The Inky Digit of Defiance by Tony Harrison
Tony Harrison: shares Dennis Potter’s intelligent passion and Harold Pinter’s political commitment.
The Inky Digit of Defiance: Selected Prose 1966-2016 by
Harrison oversees a lifetime’s work from his eyrie in Delphi, the centre of ancient Greece, having travelled from his second World War working-class childhood in Leeds. There he was the only one “who used his literacy to read” and so became the poet of theatre and film who “used his poetic gift as a public vehicle to give voice to the poor and oppressed”. He shares Dennis Potter’s intelligent passion and Harold Pinter’s political commitment. This book is great on the technicalities of verse in theatre, especially on Moliere’s The Misanthrope. It is endlessly interesting as in his search for the African hermaphrodite Shango god (“bold but gentle, brave but neutral”) in Cuba and Brazil in the 1070s – folklore and cultural beliefs and machismo clash in the context of the contemporary political realities. As a translator and reimaginer of Greek plays, he is an insightful expert – a tragic trilogy was traditionally followed by an earthy Satyr play, the bawdy fourth has been lost and refined out of official appreciation; in this he draws parallels with the breaking-up of culture into the high and low that exists today. A wonderful, erudite book.