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Three Uses of the Knife On the Nature and Purpose of Drama
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