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"We're Just Human": "Oleanna" and Cultural Crisis Author(s): Marc Silverstein Source: South Atlantic Review, Vol. 60, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 103-120 Published by: South Atlantic Modern Language Association

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"We'reJust Human":

Oleannaand CulturalCrisis



misogynistic overtonesof DavidMamet'sworkhasbeenraisedwith

renewed urgencyby


student'srathertenuous charge of sexualharassment against a male

professor-anallegationleading to hisdenialof tenure, thelossof a

new homehe was



play's final

ruin,"begins to beat


charactersdirecttowardswomento express itselfin termsof brutal

physical violence, andneverbeforehashis audience (both menand




swersan insistentdesirethe


distinctionbetweenactressandcharacter. Leaving thetheatreaftera

performance,MaryMcCann, the secondactressto play the student

in Mamet'sown

"bitch"of such intensity thatsheranbackintothetheatrefor safety.


controversysurrounding thecommercial (and

Oleannaconcernsa female

critical) successof Oleanna.'

buying basedon the assumption thathe would

promotion to a more financially secure position,

relationship withhiswife.Inthe

a frenzied rageby his

the floor"

potentialjeopardizing ofhis

moments, the professor, drivento

. [and] knocksherto

NeverbeforehasMametallowedtheverbal aggression hismale

shownitselfso ready to embracethis

misogyny. The beat-


spectatorsforget the

is often

accompaniedby applause, cheersand quite

playgenerates in

the easewithwhichsomeof its

encouragement to the professor. Thatthe beating an-


Off-Broadwayproduction, encounteredshoutsof

How canwe accountfor so viscerala reactionto the

misogynistic violencein

play particular, a reactionthat

as a

to sold out houses?Mamet'sown com-

wholeandto its

play mentson the roletheatre plays as an expression of America's"na-


tionaldream-life" suggests one answer:


Marc Silverstein

We respond to a dramato thatextentto which it corresponds to

our dreamlife

dreams, the law of psychiceconomyoperates

can theatre, acting as a collective mentality,operates considerationswhich approximate those which determinethe individual'schoice of dream material:"Does examinationof this idea, of this action, seem to offer a solution to an uncon- sciousconfusionof mine at the present time?" (Writing in Res-


The play is a quest for a solution.As in our

The Ameri-


Mamet's sense that theatre stages the contents of America'scol- lective unconscious and, through that staging, translatesthose con- tents into consciousness suggests (although he does not make this


ology critique of the desiresand values inhabiting our nationalun-

conscious that, to

ratherthan some amorphouspsychic entity. This is not to say that Oleannasets out to anatomize the roots of misogyny in American society; however, that so many of those who see the play take evi-

borrow Jameson'sterm, is a political unconscious,

himself) that theatrecan demystify and perform a kind of ide-

dent satisfactionto the point of catharticreleasein the violence di- rectednot simply at a woman, but at awomanbacked by andidenti-


tion:What can Oleannatell us aboutthe uses of misogyny, aboutthe frightening"need" for misogyny, at the particular culturalmoment at

which we find ourselves? To answerthis

we need a clearersense of the precise

natureof this culturalmoment-a

of culturalconservatismwithin America testifies to the enormous

success of the New Right in presenting its ideological agenda as a solutionto what Habermasidentifiesas the legitimation crisisof the

late capitalist welfarestate.2For purposes

that lends itself to articula-

tion in termsof neoconservative ideology, I am less concernedwith

the New

with the strategythrough


of economicsand

this displacement as constitutiveof

the neoconservative ideology that shiftsonto culturalmodernismthe uncomfortableburdensof a moreorless successful capitalist modernizationof the economy

politics Obscurity," Habermasdefines


spokesperson for a feminist "group" raisesthe ques-


moment in which the ascendancy

of exploring how Oleanna


cultural politics of misogyny


economic program than

which it displaces its analysis of legitimation


onto the domain of culture.In "TheNew




nomicandsocialcausesfor the alteredattitudestowards work,

consumption, achievementandleisure. Consequently,[it] tributes [legitimationcrisis] to the domainof"culture." (7)

and society

[The New Right]


Ratherthan recognize these"alteredattitudes"asa


(7), the New Right issuesits apocalypticjeremiadsagainst the al-

leged deleteriouseffectsonAmericanculture producedbyfeminism, homosexuality,multiculturalism, the politicization of the academy

generally andthehumanities specifically, andthe postmodern inter-

rogation of totalizingcategories andstructures (thatis,

in serviceof an

pressures of the dynamics of economic growth"

"deepseated reac-





cultural, ethnicandsexualdifference.

