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Ariel Dorfman and Harold Pinter: Politics of the Periphery and Theater of the Metropolis Stephen Gregory The skeleton of this article is what looks like a string of contingencies. The Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman's first book was a lengthy study of Harold Pinter's first play The Room (1957).1 Some twenty years later, Pinter would date his political reawakening from the same coup in Chile by General Pinochet in 1973 that would condemn Dorfman to a seventeen-year exile.2 In the mid to late 1980's, Pinter wrote two brutally stark political plays about torture and repression.3 Shortly afterwards, Dorfman dedicated to Harold Pinter his own English translation of his play La muerte y la doncella {Death and the Maiden), set "in a country that is probably Chile, but could be any country that has given itself a democratic government just after a long period of dictatorship ."4 In 1991, Pinter's sketch The New World Order was used as a curtain-raiser to the London production of Dorfman's play.5 To flesh out these bare bones, the chronological starting point, then, is Dorfman (b. 1942), a promising young critic, working out of the unlikely place (in the context of Pinter studies, at least) of the capital of a distant third-world country,6 who devotes his first full-length exercise in literary analysis to a playwright from London a mere twelve years his senior. This initial connection turns much later into a friendship between two highly acclaimed creative writers who meet on an equal footing, when Pinter is instrumental in getting Dorfman's first play about the Chilean political scene produced in London, after his own writing for the theater has been transformed by his new-found interest in the politics of Chile and Central America, the Middle-East, and, of course, Britain under Margaret Thatcher. To plot this trajectory , I open with a summary of the writers' respective political involvements and commitments, continue with an analysis of the relevant plays, and close with a retrospective political reading of 325 326Comparative Drama Dorfman's study of Pinter to show how it anticipates both the concerns of his later work on Latin America and the issues that will unite the two writers some twenty years after its publication. For those who have followed Dorfman's intellectual and literary development from the studies of cultural imperialism such as How to Read Donald Duck (1971, written with his colleague Armando Mattelart)7 and his detailed unraveling of the ideological underpinnings of comics and the Reader's Digest (1980),8 composed under the influence of the emancipatory socialist policies of Salvador Allende's government, through the numerous fictions, poems, plays, essays, and articles of his long period in exile,9 it can come as no surprise that in Death and the Maiden he takes up a theme of immediate political relevance to the early post-dictatorship era. As he himself says, "My work is political, to begin with, because my life is very political—and one writes about one's life, right?"10 Dorfman's definition of politics is short but to the point: "Politics for me is the way in which moral issues are worked out in terms of power."11 Referring more specifically to Latin America, to the probable chagrin of some of his leftwing readers, Dorfman inverts the normal Marxist relationship between politics and economics: "The basic dilemma of Latin America today is not socialism or capitalism, but democracy or dictatorship"; nevertheless, this opinion certainly explains why "[p]ower and language are, above all, what draw me as a writer." He expands this eloquently: "as an intellectual I am constantly being placed in a position in which I am asked to choose between equality and freedom. I am working extremely hard to create a life and a world where I don't have to ask that question about being in a lifeboat and who I am going to throw out, the artist or the peasant."12 Harold Pinter's political evolution requires more lengthy treatment. For playgoers brought up on the early so-called "comedies of menace" (The Dumbwaiter, The Birthday Party, The Caretaker) and...


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pp. 325-345
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