Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mamet, Goldberg, Billington and the Written Word

By Russ Bickerstaff
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There was a column by Jonah Goldberg in Tuesday’s paper about David Mamet’s recent essay in the Village Voice. Goldberg’s the neo-conservative guy with the glasses. Mamet’s the guy who wrote Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet’s essay proclaimed that its author no longer considered himself to be a “brain-dead liberal.” If I read Goldberg’s piece correctly, it sounds as though he’s happy that “ . . . the greatest living playwright . . . ” has gone conservative and thus joined his team on the political right. If I haven't read his piece right, it's probably because his writing always comes acrss as more than a bt chilsdish to me. In his piece, Goldberg mentions a bit by The Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington in which Billington states concern that Mamet’s writing may suffer now that he has “swung to the right.” Goldberg says that Billington voices concern that Mamet may be locking himself into a “rigid ideological position,” by becoming politically conservative. Goldberg goes on to state that the real prison here is liberalism and goes on to use Houdini imagery to drive the point home. Cute.

The problem here is that Goldberg clearly hasn’t read Billington’s piece all that closely and neither Bllington nor Goldberg seem to have bothered to read Mamet’s piece all that closely. Billington isn’t saying that Mamet’s becoming ideologically rigid by identifying with a politically conservative perspective—he’s saying that if Mamet decides to identify with a conservative political position, he’s becoming less independent and THAT makes him more ideologically rigid. The problem with all of this is that Mamet never explicitly states that he’s becoming conservative in his essay. He merely states that he’s no longer a “brain-dead liberal.” In other words—he’s no longer accepting a set of ideals without questioning them, which he had evidently been doing for some time. Billigton’s concern is well-articulated, but it seems a bit out of touch with Mamet. Mamet is merely saying that he has grown to a point where he’s just as critical of the left as he is of the right. Or something like that. Invariably, someone may read these words who has read the other three pieces and decide that I haven’t read any of them particularly close. They probably won’t have read these words all that closely, either. That’s the way it is with the written language.

The irony in all of this is that, in the end, Mamet’s political views are only now the subject of discussion because his new play is overtly political. Having read over half a dozen of his plays and about a dozen of his essays, I can’t honestly say that I’ve never cared what his political beliefs are. Hither to now, he’s never written anything overtly political. . . . at least, nothing I've ever encountered.

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