Against these cultural "evils," the New Right

"familyvalues," a nationalism bordering on xenophobia, the recon-

stitutionoftheAmerican community-a"community" definedmore


talism throughprivileging the vigorouscompetition of an entrepre- neurialeconomicorder.

emphasis on

callsfor a returnto


While the vision of capitalism's destructivenessdramatizedin

American Buffalo,Glengarry GlenRoss,and Speed-the-Plowclearly distancesMametfromtheNew Right's economic agenda, I wantto

argue that, through thekindofhumanismtowhichit



that Mamet himself has expressed when


a more explicitlypolitical critique.Referring

appeals, Oleanna

inscribes a "cultural imaginary" that lends itself to articulationin termsof neoconservativesocial ideology. Such ideology depends for

its efficacy on a certain

the political--a conception a distinction be-

tween the kind of ethical critique of capitalism containedin his work

to this distinction


in an interviewwith David Savran, Mamet rejects the idea of locat-

ing intervention

[because] it is an

sphere, which "is not

outgrowth of the intrinsicsoul of the culture" (141-2).

political operations

through which that orderachieves stability to the level of


very displacement that

Habermas defines as constitutive of neoconservative


circumscribesthe realmof culture, setting it apart from and outside

deed, by locating America's"soul"in its culture, Mamet

of American culture-Mamet performs the

against capitalism within the political/economic

susceptible to change

In relegating the economic order and the


superstructural"outgrowth" of the base, the "soul"

ideology. In-


Marc Silverstein

of the domains of politics and ideology. It is precisely this desireto rescueculturefrom the potential contaminationof ideology-a de- sire that constantly betrays its own ideological dimensions-that determinesthe statusof misogyny in Oleanna.In the confrontation between professor andstudentMamet dramatizesthe deleteriousef- fects when ideology installsitself at the heartof the institution that, perhaps more than anyother, determinesthe content of the nation's culturalcore-the

university. In a stinging attack on the play, Francine Russo asserts that

Oleanna's"clevertalk of

amountsto little morethan a pretext for the authorto dramatizehis misogynistic fantasies.I have already remarkedthat audiencesseem all too willing to embracesuch fantasiesas what Mamet calls a "so-

lution"to our "unconscious confusion";however, I would also argue

that it is precisely the play's treatmentof educationand its

that allows for this type of audience response.

a universitysetting How, then, does its

Perhaps no otherinstitutionhas played so major a roleastheuniver-


of late

in theNew Right'sattempt to deflectattention away fromtheeffects

education and p.c. run amok" (97)

choice of

setting affect the play's uses of misogyny?

capitalism and onto

the cultural sphere. The writings of New

Rightideologues, William Bennett, Allan Bloom, Pat Buchanan, Dinesh D'Souza,Roger Kimball, George Will and others, depict the university as a battlefieldon which the forcesof cultureconfrontthe forcesof

anarchy. On the sideof

university's functionas disseminating "theideaof common culture, the


tual,artistic, andmoral legacy

that preserves us fromchaosand barbarism" (6). The use of "we"and

"us"in this passage mirrorstheeducational agendas of theNew Right- an agendaregarding differenceasaconditionthatcanandmustbetran-

scended through declared allegiance

marginalizes, if not demonizes, thosewho emphasize the specificity of sex, race, and class. When Kimballdescribesthe university as a site of culturaltrans-

