Harold Pinter is one of Britain’s most accomplished dramatists. In addition to his twenty-nine plays, he has written many successful screenplays, essays and poems. In 2005, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
This amusing and intriguing piece appeared in Granta magazine.
I read this short story in a magazine where a girl student goes into her professor’s office and sits at his desk and passes him a note which he opens and which reads: ‘Girls like to be spanked.’ But I’ve lost it. I’ve lost the magazine. I can’t find it. And I can’t remember what happened next. I don’t even know whether the story was fiction or fact. It may have been an autobiographical fragment. But from whose point of view was the story told? The professor’s or the girl’s? I don’t know. I can’t remember.
The blinding ignorance I am now experiencing is the clearest and cleanest road to madness. What I want to know is quite simple. Was she spanked? If, that is, she was including herself in her all-embracing proposition. If she was including herself in her all-embracing proposition, did she, personally, benefit from it? Was she, not to put too fine a point on it, one of those girls? Was she, or is she, one of those girls who, according to her account, like to be spanked? If that was the case, did it happen? Did it happen in the professor’s office, on the professor’s desk? Or not? And what about the professor? What did he make of it all?
What kind of professor was he, anyway? What was his discipline? Did he subject the assertion (girls like to be spanked) to serious critical scrutiny? Did he find it a dubious generalization or, at any rate, did he set out to verify it? Did he, in other words, put it to the test? Did he, for example, in other words, say: ‘OK. Lie on my desk, bottom up, face averted, and let us both determine whether there is substance to this assertion or not’? Or did he simply warn the student, in the interests of science, to tread warily for evermore, in the perilous field of assertion?
The trouble is, I can’t find the magazine. I’ve lost it. And I’ve no idea how the story—or the autobiographical fragment—developed. Did they fall in love? Did they marry? Did they give birth to lots of little animals?
A man or woman or both must have written this piece about a girl who walks into her professor’s office and sits at his desk and passes him a note which he opens and which reads: ‘Girls like to be spanked.’ But I don’t know his or her name; I don’t know the author’s identity. And I simply don’t know whether the girl was in fact spanked, there and then, without further ado, in the professor’s office, on his desk, or at any other time, on someone else’s desk, here, there, everywhere, all the time, on the hour, religiously, tenderly, fervently, ceaselessly, forever and forever and forever. But it’s also possible that she wasn’t talking about herself. She might not necessarily have meant that she liked to be spanked. She may just have been talking about other girls, girls she didn’t even know, millions of girls she hadn’t even met, would never meet, millions of girls she hadn’t in fact ever actually heard of, millions and billions of girls on the other side of the world who, in her view, liked, simply, without beating about the bush, to be spanked. Or on the other hand she may have been talking about other girls, girls born at Cockfosters or studying American Literature at the University of East Anglia, who had actually told her personally, in breathtaking spasms of spectacular candour, that they, when all was said but nothing yet done, liked, when the chips were down, nothing better than to be spanked. In other words, her assertion (girls like to be spanked) might have been the climax of a long, deep, thoroughly researched course of study she had undertaken honourably and had honourably concluded.
I love her. I love her so much. I think she’s a wonderful woman. I saw her once. She turned and smiled. She looked at me and smiled. Then she wiggled to a cab in the cab rank. She gave instructions to the cab driver, opened the door, got in, closed the door, glanced at me for the last time through the window and the cab drove off and I never saw her again.