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Harold Pinter and the absent ‘Center’

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The 'Absolute' and the Central Absence.
  3. Pinter: Unapologetic about the apparent lack of a concrete closure in his plays
  4. The Pinter'esque Masks.
  5. The Known and the Un-Known: Pinter's Character Division
  6. Onstage and off: A Pinter pause.
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

At the very beginning there is the structure. The structure is a skeleton, the premise, the base on which the flesh is arranged, systematically, so that a body maybe created. It may not always make itself palpable but if there is a structure then there must also be a center. A structure without a center is both incomplete and dysfunctional. This is because the lack of a center deludes the very purpose of organization the structure is meant to serve. The center maintains this strict level of organization in a variety of ways. For the purpose it not just ?orients' and ?balances' the structure, but also effectively reduces or ?limits' the extent of ?play' in it. The center therefore is a reductionist tool. Its inherent purpose is at the level of ?reducing' or ?neutralizing'.

[...] She is undoubtedly not untroubled by the greeting she has just received from father-in-law (Max) but in classic Pinter style she holds on to her mask tightly and shows nothing. Peter Hall insists that this masquerade is what finally stirs the audience. ?It's not the mask' he clarifies not the control, but what's underneath, that's what upsets them, that's what terrifies and moves them'. Pinter makes no attempt to lay this underbelly bare in front of his audience. Hence, he merely suggests and effectively cajoles his audience into a supposition. [...]


[...] BILL goes to the cigarette box and lights a cigarette. Is she supposed to have resisted me at all?[33] Bill's deliberate pauses in this section build the power hierarchy that James effectively dislodges in the section quoted above. Here Bill's break in dialogues is a ploy used to further both James' and the audiences' anxiety. Bill's contradictory sentences are hinged together by his pauses. Thus the gaps are meant to torture James. Is he admitting his liaison with Stella? Is he denying it? [...]


[...] While realism was about playing according to the rules, using reasonably direct symbols, explaining itself ultimately and ?methodically crossing the t's and dotting the i's'[3] Pinter characteristically plays around with ambiguity, never bothers to explain himself and invariably leaves his t's uncrossed and i's undotted. While realist plots led to a final resolution, satisfying the natural human instinct to ?want to know' by the end of their narratives and thereby provided their readers/audience with what Barthes terms the ?Oedipal Pleasure of the text'[4] Pinter's plays builds up around an assumption of finality and ultimately leaves the audience hankering by offering them an empty abyss to find their own answers in. [...]

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