mission,he revealsthe extent to which the

a vision of

site of culturaland ideologicalproduction,constructing

authority and community that can only see

cal claimsof feminism and multiculturalismas

culture, we find those, like Kimball, who seethe

ideathat despite our manydifferences, we holdin

that define[s] us as a civilization

to a "common culture"that

New Right regards it as a

the educationand politi-


a threatto the

"our"culture.The "bar-

"moral legacy" of universalvalues defining

barism"of such radicaleducationaltheorists as Stanley Aronowitz

SouthAtlantic Review


and Henry Girouxconsistsintheir arguments thatwhatKimballcalls

legitimateclassist, ethnocentricand

university has

promoting these values, whileatbest payinglip serviceto awatered-



not a monolithic,

cultural politics. For such theorists, cultureis

monologicentityexpressive of our "common"humannatureand

universal values,but,

tiple and heterogeneous borders, wheredifferent histories, languages,

experiences, andvoices


agent oftheradical democracyappropriate fora postmodern

a "moral legacy" has servedto

patriarchal values;thatthe

played anessential part in

pluralism; thatthe

university couldandshouldbe-

in Giroux's words,

"a shiftingsphere of mul-


intermingle amiddiverserelationsof



reinforcing and reproducing these

powerrelations, the university

must provide the conditionsforstudentsto engage in cultural

remapping as a formof resistance.Studentsshouldbe given



inequality, andforcedexclusions



opportunity to engage in systematicanalyses of the ways in

speak in



the places wherethosewho have power exercise


to the successwithwhichit has represented suchcallsfor"cultural

remapping" as leading to an Americaitself-an

"anarchy" andmulticulturaliststo set the

can only resistsuch"barbarism" byserving asthefrontonwhichthe


tionin the1990sas

The New


atleastin part, owesits

anarchy thatthreatensthe integrity of

reflectedin the



pedagogicalagenda. The university


in PatBuchanan's words,"wage a culturalrevolu-

political revolutionin the1980s"

the New Right's callsfora conserva-

sweeping asthe

(11). The

alarmingimpact of

tive "culturalrevolution"withinthe

the popular successof suchbooksas AllanBloom'sThe

theAmericanMind and Dinesh D'Souza'sIlliberalEducation-a


thatoftentrivializesandcaricaturesthe very realissuesandconcerns

that engendered theso-called political correctnessmovementonuni- versitycampuses.


academy canbe

measured by


(effectually if not intentionally)by

a media


extraordinary successof the New

Right overthe lastdecade

in shapingpublicperception of the "correct" ideological roleof the


Marc Silverstein

academy allows the universitysetting of Oleannato resonatewith its audiencesin ways that suggestwhy they have greeted the play's misogyny with such enthusiasm.In her review of the play, Leslie Kane argues that Mamet tracesthe decline of the university "from liberal community to battlefieldwhere zealot dominatesscholar"in

orderto dramatize"the

the McCarthyism of the 1990s" (2). It is the successof this dramati-

zation, Kane asserts, that prevents us from labeling the

that the cultural

politics of misogyny in the play are directly relatedto and depend

feminist, even misogynist"(2). I want to

pernicious,pervasive evil of thought control,


play "asanti-

upon how Mamet explores the question of the university. To clarify this last point, let met turn to a moment in the play's

secondscene. John, the professor,attempts to reasonCarolinto drop-

ping her charge

of abusing

his professorialpower, and the following exchange occurs.

misinterpreted him. She refusesto retract, accusing

of sexualharassment by convincing her that she has


CAROL: Youcan look in yourself and see those

to leave the room).




I see. And you can find revulsion equal to my own. Good day.

(She prepares

Wait a second, will you, just one moment. (Pause)

Nice day today. CAROL:What? JOHN: You said "Good day." I think that it is a nice day

today. CAROL: Is it? JOHN: Yes, I thinkit is.

CAROL: And why is that important? JOHN: Becauseit is the essence of all human communica-

tion. I


both agree to converse.In effect, we agree that we are both


"deranged," what? Revolutionary . man. (52-3)

saysomething conventional,you respond, andthe infor-

is not about the "weather," but that we

we exchange

(Pause) I'm not a

"exploiter," and you're' not a

. but that we're just hu-

John defines the ability to engage in and reach agreementthrough

such interpersonalspeech

admits, however, this

through which we affirmthe "common humanity" that both

acts as "the gist of education" (56). As he

communicative action

dialogic ideal-the


SouthAtlantic Review


humanismandneoconservative ideology seeeducationas



vulnerablebecausewe "interpret thebehaviorof others

through the screenswe create" (19-20). We findherethefamiliarMametthemeoftheneedforacommu-


