Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From tofu to brass tacks

I recently read David Mamet's new book The Secret Knowledge. I found it to be very intriguing, and so I repost my Amazon review of it, below:


I will confess my attraction to this book: It's like a collection of earnest usenet posts. It's full of far-fetched analogies. It's full of wild over-generalizations. The arguments read like assertions, the assertions read like epiphanies, and the reader bounces from one to the next on Class-5 rapids of outrage and disgust. These stylistic characteristics, along with the general affinity I feel for the political attitudes herein, remind me of, uh, me. I argue like this also, on usenet. But nevermind...

There are several fine but too-brief passages on his youth in Chicago, on his career in show business, and time with his son. We must hope that he will return to these themes in a future memoir, as they serve as well-placed breathing spaces in the larger polemic.

It's too bad he fell in with the climate change deniers--they're wrong & no few of them are dishonest. When scientists working in several different fields come up with data pointing to the same conclusion: AGW is real, artificial, growing, and a menace--a consensus like that isn't to cried down as some leftist cabal.

And what is it with his scornful pity for college students? Yes, it's sad to think of unemployable soft-science majors spending their working lives folding sweaters in Macy's. But, liberals don't work? Who is in the membership of all those labor unions, then? Counselors sell empty breath to jaded rich people? Surely Mr. Mamet at least knows of people who have been stymied or hurting, and benefited from healing words. I wonder if he is taking his experience with Hollywood hangers-on and projecting it to the entire rest of the country.

But of course the main thing is his conversion. These passages are, like the other autobiographical sections, too brief. And there is a lot of genuine wisdom here, some repeated from his readings of the great contemporary conservative thinkers, and some from he himself. He incisively scores the Left for having become a refuge for terminal adolescents, unable to take responsibility for themselves, and compensating that everyone else do so instead. Indeed, he's onto himself as a fallen sinner, as only the convert can be. A fair-use example:

"My generation has a giddy delight in dissolution. [...] To inspire the unsophisticated young to demand "change" is an easy and a cheap trick-- it was the tactic of the Communist Internationale in the thirties,another "movement.[...] We were self-taught in the sixties to award ourselves merit for membership in a superior group-irrespective of our group's accomplishments. We continue to do so, irrespective of accomplishments, individual or communal, having told each other we were special. We learned that all one need do is refrain from trusting anybody over thirty; that all people are alike, and to judge their behavior was "judgmental"; that property is theft. As we did not investigate these assertions or their implications, we could not act upon them and felt no need to do so. For we were the culmination of history, superior to all those misguided who had come before, which is to say all humanity. Though we had never met a payroll, fought for an education, obsessed about the rent, raised a child, carried a weapon for our country, or searched for work. Though we had never been in sufficient distress to call upon God, we indicted those who had. And continue to do so."

There are also several fine nuggets buried in the numerous footnotes. One of them brutally demonstrates how society's solemn rite of Leaving Home is no longer marriage, owing to its many many counterfeits, but divorce.

A reader used to the polished--and predictable--tones and rhythms of opinion columns will likely find this book rather a lot of trouble to unpack. But, given the caveats above, it's worth the effort.