April 2nd, 2003



In some ways, the lecture was very good. Mamet is charming, and smart, has interesting stories when he digresses, and can drop a few big names. In others, he was disappointing - the lecture itself was astonishingly short (20-30 minutes) and seemed unpolished, moving from point to point without much transistion, relying usually on a repeated joke to carry it along, and ending without any sort of signal that it was about to end.

The title was "The Secret Name of Things", but its main point was that when we are forced to endure a lie over and over again, we end up becoming numbed to it, and it becomes truth. For example, the Nazi party salute, which, Mamet said, people were forced to perform 30 times a day. Each time they'd perform it while thinking "But I don't believe it" - yet over time the repetition became so monotonous, the effort of resistance so tiring, that eventually they stopped saying "But I don't believe it." Similarly, he said, the Bush regime relies on repetition, such as "weapons of mass destruction", a phrase so ungraceful and awkward that resistance gets worn down, and we stop thinking about it. But the problem, or so he would seem to say, is more generalized - he begins each day with the lie of calling a Starbucks coffee a "tall" when it is, when you come down to it, a "small".

Afterwards, he took questions from the audience, which led to some good moments and witty lines, but often it seemed that he would just skip questions for which he was not prepared. One terrific line, prompted by a question about musicals and whether the American theater would see an upsurge of them: "It's evident that the hills are alive with the sound of music, but the question is - what other aspect of music could the hills possibly be alive with?"

Worth the cost of the tickets, though, and the effort of the trip in. The restaurant we ate at beforehand, though, was overpriced and under-fooded, although chockful of atmosphere and a waiter with a lovely Irish lilt to his voice. I suspect the pricing would be a result of its location - it's only a block or two away from the market.
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