Show me again 'n' again
What we show, let it be the skeleton box, the hidden garden, the window as a frame for an instance of life, or as a frame for the curtain that depicts a scene of life, or conceals a whole perspective of life, is a lot of quicksand. Selective and partial as we are, we can easily shake the impression of others. Almost no one knows us, and we know almost no one. "I know him": what a pompous overstatement, after all...
I was reading Harold Pinter these days, a favorite playwright to me, and his "Betrayal" in particular. Three people (this is the Dorian structure he prefers, A, B, C mixing and becoming the truth formula to each other) negotiate on events of betrayal. What is the correct presentation of the links among them? 1.Jerry and Robert are best friends from college, publishers of the literary magazines of their universities, colleagues later on in the publishing business. 2. Emma is married to Robert, 3. Jerry and Emma have a long affair, after she got married to Robert, and almost for most of her married life. Fine. So the issue is: when did the other part know? When did Robert know? When did Emma admit it to him? When did Jerry know that Robert knew? When did Robert admit to Jerry that he knew? When did Emma told Jerry that Robert knew? The facts are simple as that. But here again , it is the moment of admitted knowledge that makes the truth. It is not a play about betrayal as a sexual/moral violation, but a betrayal about the instance of revelation. Partial knowledge is the raw material for a multilayer betrayal, and time is its artisan. The majesty in Pinter's lines is his simple style. It goes as follows:
a. 1977: Emma and Jerry meet after long time in a pub, and they discuss the end of their affair, some two years ago. She says that she divorces Robert, and by the way she admitted to him her affair with Jerry.
b. 1977 (later): Jerry meets Robert rather anxious, to discuss or even to apologize for having an affair with his almost ex-wife. Robert says that Emma told him some four years ago, so he knew all this period that they were behaving "normal".
c. 1975: Emma and Jerry meet in their love-nest-flat. They discuss how things got different. How and why they stopped meeting. They decide to quit the flat and the relationship, to sell for "few quid" the furniture.
d. 1974: Jerry visits Robert and Emma at home. They discuss work, he talks about his overloaded schedule. Emma suffers and Robert is supportive to her.
e. 1973: Robert and Emma are in Venice. They plan a short trip. At some point, Robert says she has a letter at the poste restante, he did not pick it for her. She says that it is from Jerry. Robert knew from the handwriting. Emma admits her relationship to him and gives all the details (the flat, the duration...)
f. 1973 (later): Jerry and Emma in their flat, after her return from Venice. They are in love, she does not tell him about the revelation that took place in Venice. It shows that Jerry is not willing to change his life for being constantly with her.
g. 1973(later): Jerry and Robert meet for lunch, in an Italian restaurant. They discuss work, Venice, and Robert does not confess to Jerry that he knows.
h. 1971: Jerry and Emma in their flat-love nest. They are crazily in love. Emma is worried whether Judith (Jerry's wife) suspects anything. Jerry denies that. They admit that they are faithful to each other (in their affair.)
i. 1968: Jerry visits the newly married couple (Robert and Emma). At a moment, while heavily drunk, he has a go on her. He compliments, he proposes, he begs. She reacts quietly, reminding him of the setting in their relations. Robert comes at some point. He takes the whole thing lightheartedly and reassures Jerry about him being his most dear friend.
Hmmmmmmmmmmm... Time makes all the job. When? (and secondarily Who? What?) In retrospection all the previous certainties get dynamically undermined. The spectator wonders, trying to remember and reinterpret what he has already watched happening.
Pinter is great, and his televised speech "Art, Truth and Politics" for the Swedish Academy at the Nobel Prize Award event (December 2005) is of the strongest texts I have read during the past few years, especially when it gets aggressive towards the US policy during the last 5 decades, a policy of aggression:
'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'
I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art.