establishing universalvaluesthat transcendthe limitsof


through the understanding achieved by

the "magic forceofwords [is]capable of assuring thetruthin oneself

orin others" (Mamet Writing in Restaurants 6-7). In the contextof the play'ssetting,however, sucha communalethicfunctionslessas


tion"consistsof reaching consensusthat"thehuman"servesas the


must,according to


tions, andthatwe may have

. human"takes precedence overthefact"thatwe may have


recognition of our

commonality becomesthebasisfor


can only

a linguisticpractice inwhich

instrumentalaction. Such values

ideologicalprogram. If "the gist

of educa-

defining markerof subjectivity, thenthe university

John, ensurethatthe

"agree[ment] thatwe


desires, whicharein conflict' (53).

implicitsuggestion herethatthe universitymanages sitesofcon-

pedagogy orientedtowardsocial integration andcon-

sensus easily lendsitselfto articulationwiththeeducational agenda of

flict byadopting a

theNew Right, inwhichitis precisely thosestudents occupying sitesof


(mis)recognize theirrelevanceof suchdifferencewhen compared with


and sexualdifferencewho find themselvesaskedto

John'sspeeches lackthe RogerKimball, focusing

their membership in a "commonculture."If

overtlyapocalyptic rhetoricofAllanBloomor

on a kindof distortedcommunicationratherthanculturedifferenceas

themainobstacleto community, Oleannaneverthelessassociatessuch

distortionwiththecultural politics of difference. John claimshewants

to engage Caroloncommunicativeterrainwhere they canremove"the

Artificial Stricture,of 'Teacher,' and'Student'" (21).

tions through the"distorted" interpretive screenofthefeminist "group"


gage in such dialogicreciprocity: "BecauseI speak,yes, notfor myself.


Viewing his ac-


Caroldeclinesto en-

group" echoesan

ultimately distin- accountability,"a


Carol's repeatedmenacing invocationof "the


TheWater Engine. What

manifesting itselfin the refusalof

implicitly distinctionMametdrawsbetween community and groups

in the notesto his

guishesgroups fromcommunitiesis "theirlackof


them" (Writing in Restaurants 108). Mamet's identificationof

dialogue: "Wecannottalkto


Marc Silverstein

America's legitimation crisis as a form of communicationdisorder

in which instrumentaland strategicmanipulation of speech replaces the communicative understanding through which speakers reach agreement on ethical principles of conductis not unique to Oleanna. Indeed, Carol's "group" succeedsother Mamet groups that threaten

both communication and community-the

(Glengarry Glen Ross),Al Capone's crime "family" (The Untouch-

ables) or the paramilitary Zionist organization (Homicide). I am not


Mamet'swork in any way qualifies the misogynistic anger directed at Carol and her group. On the contrary, we can see the play's anti- feminism as a logical extension of the "ethical" critique of distorted

communicationthat runs throughout Mamet'swork.What distin- Oleannafrom Mamet's earlierwork is the insistence with

guishes which the play locates the roots of distortion in the claims of a gendered differencethat refusesto submerge itself in the ideological rhetoricof the "human," a gendered differencethat threatensto re- veal this rhetoricas ideological.

real estate company

that the structurally similar role these groups share in

It may be objected

that Mamet's depiction of Carol'sfeminism is

so blatantly unfair that we are asked not to regard her as a "true"

feminist, but, as John Lahr suggests in his review of the play, as a

study in the destructive "power of envy disguised as political

ogy" (121).

feminism's attempts at

"cultural remapping," however, it becomes

only too easy to view what Lahrlocates at the level of characteras a

on feminism itself,particularly as Oleannaoffersno alter-

nativevision of feminism. Indeed, to the extentthat it lends itself to

Lahr's reading, the play depoliticizesfeminism,transforming its chal- lenge to the status quo from the field of ideological struggle to a

psychological obsession with achievingpower

this depoliticization,ironicallyenough, when Carol tells

John that the university denies him tenurebased on "your own ac-


In an ideological atmosphere largely inhospitable to


as an end in itself.

