Nobel Prize for Literature

by Chris Bertram on October 13, 2005

MEG: Have you got your paper?

PETEY: Yes thanks.

MEG: That’s nice? Anything interesting?

PETEY: Not really.

MEG: That’s nice.

PETEY: “Someone won a prize”: .

MEG: That’s nice. Who?

PETEY: I don’t think you’d know him.

MEG: What’s his name?

PETEY: Harold.

MEG: I don’t know him.




Jimmy Doyle 10.13.05 at 10:21 am



nick s 10.13.05 at 10:26 am



otto 10.13.05 at 10:42 am

[ho ho ho]


Ginger Yellow 10.13.05 at 10:59 am

HAROLD: Bollocks!


des von bladet 10.13.05 at 10:59 am

[If any of your other Bristol readers are wondering what happened to a certain volume of plays in the Oxfam bookshop at the top of Park Street, I would remind them that I do after all speak Zwedish.]


apthorp 10.13.05 at 11:26 am



Randy Paul 10.13.05 at 12:44 pm

1.) “I had a bit o’ bad luck.”

2.) “What do they call the cowboys in Argentina?”


“No, those are their raincoats.”

“No, their raincoats are called cloaks.”

Well, not from a play but a screenplay.


bob 10.13.05 at 2:30 pm

What do they call the cowboys in Argentina?”
“No, those are their raincoats.”

Just like Fibber McGee and Molly (Jim and Marian Jordan):

Molly: My grandfather was eighty years old before
he discovered he was an octegenarian.
Fibber: Oh I thought he ate meat.


bert 10.13.05 at 3:45 pm

I thought the winger mutterings about El Baradei getting the Peace Prize was the usual paranoia. This however is starting to look like a pattern.

For American readers especially, here is the new laureate’s most recent poetry:

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America’s God.
The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn’t join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who’ve forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America’s God.

The acceptance speech should be fun.


decon 10.13.05 at 4:22 pm

It’s not my taste either, but glass houses & stones….


Bob B 10.13.05 at 5:05 pm

Those absolutely desperate to know more about Harold Pinter can find more extensive and illuminating biographical detail here:

The Wikipedia entry includes a reference to a seven-year affair between Pinter and Joan Bakewell, a well-known TV presenter in Britain who was once (rather aptly) described by the humourist Frank Muir as “the thinking-man’s crumpet.”


Brainster 10.13.05 at 5:51 pm

The Grammy Award for Song of the Year will be “My Sweet Neocon”.


Sebastian Holsclaw 10.13.05 at 7:26 pm

The playwright is known for speaking out on issues like the war on Iraq.

Pinter told reporters: “I’ve been writing plays for about fifty years and I’m also pretty politically engaged. And I’m not at all sure to what extent that fact, that fact had anything to do with this award.

I’m so surprised. At least he is honest enough to admit that it might be his politics that got him the nod.


Matt Weiner 10.13.05 at 10:18 pm

Are you familiar with his plays, Sebastian?


Neil 10.13.05 at 11:35 pm

It’s likely that something beyond Pinter’s literary work is relevant to the timing of the prize, but it’s not (only) his political views. Pinter has cancer, and the academy has moved to honor him before it is too late.


snuh 10.14.05 at 12:58 am

so they’re gonna keep putting philip roth off until he gets cancer?


Bob B 10.14.05 at 1:33 am

The [London] Times, a Murdoch owned paper, seems to think that the award to Pinter is timely and well merited:

“HE HAS been showered with awards and is revered worldwide, but Harold Pinter, one of Britain’s greatest playwrights, received the ultimate accolade yesterday . . ”,,2-1825147,00.html


john m. 10.14.05 at 4:31 am

Does everything have to be about the Iraq war? Seriously, this appears to tipping over into paranoia. 75 year old well known English playwright wins Nobel prize for literature? What are the odds? As for the peace prize: it is by its nature a political prize – accusing it of being so is idiotically redundant.


bert 10.14.05 at 5:25 am

John, the question is not whether there is any political content, but what form the political content takes. With the peace prize, the larger message was that multilateralism and rule-based process offers the best approach to proliferation. By implication, the unilateral use of force doesn’t.

