Academic journal article Shofar

Wicked Aporetics: Liminal Loyalties in Homicide

Academic journal article Shofar

Wicked Aporetics: Liminal Loyalties in Homicide

Article excerpt

This article develops the theme of Jewish aporia and its implications of impossible interpretative "closure" in an analysis of David Mamet's auteur-film Homicide (1991). Embedded within discussions of the artist's more recent prose pieces on Judaism, Five Cities of Refuge (with Lawrence Kushner) and The Wicked Son (2006), the central argument here seeks to demonstrate how the aporia of Judaism has proven a lasting influence on Mamet's thinking that is expressed both in his highly crafted dramas, as well in his markedly more militant essayistic works.

I would die where my brothers died.

As they have died six thousand years

In the rocky places pushing the black sky.

But I write in complaisancy,

In the hypocrite love of life-as-it-appears.

With a mind no ancient law has filled with bliss,

With a face no desert wind sears,

An outcast, self-banished from the tribe

I elect and administer by bribe

And join the decadent of my race in saying this:

Perhaps I am what has been said of me.

Mamet, "Song of the Jew"


In 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner published Five Cities of Refuge, an introductory commentary on the Torah's Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. On the assumption "that the biblical text always knew more than [they] did",1 better even, that "each word has infinite meaning,"2 the Pentateuch, they argued, may well offer spiritual solace to those who regard it as a "potential source of new wisdom and growth."3 (After all, so the reasoning continues, the Hebrew Bible is sacred and unalterable while man is not, so every new reading must lead to different interpretations.) Such (re-)generative refusal of "closure," then, can serve the individual as source of inspiration when confronting the challenges of a confusing world.4

That said, to Mamet followers Five Cities itself made matters rather more confusing. And although Jews have played a prominent role in different branches of American show business, Mamet himself during the first two decades of his career kept relatively silent on the matter. Still, early plays such as The Duck Variations (1972) and Marranos (1975) dramatize Jewish characters that strive to come to terms with their identity through "aporetic conversations." 5 And even if in later plays and films ethnicity asumes a less prominent role, "his fascination with deracinated characters"6 remained. In 1994, during an interview on the "Charlie Rose Show," Mamet claimed it took him 30 years to "rediscover" his Jewishness, almost as if he had repressed it out of "self-hatred." 7 Interestingly, though, his dramatic work suggests a more nuanced perspective. While it may very well be that Mamet for a long time did not feel personally concerned with Judaism, its prime constituent-as presented in Five Cities-kept resurfacing in his plays and films. Notably Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), his greatest theatrical success to date, revolves around a gang of real-estate salesmen driven by the necessity to "[a]lways be closing"8 their business deals. Even if, as Jonathan Cullick rightly pointed out, "each scene is a locus of persuasion,"9 countless shenanigans wrapped in technical jargon, unfinished sentences, and interruptions from the very beginning impede interpretative closure. On top of that, the rare deals that are effectively closed during the play reopen due to bouncing checks and customers with cold feet. Accordingly, Mamet's characteristic play with language, as well as his systematic refusal to dramatize finite situations and propose resolutions point to the continuing influence of the aporia of Judaism on his thinking.

Mamet's "rediscovered" Judaism gradually became more prominent. In the mid-1980s he wrote and directed the radio play Goldberg Street (1985) about a Jewish World War II veteran who reflects on the absence of Jewish street names to commemorate Jewish soldiers. …

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