We see


race.Not your class.YOUR OWN ACTIONS" (64). What strikesus

moment is that while Carol repeatedly identifies hersub-


What has led you

to this place? Not your sex. Not your

identity that have

"overcome prejudices [both


jectivity in termsof class and gender-markers

forcedher to "endurehumiliations"and

e]conomic [and] sexual" (69)-she

ist subject as autonomous agent when confrontingJohn:

Free Person" (74). While we might expect such an

invokesthe image of the human-

"Youare a

argument from

SouthAtlantic Review


John himself,

Carol's willingness to locatehis



(47) tendenciesin

moreto the

practicesthrough which

serious questions aboutwhatCarolcallsher

subjectivityindependent of sex,race, andclass or,

discourses,institutions, and

point,independent of

sex,race, andclass

acquiremeaning, raises


of differenceand

As Henry Giroux argues, a feminist politics

agency will engage in theory and practice that interrogates andchal-


give shape and power to largerpolitical andsocial systems"(68).

Sucha politics couldnever emerge fromCarol's "analysis" of John,


of the playsuggests thatfeminismutilizesthe

diversity,pluralism, anddifferenceto maska desirefor

tirely unrelatedto

person forher "group," Carolshowslessinterestin



herself.As she

Not. Have.The. Power" (50), adding later, "you hateme


Giventhe play's associationof feminismwith distortedcommu-

nication, it is hardlysurprising thatthe power Carolseeksis a spe-

cificallyverbalpower, the powerquiteliterally tohavethelastword-


positioned asan equalpartner ina dialogicalrelationship. When John

"those mediations,interrelations, and interdependencies that

spokesperson for feminism, the logic

politicallanguage of

power en-

questions of"cultural remapping."

As the spokes-

challenging how

university(re)produces dominant ideologies of gender andclass

divestingJohn of his power and appropriating it for




power over you"(68-9).

a wordthatrefusesto admitthe

possibility of responseby

assertsthathisconducttowardCarol"wasdevoidof sexualcontent"

(a claimthat the

play supports), she respondsby invoking

? Don't you begin


monologicalpower: "I say

youbegin to

FORYOUTO SAY" (70).Here, we seehowmuchthe

cal" critique of

age-repertoire of misogynisticfantasy: thewomanwho appropriates

the power of speech; the woman who, refusing to resign herselfto

silence, not only


response to Freud's question, "whatdo women want,"

Carol'sactions suggest thatwomen aspire to the

patriarchal culture.The


feministcallforwomento fashiontheir voice(s) into an

urge eitherto silencemenorto grant themavoice only oncondition

it wasnot.I SAYIT WAS NOT. Don't

to understand?IT'S NOT

play's "ethi-

feminismrelies upon a


specificfigure fromthe im-

symbolicorder, butthreat-

evictmenfromtheir privilegedposition withinthatorder.

Indeed, in

logocentricmastery play transformsthe



Marc Silverstein

they speak to affirmthe woman'sWord (Carol offers to retracther

charges if John signs a self-condemning statement written by her group").Similarly, the play decontextualizesthe debate surround-


tant questions aboutthe relationship between knowledge and power- transforming it into a desireto repress men's writing aswell as their

speech (Carol's offer to drop the charges also depends upon John's agreement to stop assigning and recommending texts, including his own, of which her "group"disapproves). Carol's linguistic terrorism,3 her rejection of communicativeac-

tion in favorof a in dialogue to an

ous in the play's final moments. John receivesa phone call from his

wife, whom he calls "baby" during their conversation.Carolrebukes

him for using this term:"Anddon'tcall your wife 'baby'

call your wife baby. You heardwhat I said. (CAROL startsto leave

theroom. JOHN grabs

has already cost John his job, attempted


rape, we might askwhat it is specifically aboutthisadmonitionthat

provokes him to violence.

the university, and pressedchargesagainst him for attempted

canon-formation-a debatein which feminismhasraised impor-

coerciveverbal practice that reducesone's partner object of manipulation,appears at its most insidi-


herand begins to beat her)"(79). Since Carol

to have his book banned


Carolcondemns John for calling his wife "baby,"question-

ing the validity of a linguisticpractice

the emotional tie between husbandand wife, she threatenswhat is

often regarded asthe most fundamentalformof community: the fam-

ily. Families are largely absent from Mamet's work. In American

Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow-the

"business trilogy"-this


tionship to the point where it becomes impossible to locate any af-

fectivedimensionuncontaminated by the inexorable logic of capital.

