34 Readers
17 Sages

shell pebble

Spectres with Stratagems

Plays 1: The Birthday Party / The Room / The Dumb Waiter / A Slight Ache / The Hothouse / A Night Out / The Black and White / The Examination - Harold Pinter

"There are two silences. One when no word is spoken. The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed. This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it. That is its continual reference. The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don't hear. It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place. When true silence falls we are still left with echo but are nearer nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.

We have heard many times the tired, grimy phrase: 'Failure of communication'... and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently. I believe the contrary. I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves. Communication is too alarming. To enter into someone else's life is too frightening. To disclose to others the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility."

So Pinter writes banal dialogue that is elevated (or debased) to absurdity by detachment from meaningful context or significance. It looks like a conversation (people together talking), sounds like a conversation (the lines are speakable) and has conversational content, yet it fails to be a conversation. I'm sure that in a theatre, this is agreeably, stimulatingly(!) disturbing, but on the page I personally find it very dull. People make the same complaint about Beckett, but I like reading Beckett: he makes me laugh, whereas Pinter makes me feel depressed! Somehow he always succeeds in creating a mood of foreboding or impending doom or just horrible emptiness, which I associate with depression.

This is probably a very feeble complaint, proving that I've missed the point entirely. I am annoyed with Pinter for not having his characters say anything, for leaving everything unchallenged. I am annoyed by his annoying women. He says that he allows his characters to do as they please, but they are all fringes of the same poisonous void, and there is no comfort in them anywhere. However, I would go to see a play of his, to see actors embody and breathe life into these spectres, to warm them up, and show me how wrong I am.