Sunday, December 11, 2005

Notes on Pinter's Lecture, part 2

In his nobel lecture, Harold Pinter proposes that art might allow "a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation." (He is referring specifically to his play The Birthday Party.) "Political language," by contrast, "does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians ... are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power."

Now as I pointed out earlier, Pinter does not think that art is interested in truth either, certainly not the truth. For the artist, "a thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false." So, on the basis of Pinter's remark about political language, we can construct a grammatically similar statement about art.

The majority of artists are interested not in truth but in beauty and in the maintenance of that beauty.

But there's one more thing. To be fair, politicians are arguably not interested directly in power but in justice; their interest in power is only an interest in the maintenance of the means to accomplish justice. (There will, of course, be differences of opinion about what is just: these are "political" differences.) Likewise, artists are interested not in truth (nor in justice) but in beauty and in the maintenance of the intensity to achieve it.

I am not saying that Pinter's complaints about political lying are completely irrelevant. I am suggesting a different standard against which to hold them accountable.

Finally, I'm still trying to hold my ground on the idea that philosophy and poetry are the presence that stretches between our scientific and political representations. Science is objective in the (still somewhat unfamiliar) sense that it produces and transforms objects (of knowledge). Politics is subjective in the same sense: it produces and transforms subjects (of power), i.e., it "subjugates".

Politics is not about whether to subjugate or not; it is about how to subjugate. And this is how I think poetry is specifically related to politics.

I think that a good poem should do what Pinter says his play The Birthday Party does. It should present "a whole range of options" that "operate in a dense forest of possibility" and should then "focus on an act of subjugation." It should not of course actually carry out this act of subjugation.

My somewhat uncomfortable point, here, is that it should leave that to the politicians.

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