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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009
    Being tender with the victims of their own delusions
    Ariel Dorfman on Harold Pinter, this week:
    All power, all domination and liberation started there, he seemed to be saying, in those claustrophobic rooms where each word counts, each slight utterance needs to be accounted for, is paid for in some secret currency of hope or suffering. You want to free the world, free humanity, from oppression? Look inside, look sideways, look at the hidden violence of language. Never forget that language is where the other, parallel violence, the cruelty exercised on the body, originates.

    Two men waiting in a basement to kill somebody. An old tramp laying claim to a derelict room. A birthday celebration interrupted by intruders. A woman afraid of being evicted. A son who comes home to his dysfunctional family accompanied by an enigmatic wife. Primal scenes of betrayal that could be happening anywhere on our planet, embodiments of a vast and disquieting landscape of dread, the precarious condition inhabited by most of contemporary humanity, the neglected narrative of the 20th century.

    So it was natural that I projected on to those stories born in England the disturbing shadows of my own Latin America. How many men like Davies [from The Caretaker] crossed our Santiago streets? How many killers took their time in the Buenos Aires cellars of yesterday? How many would await us in the São Paulo cellars of tomorrow? And how to tell those stories, respecting the uncertainty of those existences on the rim of extinction, mercilessly stripping the masks forged out of the lives we made for ourselves, and yet also be gentle, oh so tender, with these victims of their own delusions?

    Pinter knew how.
    Pinter taught me, too 'how dramatic art can be poetic merely by delving into the buried rhythms of everyday speech'. And Dorfman also speaks for me in his observations that
    [Pinter] whispered to me that we often speak in order to hide, and perhaps avoid, what we are really feeling and thinking. He understood that if you push reality hard enough, it will end up exposing under its surface another dimension - fantastic, absurd, delirious. He suggested that the worst hallucinations of fear are not immune to the pendulum of humour.
    Much of this I noticed - or perhaps just intuited then - when studying his plays 25 years ago. A nascent influence, still to fully emerge for me. Today, acutely aware through various situations here, of the violence we wreak in our language, it's that call to find ways to 'respect the uncertainty of those existences on the rim of extinction' and to cultivate the gift of 'being tender with the victims of their own delusions' which move and challenge me the most.