘There are slightly reckless good poets, and there are good poets who, at times, are extremely reckless...’ He then cites the conclusion of Yeats’s Byzantium to illustrate the ‘recklessness’ of his proposition: ‘That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.’

From which we can conclude that intoxication induced by language can leave us with a headache and, in the cold light of dawn, we must be alert to the duplicity of hermit crabs in stolen armour whose secondhand speeches will ultimately be found fitting only for declamation from the lower slopes of Parnassus.

* Pinter-watchers should also note the occurrence of that actor’s prop, the glass of water, reappearing in The Homecoming (1964), having rematerialised from the set of The Servant (1963) whose screenplay is by Harold Pinter, adapted from 1948 novella by Robin Maugham.

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