Term Paper: David Mamet From the Perspective

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[. . .] Indeed, this below quotation, which was applied originally to the works of Walter Benjamin, could well be applied to Mamet as well:

In the constellation, the oblique links between words that break out of the linear path of communication are due to the room-giving discontinuity that Benjamin stresses as the sigh of presentation.

Indeed, Mametspeak also introduces and reveals this oblique language as the free flow of dialogue forces the out "of the linear path of communication" and in so doing this, he reveals language as it exists on the most basic level of development -- indeed, rather than lofty speeches, we get language that is fractured and reveals the gears of the mechanism lurking below the chassis of the machine itself. His approach to dialogue on stage reveals the imperfection of language as a medium for accurately transferring any real knowledge, especially those about our inner states or basic psychology. Mametspeak shows us first hand that everything is inherently ineffable, that in speaking we automatically reify anything we attempt to say and immediately reduce it to absurdity.

Mamet, however, does not limit his artistic approach merely to the considerations of language and his formal experimentation with the most fundamental elements of drama hardly stops there at all, indeed, he also experiments with a number of other issues and considerations, not the least of which are the things that he does with both time and space onstage. Indeed, Mamet keeps are attention glued to the stage by constantly changing our relationship to the narrative of the play by jumping around drastically in time and space and offer very little orienting information to tell us when such a leap or a jump has occurred. The point of these fractures of the basic fabric of spacetime, at least in the world of what we, as an audience, see onstage, are multiple and varied. On the one hand, these elements of jumping around through time and space do little more than to reflect the physical realities of the universe that physicists have discovered over the last century. The discovery of scientific breakthroughs, such as relativity and quantum mechanics, have taught us that a linear understanding of the world in which time is constant is in fact often incorrect. Einstein showed us that time is variable and quantum mechanics shows us, in the two-slit experiment, that effects sometime precede causes. So, in a sense, Mamet's collagistic approach to narrative is simply realistic in the most accurate possible way.

On another level, however, Mamet's approach to narrative also simply reflects the reality of our experience as subjective agents acting within the world. Indeed, we are never given an omniscient bird's-eye-view of things in our own lives, and such an attempt is on the most ridiculous of literary devices. Similarly, life does not supply orienting details when they are wanted, therefore, why should art do the same. In this sense again, Mamet's approach to what is being done is neither "experimental" or "unnatural," but, in fact, an attempt to achieve an even greater level of realism than is normally achieved by the typically "realistic" story that progress in a linear narrative. Thus, rather than being experimental or absurd, we can see Mamet as being a sort of psychological realist; indeed, since there is no "objective" view of the world, the only real one is in fact the subjective view that we all experience everyday, and this is the sort of realism that actually means anything, because the other kind is a mere fairy-tale that no one has ever seen or experienced except in literature.

Lastly, the sort of tension that Mamet manages to create by using a collagistic approach to time and space is simply the sort of tension that is used to make great art. From a perspective of pure enjoyment it makes his plays always entertaining and exciting because one literally has absolutely no idea whatsoever as to what will occur next, and this "anything may happen" atmosphere leads us to undergo a feeling of profound excitement and anxiety. Thus, for Mamet, tension is built by these unique formalistic means rather than by the more typical process of a plot arc that includes a great deal of exciting complicating action before it in fact reaches its climax. Indeed, all of these techniques, although they do have important theoretical and analytical elements that can be rendered meaningful through abstract readings like those offered above, have the much more simple effect of creating an entertaining and successful kind of dramatic art, that is inherently postmodern:

In its broad usage [postmodernism] is a "family resemblance" term deployed in a variety of contexts (architecture, painting, music. Poetry, fiction, etc.) for things which seem to be related... By a laid-back pluralism of styles and a vague desire to have done with the pretensions of high modernist culture.... with themes of self-reflexivity, or the puzzles induced by allowing language to become the object of its own scrutiny in a kind of dizzying rhetorical regress.

Honderich 708)

Thus we can see that Mamet's approach to art is ultimately one that is located in a specific time and era and that with regard to the sort of approaches he takes to navigating artistic and creative terrain, he is not a lone traveler but is in fact only one of many fellow travelers on the postmodern artistic version of the Oregon trail that leads to new lands, only with a much lower incidence of tuberculosis. As such a modern artistic pilgrim, Mamet's work accurately reflects the zeitgeist of the era by making such meditations on language at the core of his work by allowing dialogue to be the principle mover within his work itself. In this sense, we cannot fully appreciate Mamet's work without considering the cultural and social milieu into which he has thrust his creations, because, indeed, a play is as dependent upon its audience as it is on its dialogue, and so, while there are experimental elements to Mamet's plays in another sense he is also speaking quite earnestly to his audience -- these are postmodern plays for a postmodern generation of theater-goers.

Ultimately, Mamet's art exists in revealing the world of complexity that lies beneath even the most simple human interaction, but, instead of revealing that complexity by projecting some reified idea of psychological complexity, he uses the manipulation of time and space and the sheer flow of language itself to make obvious the complexity in the world, which is, for better or worse, a turbulent system straight out of chaos theory:

Once again we have arrived at a great truth that is very simple. What I mean is that simple truths rest on a relatively complex and multi-levelled modal structure.

Greimas 359)

Indeed, Mamet's plays are ultimately like the above quotation in that they are simple tales told in a complex way and the simple truth that they reveal is that all seemingly simple truths are in fact mind-boggling complex. Through the U.S. Of massive shifts in time and space with little orienting information whatsoever as well as the use of the unflagging logorrhea that is Mametspeak, Mamet manages to create complex and fully developed plays that verge on the philosophical while using only the barest plot lines, simples sets, and most minimal amounts of characters. In doing so, he is not "experimenting" per se, but in fact reflecting a current and important trend in art and culture, in this particular case, postmodernism, that one can see in many and various forms all throughout society.


About Last Night." MSN.com. retrieved November 5, 2003 at http://entertainment.

A msn.com/movies/movie.aspx?m=68137.

Frey, Hans-Jost. "On Presentation in Benjamin." Walter Benjamin: Theoretical

Questions. David S. Harris, ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996.

Greimas, A.J. "The Love-Life of the Hippopotamus: A Seminar with A.J. Greimas." On Signs. Marshall Blonsky ed. Baltimore, MD: John's Hopkins Press, 1985.

Harland, Richard. Literary Theory from Plato to Bathes: An Introductory History. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Honderich, Ted. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago." Retrieved November 5, 2003, at http://www.matthewperry.org.uk/SPICrev.html. [END OF PREVIEW]

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