Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mamet the Solipsist

Christopher Hitchens has a scathing review of David Mamet's latest attempt at narrative essay. The Hitch does an excellent job of exposing in Mamet's latest what I've always believed to be true about the playwright's attempts at playing philosopher.

Mamet's forays into narrative essay have always been lousy (as evidence I recommend his book "Some Freaks" which, if the publisher were honest, should be bound in straw to warn the reader of the quality of Mr. Mamet's premises).

Mamet has been an excellent playwright but a playwright is not a philosopher. A playwright simply is able to bring to life unique people who may not have a thorough understanding of their own psychology and, put these characters into situations that demand they act based on their limited knowledge. Philosophy doesn't work the same way.

Mamet as a philosopher does a good job of evincing flawed dramatic character but, sadly, that becomes incoherent philosophy. Mamet is to narrative philosophy as Eddie Murphy is to pop-singing, a competent artist in one arena believing their talent can translate to all expressions. It is embarrassing.

The theater craft invites the practitioner to remove inhibitions so he or she can take emotional risks. Mamet's Meisner-training is a pretty advanced example of the kind of self-centered and reactive process actors indulge. This can lead to art that is powerful because it makes the illusion of pretend seem real but, can also empower the theater artist to believe their emotional response to external circumstance is reality.

Too often, the theater artist over-trusts his or her emotional guidance system and practices solipsism when they think they are practicing logic.

I quit the theater for 10 years because I saw the same in myself and recognized it may be false and shameful. I hope Mr. Mamet can feel the sting of a similar reality but, fear that his awareness that he is "DAVID MAMET" gets in the way of his thinking.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Too often, the theater artist over-trusts his or her emotional guidance system and practices solipsism when they think they are practicing logic.

I'm not sure I understand your charge against Mamet: can you specifically point to anything to substantiate your allegation of solipsism?

I've heard Mamet, and listened to Hitchens, and I must say, to my sadness (give than I've listened to him longer, and liked him more) that Hitchens' review struck me as both uncharitable and dishonest. (More detail here.)

When I read your comments here, my first thought is that perhaps your applying your own argument backwards.

Mamet was, by his own testimony, not a solipsist, but part of a herd when he wrote the bits your criticizing. (Though the herd itself is a bit solipsistic, IMO, if that makes any sense.) Mamet has since stepped outside of his own comfort zone, tried to understand a set of arguments which were 100% against everything he believed, and *now* he is suddenly criticized for being closed-minded and uninformed?

Isn't that more than a little ironic?

Do you have any actual arguments against his alleged "philosophy"? Or are you just content to read what Hitchens has written and write him off? I hope you're not applying such a method of "reasoning" more broadly.

(BTW, I'm not trying to act as an advocate of Mamet. If he's said something indefensible, I'm entirely open to hearing about it. (I just haven't yet.) As you might guess, I haven't read his book -- but I *have* read Hitchens' review, and found it both unreasonable (nearly self-refuting) and manifestly unfair.)