VI. "A Postmodern Exercise Involving Two Writers, and Some Theories (not necessarily their own) Expressed on Subjectivity"
The following is an excerpt of a conversation between playwright Harold Pinter and poet/novelist Jack Kerouac. There have been taken certain liberties with the transcript of said conversation — such as replacing antecedents, which in written form may be unclear, with nouns of the transcriber's own choosing; also (but in a very small way) the author of said transcript would like to acknowledge that he or she may be leading the reader of said conversation to believe that it actually took place, and that the two writers may actually agree with anything being said.
While consequence should not be dismissed as impossible, the author furthermore acknowledges that if a conversation akin to the one recorded here was, in any part, actually spoken by either Mr. Pinter or Mr. Kerouac, there is no implication that this hypothetical consequence occurred at the same time and place randomly chosen by the transcriber. But the incident with the parrot is entirely, unabashedly, spiritually, but not quite literally, true. Or so I've been led to believe by one Julian Barnes.
The text is recorded from a verbal account of a witness to the conversation, who happened to be serving drinks to the writers in question. Working his days as a roofer, said waiter has always had a penchant for eaves-dropping.
A small café outside the Arts Theatre, Cambridge, England, on April 28, 1958. We join the conversation in medias res, just after the two men have left the opening show of Pinter's new play, The Birthday Party.
Jack Kerouac: So how do you think things went tonight?
Harold Pinter: I was about to ask you the same thing.
JK: So you want to know what I think?
HP: It would be nice to know, yes.
JK: rustling out some papers from a leather satchel. Alright, fine. But I want you to listen to this first. He reads from a paperback book.
Without assuming that a text independently generates a determinate, trans-historical and universally recognizable reading, it can, of course, be argued not only that an intimate relationship exists between ideology and specific reading practices, but also that these reading practices are fostered by some texts rather than others.
HP: hmm. What's that from? A lot of big words in there.
JK: It's Catherine Belsey. From page 52 of the second edition of her book Critical Practice.
HP: I have a response to it, but first I want to hear you cite it in MLA format so that the transcriber doesn't get into trouble for plagiarizing.
JK: punctuation spoken aloud (Belsey, 52).
HP: Why are we talking about this, isn't it all getting recorded for a column in ThreeImaginaryGirls.com? Do you really think people will read this?
JK: Maybe, I don't know. Hopefully they will. Some cool shit is going to happen, I can feel it.
HP: Yeah. Jack nods, then, taking out a pack of cigarettes, offers one to HP. They exchange a lighter in the same way. The initials "AG" are engraved into the side of the metal lighter. Harold pensively breathes out a cloud, then, leans forward to respond. Okay, so I'm assuming that you are quoting this Belsey person, in your lovely misdirecting way, to somehow tell me what you think about my play.
Beat. Jack is silent.
HP: Well fuck then. I would guess that you hated it, because all that quote says is that you and I are going to have different opinions because we are different people from different places. I wrote the thing, of course I'm going to look at it differently. You're being more absurd than me.
(TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: It is here unclear whether or not Pinter was thinking about Stephen Dedalus. For to the transcriber of this conversation, the connection between the events herein being recorded is most similar to the Telemachus episode in James Joyce's Ulysses, in which Stephen's thoughts about a comment to Buck Mulligan are: "Parried again. He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his." (U, I: 152-153). But this connection would most likely be due to the specific circumstance of the transcriber's perspective, being a die-hard fan of all things James Joyce. It seems, therefore, that Pinter may be correct in saying Kerouac will think differently.)
JK: Okayokayokayokay. I need to point out a couple of things right now.
HP: smugly Bollocks. You're just bollocks.
JK: Oh, nevermind the bollacks.
HP: Tell me what you thought about the play! I just told you it doesn't matter what I think, it matters what you think. Trust me. Some literature, I'm sure, exists in which an ideology will force a homogenous reading upon one society, where we would think the same, but that would only…well, to use the example of September 11 from before, a book called Terror in a Tower will of course, in most of the world today, be generally associated with that day. Likewise, from the note from the transcriber, Ulysses obviously has such a title so that people will draw the connection between Leopold Bloom and Homer's Odyssey.
