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Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama Paperback – Jun 13 2000
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Playwright David Mamet's three lectures at Columbia University are ostensibly about issues of dramatic structure, but as they unfold, and Mamet continually explores the relationship between dramatic structure and the lives we live, much broader concerns are revealed. Here, for example, is Mamet on political propaganda:
It is ... essential to the healthy political campaign that the issues be largely or perhaps totally symbolic--i.e., non-quantifiable. Peace With Honor, Communists in the State Department, Supply Side Economics, Recapture the Dream, Bring Back the Pride--these are the stuff of pageant. They are not social goals; they are, as Alfred Hitchcock told us, the MacGuffin.... The less specific the qualities of the MacGuffin are, the more interested the audience will be.... A loose abstraction allows audience members to project their own desires onto an essentially featureless goal.
Although occasionally academic, the overall tone of the lectures is consistent with Mamet's no-nonsense manner of speech. He has no time for obfuscation and little time for repetition, save when he must absolutely employ it for emphasis. He is passionate about good theater, and passionate about the truth. 3 Uses of the Knife makes an excellent companion piece to his True and False, which addressed similar philosophical matters in the form of advice on the actor's craft. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
One of America's leading living playwrights has crafted three short essays beginning with the premise that it is "our nature to dramatize." The belief in the centrality of drama to our daily lives and the centrality of our daily lives to good drama is the recurrent theme of his ruminations here. While he disdains the current vogue for "problem plays," he avoids attacking any of his contemporaries or their works. And without offering a how-to guide for aspiring playwrights, he provides some interesting thoughts on the inevitable difficulty in creating a convincing second act. Known and respected for his ability to create hyperrealistic dialog, Mamet ultimately reveals the theoretical justification for the sort of drama he writes so well. The text reads a bit like a lecture and never quite convinces the reader that this is a fundamental redefinition of drama. Still, it will be compelling to students of theater and serves as a good companion to Mamet's advice to actors, True and False (LJ 10/1/97). Recommended for academic and large public libraries.?Douglas McClemont, New York
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
But to me -- it was all too worth it.
David Mamet is all at once a very clear writer and a very mysterious writer. Critics of this particular book mainly see fault in its "seeming" lack of clarity -- Mamet has the intellect of an academic but does not feel that he should write like a dry academic because ACADEMIC PAPERS ARE BORING -- right? At least, I think so.
Three Uses of The Knife -- I've read it about 30 times, I've underlined my favorite parts, and the dust jacket is falling to shreds. When I had Mamet sign it at a book reading he gave me this confused look because everyone had a brand-new book (it was South of the Northeast Kingdom) and I had this tattered one. I had to have that book signed because that book is really awesome and means a lot to me (it taught me alot).
Wether you love it or hate it you have to appriciate it. Mamet's genius is undeniable, and the confidence he enbues in his writing is unforgettable.
I don't argue that Mamet is a good playwright. Glengarry Glen Ross is brilliant, and American Buffalo isn't too bad, either. But reading this book makes me wish Mamet would stick to playwriting and not impose his narrow ideas on others.
Essentially, the book oversimplifies matters in astonishing ways. For instance, Mamet dismisses the American musical out of hand. Many successful playwrights cringe at the thought of watching The Music Man or Kiss Me Kate one more time, but does his comment apply to more intense productions like Cabaret? That's a major distinction that Mamet fails to make, and it's not the only one. Also, lumping together all political theater as an automatic failure, and excusing Brecht from the rest by claiming that Brecht didn't know what he was talking about when he called his own theater political? The logic escapes me.
As far as Mamet's self-aggrandizement goes-- well, I can't say I didn't know it was coming. But that he lets it interfere with the construction of solid arguments is troublesome. For a book on how to construct or read a play, look at Louis Catron's book, or even go back to Stanislavski or Chekhov. They will be much more helpful to the working writer.
First of all, the content rocks!
Mamet suggestivey points out how we dramatize our lives in our banal exchanges with each other about impersonal things like the weather. In doing so we endow our lives with significance. The insight reminds me of how charged the world once was when I was in love for the first time. I am sure that the access that this small volume gives to an interesting mind repay reading and reading. This is one of those books that makes you think and makes you feel clever for the thinking the thoughts it guides you to.
Unfortunately, I find the poor word-processed typography is distracting. One line has the the initial capital of a sentence squeezed up against the period of the preceding one. The next line has wide open spaces between the words. Paragraph after paragraph finishes with the dangling ends of hyphenated words. I would rather pay a dollar more for a clean view of a remarkable mind.
Surely a respected publishing company can do better than just feed the author's data file to a poorly automatic compositing application and then print the results unperused by human eye?
In a treatise that mirrors the three act structure he discusses, Mamet eloquently puts forth the idea that much of political drama, by instructing us what to think and feel, is mere melodrama and that "the theatre exists to deal with problems of the soul, with the mysteries of human life, not with its quotidian calamities." He assails avant-garde artists for taking "refuge in nonsense" and electing themselves "superior to reason," yet also criticizes the "hard-bitten rationalist who rails against religious tradition, against the historical niceties, against ritual large and small."
"Three Uses of the Knife" is a book that will be read quickly, but will stick to the back of your mind for sometime afterwards.
Also intriguing in "Knife" is Mamet's association of theater with myth, magic, religion, and dreams - all of which address the most fundamental non-rational human needs, compulsions, and feelings of powerlessness in the face of death.
"Knife" is a bracing must-read, and left me hungry for more.
Most recent customer reviews
This was recommended to me by a friend who is one of the best actor/director/playwright types on the Cape Breton scene. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Pmac
Interesting perspective, and very well-written. A great read and perspective on theatre for writers of all stripes. Lots of philosophical insight.Published on July 20 2014 by Will O'Neill
This reads like a weekend brainstorm into the dictaphone, or party-chatter with metropolitan friends. Read morePublished on Dec 21 2003 by rgarton
Mamet is a playwright savant. He finds sanity in an industry where sanity has no right to exist, and in this slender, essential volume, he points out various truths about not only... Read morePublished on May 28 2002 by Jack Rogan
David Mamet is a genius. I sat down with this book, thinking it would be discussing the drama of a play, or theatre, and it does, but more than that, it dissects the drama of life... Read morePublished on Jan. 9 2002
I think that this book follows Mamet's M.O. to a tee - It is very erudite, yet I find myself laughing. Read morePublished on Dec 15 2001 by Thor Vader
In 3 Uses of the Knife, Mamet has helped me realize that the difference between provoking an audience and manipulating them is the difference between art and salesmanship. Read morePublished on Nov. 20 2001 by Brent Noel
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