A Mother's Touch: Harold Pinter and the Corporeality of Ethics

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Taking place around and within a military prison, Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language presents a national military’s violent attempt to outlaw a mountain people’s language. The conflict between the military personnel and an injured Elderly Woman who waits to visit her imprisoned son situates this ban and its effects. But the common qualification that the work is one of Pinter’s “political plays” obfuscates its uniquely ethical dimension. In order to discern the play’s ethical intervention, it is necessary to read her and her son’s words and actions in relation to the mountain language itself. Doing so reveals that Mountain Languages situates its ethical significance in the figure of the maternal body. This figure precipitates a form of corporeal cohabitation—a touch shared by two bodies that makes it impossible to distinguish completely where one body ends and the other begins—that not only troubles the distinction between self and other that often foregrounds theater and performance studies’ “ethical turn,” but that also makes it necessary to reimagine the political itself. Such a matter bears on the performance of the play insofar as the only sound that the Elderly Woman’s silent stillness emits during its conclusion is that of the actor’s body who plays her. In this setting, the sound produced by the actor’s body touches the body of the spectator, inspiring them to find the language to undo the “terrible trap” that the play depicts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalModern Drama
StateAccepted/In press - Jun 2022


  • Mountain Language
  • Politics
  • Deconstruction
  • Tragedy
  • Maternity


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