As I mentioned, I thought the twitterings of the wingnuts who saw this as decadent anti-Americanism were signs of paranoia. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Pinter’s plays do nothing for me. And as the verse above shows, he’s hardly been nominated for services to poetry.

“Does everything have to be about the Iraq war?” It’s not just the war. 9/11, and what the Bush administration made of it, are disasters on a historic scale. The tendency to deal with criticism by seeking to destroy opponents, often resorting to the dirtiest of dirty tricks and with the gutless compliance of the domestic press, has allowed the disaster to worsen unchecked. If the Nobel Committee is now deploying its principal asset – its international prestige – to shore up the defences, good for them.


john m. 10.14.05 at 5:40 am


I don’t actually disagree with your point but you emphasise rather than contradict mine – because you do not rate Pinter (I’m presuming it was his plays that got him the nod) you make a leap to assume that the Nobel committee were swayed by his politics. This may in fact be true but is not an axiomatic assumption of his nomination. They may just really like his plays. As for your comment on the peace prize it underlines mine – it is a politcal prize.


bert 10.14.05 at 5:45 am

They may just really like his plays.


bert 10.14.05 at 5:45 am



bert 10.14.05 at 5:46 am

Fair enough, suppose.


abb1 10.14.05 at 6:42 am

Excellent poem in #9, I must say. From all angles.


Grandma Lausch 10.14.05 at 7:18 am

Which is the odd one out: Tolstoi, Chekhov, Pinter, Proust?

Answer: Pinter – he was also a poet


Randy Paul 10.14.05 at 8:37 am


The key quote from the servant is this part:

“No, their raincoats are called cloaks.”

makes it a lot different than Fibber Magee and Molly.


Jimmy Doyle 10.14.05 at 9:12 am

If the Nobel Committee is now deploying its principal asset – its international prestige – to shore up the defences, good for them.

This is an amazing sentence. If it is true — and I have no idea whether it is — that the Nobel Committee is awarding a prize ostensibly for literary merit primarily in order to further a political agenda (however laudable), how long do you think its ‘international prestige’ as a literary prize will last?


Herschel Zimonas 10.14.05 at 10:31 am

After fourty years of creative impotence, Pinter gets a Nobel: have they run out of Austrian S&M women? Now he will ‘stink the place out’ (“The Caretaker”) in Stockholm with his rabid anti-Americanism


ed_finnerty 10.14.05 at 10:39 am

Hey Sebastian

“I know some philosophers who would envy you your certainty”


Robin 10.14.05 at 11:23 am

Jimmy, the literature and peace prizes have been criticize since day 1, the former since Sully Prudhomme beat out Tolstoy. And the peace prize was given to Kissinger!!!


bert 10.14.05 at 11:54 am

Two points, Jimmy.

The first, already made above, is that I honestly cannot explain this prize purely as a recognition of literary merit. John M made the fair point that everyone’s a critic and I could well be wrong.

The second is that Pinter himself would probably question your view that his work can be divorced cleanly from its political content.
While he was about it he’d probably call you a bloody bastard. About which he might well be wrong as well.


abb1 10.14.05 at 12:10 pm

The Nobel Foundation is established under the terms of the will of the engineer Dr. Alfred Bernhard Nobel, drawn up on November 27, 1895, which in its relevant parts states:

…one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1971

Presentation Speech by Karl Ragnar Gierow, of the Swedish Academy

According to Nobel’s will, as we have just heard, the prize is to reward work in “an ideal direction”.

The spirit of Nobel’s will tells us what he had in mind. The contribution must be one which will benefit mankind.


engels 10.14.05 at 1:22 pm

What sickens me is the way they keep giving the Peace Prize to anti-war people.


Alison 10.14.05 at 2:35 pm

Bert: I honestly cannot explain this prize purely as a recognition of literary merit.

Herschel: he will ‘stink the place out’

Man, you are talking about Harold Pinter. Harold Pinter? Get it?

