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

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

by David Mamet


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What makes good drama? How does drama matter in our lives? In Three Uses of the Knife, one of America's most respected writers reminds us of the secret powers of the play. Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright, screenwriter, poet, essayist, and director, David Mamet celebrates the absolute necessity of drama—and the experience of great plays—in our lurching attempts to make sense of ourselves and our world.

In three tightly woven essays of characteristic force and resonance, Mamet speaks about the connection of art to life, language to power, imagination to survival, the public spectacle to the private script.

It is our fundamental nature to dramatize everything. As Mamet says, "Our understanding of our life, of our drama.... resolves itself into thirds: Once Upon a Time.... Years Passed.... And Then One Day." We inhabit a drama of daily life—waiting for a bus, describing a day's work, facing decisions, making choices, finding meaning. The essays in the book are an eloquent reminder of how life is filled with the small scenes of tragedy and comedy that can be described only as drama.

First-rate theater, Mamet writes, satisfies the human hunger for ordering the world into cause-effect-conclusion. A good play calls for the protagonist "To create, in front of us, on the stage, his or her own character, the strength to continue. It is her striving to understand, to correctly assess, to face her own character (in her choice of battles) that inspires us—and gives the drama power to cleanse and enrich our own character." Drama works, in the end, when it supplies the meaning and wholeness once offered by magic and religion—an embodied journey from lie to truth, arrogance to wisdom.

Mamet also writes of bad theater; of what it takes to write a play, and the often impossibly difficult progression from act to act; the nature of soliloquy; the contentless drama and empty theatrics of politics and popular entertainment; the ubiquity of stage and literary conventions in the most ordinary of lives; and the uselessness, finally, of drama—or any art—as ideology or propaganda.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375704239
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/2000
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 467,992
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.31(d)

About the Author

David Mamet is the author of the plays Oleanna; Glengarry Glen Ross, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award; Speed the Plow; and Sexual Perversity in Chicago, among others. His films include, as screenwriter, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Verdict, The Untouchables, The Edge, and Wag of the Dog, and as writer/director, House of Games, Homicide, Things Change, and The Spanish Prisoner. He is also the author of children's books and four books of essays, Writing in Restaurants, Some Freaks, The Cabin, and Make Believe Town; two novels, The Village and The Old Religion and a book on acting, True and False.

Table of Contents

One the Wind-Chill Factor
The Perfect Ball Game
The Problem Play
Letters of Transit
Two. Second Act Problems
Three. Three Uses of the Knife
The Eleven O'Clock Song
The End of the Play

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Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
jorgearanda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On the positive, Mamet ventures bold and crisp statements on what makes good drama (or, perhaps more accurately, good Mamet-style drama). On the negative, he's wrong as often as he's right. His writing is brilliant; his writing about writing is less so.
seventime on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A perfect antidote to any thick, ponderous textbook on the history of theater.