Edward Feser on David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ And More Modernist Commentary

This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.

From Edward Feser: ‘Aquinas Watches Glengarry Glen Ross’

Feser:

‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types.  Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.

So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter.  One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’

Glengarry Glen Ross‘ has become something of a cultural touchstone for many; maybe this generation’s ‘Death Of A Salesman

You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’

For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.

Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.

On fuller display, perhaps.

Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.

For those who didn’t ask!:

As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious:  Make it new.  Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).

It takes really talented individuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.

As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us.  There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).

They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art!  What the f**k is this lady doing?:

From the comments on this piece:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in this generation’s rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.

The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).

As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.

Ah well…there’s my two cents.

There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.

Enduring…I like the sound of that.


Because you really didn’t ask:

Another video included at the link.

David Mamet underwent a conversion to conservatism in rather dramatic and public fashion a few years ago.  In leaving his liberal views behind, he’s no doubt become a heretic to some.  At the link, he hosts an interview at Il Forno in Santa Monica with Uncommon Knowledge’s Peter Robinson.

Here’s my take, for what it’s worth:

Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough.  He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles.  Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered).  I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.

Mamet also cites Chicago School Of Economics neoclassical thinkers’ Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell and Austrian economist/political philosopher Friedrich Hayek as central to his conversion.  Hayek’s rather tragic view of limited resources and opportunity costs being the natural state of affairs for mankind is clearly an influence. This would generally lead one to eschew the Statist/rationalist idealism and socialist utopianism typically associated with many Left and liberal Left movements.

***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies.  See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.

Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican.  There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left.  There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).

Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature.  This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves).  As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.

I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed).  I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.

Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor.  If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show.  Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.

Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.

Anyways, this is just a brief summary.  Any thoughts or comments are welcome.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

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