On David Mamet

David Mamet, Playwright

51EiwwLi-sLAcademy Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet’s upcoming novel is a 1920s gangster story, Chicago. In the book, a reporter hunts for the killer of the love of his life.

The novel follows Mike Hodge, a World War I vet and star reporter at the Chicago Tribune, as he hunts for the killer of the love of his love. Mixing real and fictional characters, the story deals with questions of honor, deceit, revenge and devotion, all told in Mamet’s distinctive voice. The publisher touts it as “the book he has been building to for his whole career.”

Mamet, of course, is no stranger to gangster-era Chicago, having penned 1987’s The Untouchables. He received Academy Award nominations for Wag the Dog and The Verdict in the best adapted screenplay category. Other films include State and Main, Oleanna, The Spanish Prisoner and The Winslow Boy. He is also the author of 23 plays, including Glengarry Glen Ross, which won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize.

So many of his characters are themselves simulators of authenticity and derive their power precisely from the fact that they are seldom caught “acting.” But that is his point and his skill. They succeed in their deceptions because they do not succumb to the temptation to signal their deception. They are actors not “actors.” They practice to deceive.

Mamet’s plays have dealt with the core truth of American culture and its corporate, political, and social delusions, its fascination with the con, with con men and the leitmotif of deception. Maybe this is why we hate politics and politicians so much now: because they cannot even deceive themselves much less us anymore. Trump wouldn’t even make a D rated flick look good, he’s so unauthentic in his deceptions that every time he opens his mouth he signals to us saying: “See if you catch this lie…”… and, of course, we do even if we can’t do much about it but laugh and cry that we allowed such an idiot con man into the White House.

As for the rest of the patsies in Washington, the less said the better. Politics has lost its savoir faire, its ability to act without “acting”. The trickster and con man have been with us from the beginning of American history. Our Puritan forbears conjured up a whole panoply of deceptions, inventing con games and sacrificial tales of witchcraft and terror to deceive and dominate their constituents. Of course it was all lies then, and it’s still lies now. As Native Americans once said: the White Man speaks with “forked tongue”. Anything that comes out of a politicians mouth is already a deception, a lie, a con.

Most of Mamet’s plays deal with the dramatic action of power and deception, handling politics obliquely through the actions of his characters rather than as in Brecht’s plays, didactically. This has given his plays a wider baring and audience, enabling a multiplicity and pluralistic investment in language presenting the American idioms of the various cons even while he demolishes their very inauthenticity. Mamet’s plays offer us if not a mirror of ourselves, then at least a lamp upon the idiosyncrasies of our declining capitalist empire. He shows how language itself in its broken syntax and utterances let’s through a dark light that shines the deadly consequences of our American culture in its decaying and dying last days.


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