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URI faculty address issues of Nobel Prize in Literature

Published: Thursday, November 10, 2005

Updated: Monday, February 28, 2011 18:02

11/10/05 - University of Rhode Island professor Gary Thurston and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Judith Swift discussed the history of the Nobel Prize and the contributions of this year's controversial winner in literature. A Cigar reporter and photographer were the only people in attendance.

Winner Harold Pinter, a British playwright, poet and screenwriter, is politically active and has publicly denounced President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for their actions in the war in Iraq, Swift said.

"There was a great controversy that arose when the award was given to him," Swift said. "The concluding point about Pinter is one often wonders about separating the politics and the person from the work. In February 2005 he announced he was going to abandon his career as a playwright and enter politics."

Swift said the London bombings during World War II that occurred when Pinter was a child influenced his works.

She read aloud excerpts from Pinter's plays, Last to Go, The Birthday Party, The Homecoming and Betrayal. Swift also read his poem, "God Bless America," which criticizes patriotic glorifications of war. Pinter emphasized sparse conversation and the precision of language in his works, Swift said. His sentences are usually simple and enigmatic and focus on the significance of silence. In Betrayal, Swift read an excerpt describing two lovers engaged in an adulterous relationship, but who fail to directly acknowledge it.

"What you hear is a clear situation in which the people involved recognize the cues from the other. They are testing the waters," she said.

Swift has directed several of Pinter's plays. "His stage directions are frequently longer than his sentences. Pinter's work can be maddening to the actor who likes the tidiness of a linear plot," she said. "Directing Pinter is a major challenge and joy. You must trust Pinter's genius."

Thurston, a URI history professor, opened the lecture with Alfred Nobel's biography, education and creation of the Nobel Prize.

"Alfred and his brothers were instructed solely by tutors," Thurston said. "[Alfred] acquired a large library and also read his way through the history of western philosophy."

Although born in Sweden, Alfred and his brothers spent a great deal of time in Russia. Thurston said the brothers came to be known as "the Russian Rockefellers."

When Alfred's brother died, a newspaper mistakenly wrote Alfred's obituary.

"The impact was a happy one because [Alfred] got to work rewriting his will, Thurston said. "The awards were to be given without consideration to nationality."

The Nobel Prize is awarded annually for contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. The Central Bank of Sweden created the Nobel Prize in economics in 1968 as a memorial to Nobel.

The URI chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society sponsored the lecture. The next lecture will be on the Nobel Prize in chemistry from Nov. 11 from 4 to 5 p.m. in Quinn Hall Auditorium.

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