JK: Sort of like how if someone wasn't paying attention to the stage directions, and wasn't familiar with the Beat Generation, they wouldn't have noticed that we used a lighter, probably stolen from Allen Ginsberg, to light our cigarettes a little bit ago.
HP: Exactly. For a modern literature professor, the engraving of "AG" on the lighter was probably obvious to be Ginsberg…but that's not to say the lighter still might not have belonged to Anne Geddes. Both laugh hysterically.
JK: regaining control of his laughter. He leans forward, then back, then sighs loudly before beginning. You know, Harold, I'll tell you what I think about the play, but first I think I need to point out some things.
JK: Okay…one thing – you made reference to September 11. Need I remind you that it is 1958 and that whole event has yet to occur? Also, I'm pretty sure Anne Geddes hasn't started mass-producing pictures of babies dressed up as flowers yet, so I don't see why you're referencing her.
HP: It's just a little post-modern self-reflexivity. I'm sure whoever is recording this conversation for posterity is taking a few liberties.
Suddenly, a giant parrot descends from above the clouded English night sky. Green and blue, yellow and red, the giant bird drops from the stars with a loud "KAAAAAAWWWWWWW!!!" HP and JK duck for cover beneath the table. A large Frenchman sits atop the mammoth bird, laughing at the puny, cowering writers. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, parrot and Frenchman disappear.
JK: Was that Flaubert?
HP: I think so. His parrot too.
A young boy, only about thirteen or fourteen years of age, had witnessed the whole episode. He was enamored, and wrote on his hand a reminder. At the call of his group of friends, "Julian, hurry the bloody up! We've got to study those last ten and a half chapters for Mr. Braithwaite's world history exam tomorrow!" Exit the children and other random allusions.
JK: That was weird.
HP: Indeed. Imagine the different readings readers could take from the passage.
JK: You mean as in whether or not they have read Flaubert they will have different readings?
HP: No, I meant more as in whether or not they have read Julian Barnes…but at least we're getting somewhere with this whole discussion. Let&#
39;s think of this conversation, this specific recording, for when it is typed out, it will be a sort of text. Agreed?
JK: Agreed. But didn't you want to talk about your play?
HP: Yes, but just a minute. If I explain it with regards to what we just saw, it will be easier to notice later, you know, in case it comes up in your reading. Okay, so let me find another book here. Rummages through a rucksack. You ever think we carry around too many books?….nevermind. Okay, here it is. This is Roland Barthes' essay "The Death of the Author."
Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.
That's from page 142. What I mean by quoting that is just to say that an author should not, and here according to Barthes, does not, have control over the reading of his or her text. JK: This is what you've been saying all along.
JK: Well let me tell you what I thought, so that we get this over with without too much hassle. Takes a drink of his espresso, lights another cigarette with a different lighter, this one with the initials WB on the side.
(TRANSCRIBERS NOTE: Perhaps Warren Beatty, but some think Warner Brothers. More than likely William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and Junky.)
Jack begins. The one thing that can be said for certain is you do not wish for your plays to be easily understood -much like this conversation. Anyways, a long discussion of hermeneutics here will just be boring for the reader. How about if we just whisper? They whisper for some time, Harold nodding in assent.
HP: Good job.
JK: Was I right on the money?
HP: You should know better than to ask that question. It doesn't matter. As far as the text is concerned, I'm dead.
JK: Well I've got to get rolling. I have to meet Burroughs for lunch at the nudist colony tomorrow, so I need to get some sleep.
HP: A naked lunch? They both laugh.
Exit Mr. Kerouac left.
Mr. Pinter scratches his head. A parrot flies in and lands on Mr. Pinter's left shoulder.
HP: I know, believe me I know.
A waiter enters, completely in tears. Harold consoles him in a long embrace.
Waiter: I think we are all crazy criers, for no reason but something silent and far away.
HP: You miss Seattle, don't you?
Waiter: Yes, yes I do.