Wag the Dick

Title: “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture”

Author: David Mamet

Rank: 60

Blurb: “My interest in politics began when I noticed that I acted differently than I spoke, that I had seen ‘the government’ commit sixty years of fairly unrelieved and catastrophic error nationally and internationally, that I not only hated every wasted hard-earned cent I spent in taxes, but the trauma and misery they produced.”

Review: “Like other big media apostates, Andrew Breitbart, Tom Wolfe, John Stossel, Ben Stein, and Dennis Miller, Mamet realized the liberal assumptions that capitalism was evil and that Republicans were corporate lackeys had serious holes.”

Customers Also Bought: “Known and Unknown: A Memoir”, by Donald Rumsfeld

Footnote: Mamet an asshole? Who knew?

The Secret Knowledge [Amazon]

Buy or Die [Stinque@Amazon kickback link]


TJ/ Ah. The Paultard vs. Mittens ads are coming up. Here we go!

And, seriously. That poor possum. Its eyes wig me. I don’t like it. Callista. Bachmann. Possum.

He’s never been a liberal, in thought or technique. He belongs squarely in the two-fisted, he-man school of American Romantics: Hemingway, Miller, O’Neill. His finest play, I would suggest, Glengarry Glenn Ross (or as it’s known in the business Gene Barry, Glenn Close) is in no way critical of its loathsome characters and business: it celebrates them for their manly struggle against a cruel world that has more than a whiff of middle-class boy trying for authenticity about it. Even so, when well acted, it’s exhilarating to watch. My favorite of his plays is The Water Engine, another Little-Man-Against-The-System story. But, as in Death of a Salesman, it doesn’t criticize the system, it celebrates the ‘spirit’ of the characters. (The OH, who’s directed Miller, reckons that Death makes no sense unless one realizes that it’s written about an immigrant Jewish family, like Miller’s own. He cut all ‘jewishness’ from it to make it more ‘universal’. He always pretended to be a WASP.)

At his best, he writes bracing dialogue, entirely abstract but with a real pulse of life to it. He’s that strange anomaly: a mannerist writer with no sense of formal construction. In most of his Big plays, he allows an interesting, half-spoken set-up to devolve into melodrama because there’s no structure to hold the story in proportion: American Buffalo, Glengarry, Speed the Plow. Indeed, the last of those plays, for all its noise and thunder, has a hole in the plot the size of Sardis.

The lamentable piece in the Village Voice was most notable, I thought, for its tone of privilege denied. As a writer he’s had an easy time of it. Hailed as a very young man, he’s never been anything but a star. Why he ever wasted his talent on those indifferent movies is beyond me. To be a player?

He attended the Neighborhood Playhouse to study acting under Sandy Meisner and represents the last of the generation trained in the American School. Steeped in psychoanalysis, relying heavily on Stanislavski, it made New York the centre of the English-speaking theatre world through most of the 50s and early 60s. In his later writing, his mortality seems to weigh heavy on him. He’s not a comic writer, though he can be very funny, nor does he seem to have a literary point of view. Like a lot of those Real Men writers he would seem to give the appearance that he doesn’t waste his time on reading, instead it all just happens. Of course it doesn’t.

David Hare who, as a young man, wrote several truly embarrassing plays about the Workers’ Struggle has matured into understanding his privileged place in the world and has taken up the theme of those of us who have lived safe and comfortable lives using the lives of those who live in want and danger to make us feel authentic. It’s a noble and rich idea. Mamet seems to be devolving into anger. Which is ironic, that he should now rail against a government – or governments – that has provided a good part of his living. All those regional theatre productions of his plays funded, to a degree, by the states. And international productions funded by various governments more sympathetic to the idea of culture than ours.

But I must say: Best Titles. He always comes up with really great titles. Not to be sneezed at, Martha.

PHX Stinqueup – Thursday June 9, evening. Jamie and the RMLs at a lounge in a tribal casino and resort. Should be a hoot.

@Benedick HRH KFC: Nice analysis … it should be in print somewhere.

@Benedick HRH KFC:
Nice background. You pretty much explain why Glengary Glen Ross resonates among the libertarians and wingnuts I know. They LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I liked it because of the cruel humor and F-bombs.

Ironic because none of the fans of the movie that I know are what I would consider “Blake” types (the character who only appeared in the movie played by Alec Baldwin) who are all out go getters just wannabes.

@Benedick HRH KFC: You’re on a roll. I saw Speed The Plow a few years ago in LA. Great dialog, not much else. Reminded me of Elmore Leonard’s books.

“Which is ironic, that he should now rail against a government – or governments – that has provided a good part of his living. ”

No wonder he gets on with the teahadi set so well…

@Benedick HRH KFC: Having ignored the Voice essay at the time, I read it just now, and find it almost unreadable. It does not merit the title, unless you rewrite it as “How I switched on a dime from a Brain-Dead Liberal to a Brain-Dead Conservative”. His insights remind me of Victoria Jackson, and I think she comes off better.

But let’s take one passage:

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

This is actually a fair summation of the Federalist Papers, which I read at 24 and consider to be a brilliant application of human nature to government.

And yet, for some reason, reading the Papers, and appreciating their genius, didn’t turn me into a neocon. I must be a freak.

Mamet, Arianna, and Kos walk into a bar, and by the time they leave, you’ve sworn off politics forever.

@nojo: I think he’s really a reactionary more than neocon. He’s also a poet. (Writing plays is much more like poetry than prose as they’re meant to be spoken and not read: an observation that, when made aloud, will cause other playwrights to leave the room, sneering.) Difficult combination. I can only think of Beckett. And perhaps Tom Stoppard, though he’s not reactionary, does his work (his explication of chaos theory in Arcadia is both engrossing and all you need to know to appreciate his beautiful structure that makes one gasp as the last piece is put into place), and has a lively and human imagination.

But there’s a really unpleasant, spoiled child quality to the writing that is very off-putting. I didn’t see his last play, November. Maybe this is all about not being the golden boy any more. Certainly Albee, for having been rich and extravagantly praised since his young 20s, grew up to be thoroughly nasty. So who knows.

@Dodgerblue: I think it’s better than that. As I remember it’s about friendship, loyalty, and doing business. When I saw it, Madonna was the best thing in it. But as I say, the plot is not properly thought through.

@blogenfreude: @ManchuCandidate: We do our best and seem to have some time on our hands right now.

@Benedick HRH KFC: I think he’s really an airhead. Finding fault with the caricature of one side, he adopts the caricature of the other.

But I do love the rhythm of his writing when actors are on their game. Even if he is an asshole.

Re Mamet: I learned some years back to avoid anything Mamet had a hand in. The substrate of cynical contempt is unbearable, and it contaminates everything near it.

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