These are some bits from the play I went to see over the weekend, Stoppard's The Real Thing. Mark Pilgrim has a more complete transcript of the scene, if you find you want to read more. Which you should, especially for the bit about the cricket bat.
The situation: Henry is a playwright. Annie is an actor. They are in love. Annie has adopted the cause of a soldier who was arrested taking part in a peace demonstration, and who has written a play about it. A very bad play which Annie wants Henry to help with.
HENRY: Or perhaps I’d realize where I’m standing. Or at least that I’m standing somewhere. There is, I suppose, a world of objects which have a certain form, like this coffee mug. I turn it, and it has no handle. I tilt it, and it has no cavity. But there is something real here which is always a mug with a handle. But politics, justice, patriotism—they aren’t like coffee mugs. There’s nothing real there separate from our perception of them. So if you try to change them as though there were something there to change, you’ll get frustrated, and frustration will finally make you violent. If you know this and proceed with humility, you may perhaps alter people’s perceptions so that they behave a little differently at that axis of behaviour where we locate politics or justice; but if you don’t know this, then you’re acting on a mistake. Prejudice is the expression of this mistake.
ANNIE: Or such is your perception.
HENRY: All right.
ANNIE: And who wrote it, why he wrote it, where he wrote it—none of these things count with you?
HENRY: Leave me out of it. They don’t count. Maybe Brodie got a raw deal, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. It doesn’t count. He’s a lout with language. I can’t help somebody who thinks, or thinks he thinks, that editing a newspaper is censorship, or that throwing bricks is a demonstration while building tower blocks is social violence, or that unpalatable statement is provocation while disrupting the speaker is the exercise of free speech... Words don’t deserve that kind of malarkey. They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more, and Brodie knocks corners off without knowing he’s doing it. So everything he writes is jerry-built. It’s rubbish. An intelligent child could push it over. I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.
I like that. “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.”