In homage to the Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter’s acceptance speech testifies to gifts of inspiration; hints of realms apart within; callings to craft that expose writers to tempestuous solitudes where lines between truth and unreality are not marked out in advance, where things press against each other in duality, both untrue and real at the same time.
That the writer who is driven into realms of edginess and duality can still keep a cold eye on profanity, horror, and outlandish hypocrisy is what Pinter then sets out to prove. His object lesson is the USA. By the time he is finished, we have a perfect ice sculpture of American immanence. One should take 46 minutes to see the words played out to their full and freezing effect.
One thing Pinter does not confess is that the writer sometimes presents a carefully chosen lie that begs to be decried. This prophetic lie is not to be confused with what Pinter calls the political lie that aims to keep truth well buried under phrases like “the American people”. The prophetic lie is what Pinter delivers when he states that “he most saleable commodity” being pushed by the juggernaut of the USA is “self love”.
We know that Pinter is not accepting the USA’s brand of ‘self love’ as self love itself, because for 46 minutes, Pinter practices a kind of self love that would freeze such salesmanship at the doorstep. And we know that any people comforted by the sound of their own name can have no real capacity for self love, because self love must have something to do with self knowledge, but knowledge is precisely what “the American people” do not seek at the sound of their own name.
So when Pinter hisses at the USA for selling ‘self love’ on the global market, he is really provoking us to argue that it’s not real ‘self-love’ that the USA is selling. The problem goes that deep.
On the 13th of December, twelve days before Christmas, the governor of California decided not to stop the execution of Tookie Williams. Fantasy blurs into reality. The governor could never have been elected without first making himself real to the American people through fantasy projections of obligatory violence, heavily capitalized and mass produced. Fantasy gunslinger, property developer, the state’s executioner in chief. A kind of ‘self love’ is being sold in the governor’s tale. Is this not the kind of ‘self-love’ that Pinter accuses the USA of exporting?
But ask Tookie Williams (as Phil Gasper asked him) where do the problems of real-life gang violence begin and he told you the answer is ‘self-hate’. The ‘self-love’ so well commodified in Schwarzenegger (a minstrel name if ever there was one) is minted in a dual economy that also circulates ‘self-hate’. The same fantasy machine that lifts the Aryan upward churns whirlpools for others, tugging them down into gulags for life.
This is Pinter’s provocation: are “the American people” practicing real ‘self-love’? The kind of self love that Martin Luther King, Jr. once called ‘somebodiness’ and that serves as the first condition of empowerment? If it was ‘somebodiness’ we were practicing, wouldn’t we be a little busier about our own freedoms at home? Wouldn’t we care not to be the kind of people who send black ops around the world and then pretend not to see? Isn’t there a kind of self love that demands something from us long before we have to be needled into noticing that we have in fact given up our ‘self-love’ to a commodified political lie?
There is a kind of self-love that answers to the crisis we are in, and I’m sure Pinter knows it, but it is not the kind that he sees us selling, and so he spits the lie right back into our faces. Will we swallow it? If we are selling such a deeply counterfeit value to the world, are we capable of being ashamed about it? In a nation preparing for holy days of shopping, have we lost our capacity to be provoked by Pinter’s allegation of counterfeit love?
Somewhere it is written that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Yet we have long holiday debates about torture and human rights. This is what happens when you turn your self-love into snake oil. Commodify the self-love that you plug into the golden rule, and you forge an ironclad alibi for worldwide scourge. Question is, America, do we have the shame needed to tell Pinter that we recognize his prophetic lie?
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.