- - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No politics here

“Although [David Mamet’s new book] ‘Theatre’ is not so much a political treatise as a professional apologia, it seems likely that those of his colleagues who write about it (to date, most have ignored it completely) will focus on its political aspect … Indeed, he offers a working definition of theater that is bound to fill the vast majority of his colleagues with horror:

“‘The theatre is a magnificent example of the workings of that particular bulwark of democracy, the free-market economy. It is the most democratic of arts, for if the play does not appeal in its immediate presentation to the imagination or understanding of a sufficient constituency, it is replaced …

“Conversely, Mamet dismisses state subsidy for the theatrical arts as no more than a means of propping up incompetent ‘champions of right thinking’ whose work would otherwise be incapable of attracting an audience. Such playwrights, he says, are purveyors of politically correct ‘pseudodramas’ that ‘begin with a conclusion (capitalism, America, men, and so on, are bad) and award the audience for applauding its agreement.’ For Mamet, such plays are the opposite of true theater, whose power lies not in its willingness to coddle our preconceptions but its unparalleled ability to shock us into seeing the world as it really is.”

Terry Teachout, writing on “The Conversion of David Mamet” in the July-August edition of Commentary

‘Most interesting’

Charlie Chan is also one of the most hated characters in American popular culture. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, distinguished American writers, including Frank Chin and Gish Jen, argued for laying Chan to rest, a yellow Uncle Tom, best buried. In trenchant essays, Chin condemned the Warner Oland movies as ‘parables of racial order’; Jen called Chan ‘the original Asian whiz kid.’ In 1993, the literary scholar Elaine Kim bid Chan good riddance — ‘Gone for good his yellowface asexual bulk, his fortune-cookie English’ — in an anthology of contemporary Asian-American fiction titled ‘Charlie Chan Is Dead,’ which is not to be confused with the beautiful and fantastically clever 1982 Wayne Wang film, ‘Chan Is Missing,’ and in which traces of a man named Chan are all over the place, it’s just that no one can find him anymore.

“‘Role of dead man require very little acting,’ as Charlie Chan liked to say … In ‘Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History’ … Yunte Huang, who grew up in China, went to graduate school in the United States, taught at Harvard for a while, and now teaches American literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, confesses, abashedly, to being a Chan fan: ‘Sometimes late at night, I turn on the TV and a Chinaman falls out. He is hilarious.’ Most interesting.”

Jill Lepore, “Chan, the Man: On the Trail of the Honorable Detective,” on Aug. 9 at the New Yorker

Fall of France

“The statistics tell much of the story: in 1960, there were 200,000 cafes in France, now there are about 30,000, an average of two closing every day; the French home meal a generation ago took 88 minutes to prepare, now it’s 38 minutes; the great majority of French cheeses were unpasteurized in the 1950s, now only 10 per cent are made from raw milk; French family-owned wineries and farms have been going out of business at an alarming rate, and the proportion of the labor force employed in agriculture has dropped from 20 percent in the 1960s to about 5 percent today.

“And you surely have to give attention to some of the good things that have also eroded traditional foodways in France, as they have in many other countries: for example, slightly better pay for restaurant workers and the unshackling of women from the domestic kitchen. In ‘Distinction’ (1979), Pierre Bourdieu addressed the declining ‘taste for elaborate casserole dishes (pot-au-feu, blanquette, daube)’ in terms of womens changing role in France, and also as an illustration of the concept of ‘cultural capital.’ Your food is supposed to get lighter as you move up in the world.”

Steven Shapin, writing on “Down to the Last Cream Puff” in the Aug. 5 edition of the London Review of Books

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