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The Death of Harold Pinter

Lawrence Bush
December 24, 2017

Playwright Harold Pinter, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005, died in London at 78 on this date in 2008. Pinter was evacuated from that city during World War II and experienced numerous instances of British antisemitism in the course of his childhood, but he was always reluctant to identify passionately as a Jew except in dissent on Jewish political issues, including Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories. His twenty-nine plays include The Birthday Party(1958), The Dumb Waiter (1959), The Homecoming (1964) and other “comedies of menace” that feature pedestrian situations that erupt into absurdity and danger; Landscape (1968), No Man’s Land (1975) and other “memory plays”; and a series of plays on political themes that include Precisely (1983, about nuclear annihilation), The New World Order (1991, about torture), and Celebration (2000, about class culture). Pinter also wrote nearly thirty screenplays and was very active as an actor. The Nobel Academy cited his work for “uncover[ing] the precipice under everyday prattle and forc[ing] entry into oppression’s closed rooms.” In his Nobel address, he called the U.S. war in Iraq an “arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public,” and condemned Great Britain for its participation in the war.”

“You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.” —Harold Pinter

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.