This is like that guy last year saying Gunter Grass was a Nazi.


Karlotta 10.14.05 at 5:39 pm

Merely ok. The spoof from the BBC website was MUCH more Pinteresque:

Jack: So …. [pause]
Jack: So he won then. [pause]
Jill: Yes.
Jack: Yes. [longer pause]
Jack: He waited long enough.
Jill: Yes.
Jack: Yes … he did. [pause]
Jill: Yes, he certainly waited long enough.
Jack: Words. [pause]
Jill: What?
Jack: Words, in conversion, he was good at that. [pause]
Jill: Yes … he waited long enough.
Jack: I think… [pause]
Jill: …and pauses, he was good at that too.
Jack: Yes.
Jill: Yes. [pause]
Jack: Yes. [pause] I think his word/time ratio was the smallest ever heard.
Jill: Yes.
Jack: Yes. [pause]
Jill: Yes, he waited long enough…
Jack: Well done, that’s what they say…
Jill: Yes, they do say that…
Jack: Well done, like the toast… [long pause]… How’s your cornflakes, then?
… and so on..


bert 10.14.05 at 5:44 pm

Bit oblique.
Care to explain how this is like that?


Alison 10.14.05 at 6:08 pm

Gunter Grass has a huge body of exceptional work, and a deep and complex mind. The criticism of him seemed shallow to me.


John Quiggin 10.14.05 at 6:22 pm

“By implication, the unilateral use of force doesn’t [advance the goals of the prize]”

As Engels says, it is called a Peace Prize.


Dan Simon 10.14.05 at 6:37 pm

so they’re gonna keep putting philip roth off until he gets cancer?

No, just until he writes something worth reading.


bert 10.14.05 at 8:18 pm

Ah, shallow criticism bothers you.
Throwing around hyperbolic comparisons with Nazism.


Actually, I haven’t offered any criticism of Pinter. I stated plainly that I don’t like his stuff. It’s a view that’s more common in Britain than abroad I gather. Now its late in London and I’m going to bed. Night all.


bert 10.14.05 at 8:26 pm

Of course, feel free to come back at me, Alison or anyone else. Not cutting you off. If the thread’s still going tomorrow I’ll doubtless pitch in.


abb1 10.15.05 at 5:52 am

Some comparisons with Nazism are stupid, others are hyperbolic, yet others are quite accurate. Mr. Pinter’s opinion seems quite sensible.


bert 10.15.05 at 9:07 am

Abb1, you’re a fixture round here and I know as far as you’re concerned no criticism of Bush is too strong. To my ears though, Pinter sounds plonking and babyish. In a similar way, Michael Moore’s theories about pipeline contracts seem convoluted and redherringish.
There is an overwhelming case to be made against Bush that is at the same time coherent and reasoned. The centre ground can be rallied against these vermin. It was tragic that the one person needed to make that case in those terms – John Kerry – utterly failed to do so.
As a result I’m left halfheartedly applauding the Nobel Committee for shaking a puny fist on our behalf.


abb1 10.15.05 at 10:54 am

‘coherent and reasoned’ is in the eyes of the beholder. I thought he sounded just fine in the Guardian piece you linked – is there something in particular there you find incoherent or unreasonable?

The centre ground between what extremes? I agree that the pipeline thing is nonsense, yet Pinter’s claim that US is charging towards world domination seems right on the money, so what’s your problem, what does the pipeline have to do with this?


bert 10.15.05 at 3:33 pm

The most dangerous power that ever existed … There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany.

To me that’s overcooked.
But then again, you liked the poem.
We settled the aesthetic differences on this thread by chalking it up to personal taste. Might be the best course here.
And its just possible Bush might come up again on this site … look forward to picking the discussion up then.


abb1 10.15.05 at 4:05 pm

That it’s the most dangerous power that ever existed is a trivial truth. That it’s beyond reason now is obvious – messianic goals are being declared openly and frequently.

As far as ‘only one comparison‘ – yeah, you do have a point here.

Comments on this entry are closed.