Harold Pinter

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Is there a relationship between Harold Pinter and Post-modernism?

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Pinter’s work moves past Modernism by suggesting that, underneath the surface plot and complications (see Ibsen or Chekhov), there is another, unspoken combat going on (what Pinter called “the weasel under the coffee table”) in human contacts.  In The Dumb Waiter the drama is not inherent so much in the characters on stage but rather in the unknown world on the invisible end of the dumbwaiter.  In Birthday Party it can be heard in the one word,  “Succulent”, giving a sinister and sexual undertone to the surface action.  Pinter uses stage language and appears to be present a typical human drama, but unlike the Modernists, is much more interested in staging the unspoken.  In this sense he can be included in Postmodernism, although not as obvious as Surrealism, Expressionism, and the other departures from Realism that are grouped under the heading “Post-Modernism.”

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Pinter’s work, namely his plays, frequently contained awkward pauses, ambiguous or confusing language and circuitous or endlessly wandering plots. He used these techniques to present the unreliability of language which was a theme explored by post-structuralists, deconstructionists and postmodernists. That is to say that language is based on arbitrary signs and each text, each word or each sign can be interpreted differently because of puns, irony and the general subjectivity of perception. So, his work illustrated one of the trends in postmodernism, as applied to literature, linguistics, philosophy and psychology, that all communication is ambiguous and subject to multiple ways of interpretation.

Additionally, postmodernists were skeptical of all systems of thought, government ideologies and cultural roles. In presenting confusing dialogue and wandering plots, Pinter illustrated skepticism in language, meaning and communication in real life. Some of his plays, such as The Birthday Party, depicted a Naturalistic or Realist setting on the surface. But the dialogue, plot and interaction of the characters unsettled this superficial Realism to reveal a depiction of existence as absurd, indeterminable and skeptical at all levels. These techniques mark the influences of Brecht and Beckett, the skepticism of postmodern literature and the “slipperiness” of meaning described by post-structural linguists and literary theorists.


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