In Oleanna, this privatesphere


determining factorin his desirefor

the basisof which I contractedto buy a house

Home. To raise my family" (44). To the extentthatit is an object, a commodity thatone contractsto buy, an house is merely an house; once it servesas a place to raisea



reciprocity that characterize anycommunity. This senseof home

an house becomes an home, a site of the affective mutuality

that both reflectsand creates


absence suggests how capitalism has

objectified the privatesphere of interpersonal rela-

becomes the site of ultimate mean-

as John claims that the importance of family ties functionsas a

tenure:"Toobtain tenure


A home. A Good

SouthAtlantic Review


easily lends itself to

of "family values"in which the "home"servesas the locus where the


fend against the ravages of the same cultural fragmentationagainst which the university must fight. John's comment that tenure will provide him with the security "toraise my family" not only suggests that the universityprovides economic support for the home, but re- minds us that university and home function as two sites for the pro- ductionandtransmissionof cultural values, two institutions engaged in a similar ideological project. While Carol'sremarkabout John's

articulationwith the neoconservativediscourse

marriage,family,parenthood and sociallife de-

use of "baby"obviously cannot destroy his home in the same way that her "group" can endanger the "civilizing" mission of the univer- sity, it seems to confirm the New Right's apocalyptic scenariosde- picting feminismasa movement that, not contentwith advancing its claims through the political process, seek to destroy that mythical

ideal known as "theAmerican way of

an anachronistic image of the nuclear family that neoconservative

ideology remainsintent on resurrecting. Such culturalconservatismhas found a considerableaudience(an

audience it shareswith Oleanna) for a

turalcrisisthatresonateswith large sections of the middleclass who,

buffeted by rapidlyshifting economic and social winds, seek an ex-

planation for the crisisthat does not call

economic orderfromwhich it has derivedits

audience respondspositively to Carol's beating, it readsthe violence

less as an act of aggression than as a form of defense-not


ideal representedby


of America'scul-

into question the political/


When this

so much

self-defense as a defense of the institutions (the

versity)that, as the guardians of traditional values, find themselves

underattackfromthose who flock to the

Writing in the argues that such

aremore endangered in the 1990s than in the 1960s:"We may have

won the Cold War

them" (28). By allowing(if not encouraging) its audienceto collapse the distinctionbetweenCarolas an"individual" character, women as




lence if

sible objection that suchviolence itself constitutesa breachof com-


and the uni-

rallyingcry conservative journal NationalInterest, Irving Kristol

"American"ideals as "the


longing for community"


is us, not

But this meansthat now the

biological entities and feminism as an ensemble of

Oleanna attaches a name


and a face to this enemy

who must be prevented,through the use of vio-

necessary, from contaminating the community. To the pos-


Marc Silverstein

munity, one could respond that the internal enemy has forfeited its

right to be considered part of the communityby

nize itself in the hegemonic values that define and set "us" apart

from the cultural pollution of "them."

refusing to recog-

JOHN: Don't you have feelings? CAROL: Don't you have feelings?

What is it that has no

feelings. Animals. I don't take your side, you question if I'm Human. (65)

It is not only John, however, but the play itself that insistently questions whetherCarolis "Human," while refusing to question how appeal to "the human" helps legitimate social hierarchiesand the

power relationsthat consolidatethem. This

to "thehuman"

amountsto a kindof terrorism. By terrorism, I do not meanthe

climacticviolence so much as the forms of ideologicalmanagement

that effectually authorizesuch calls"the space of death

lated its metamorphizingimages of evil" (5, 8). In the play'srepre- sentational economy, Carol occupies this "space of death"-the death

of the university, the family, the community,

the violencedirected against herfailsto containthe threatshe poses, this very failureleads many in Mamet's audience to misrecognize the statusof this "image of evil"as an image, an ideological fiction that mystifies the political and economic factors contributing to our current legitimation crisis. That this specific "image of evil"both arisesfrom and reinforces

the image-repertoire of misogynist fantasy raisesserious questions

aboutthe"human"valuesin the


suggestion, as using


becausethe textual politics of the play locate the threatshe poses to

community in her statusas a woman, thus foregrounding difference



violence, creating what



where the social imagination has

the "human"-and if

nameof which Mamet's plays mount


theircultural critique. Whether we view


the aspirations of feminism to maskher desire

or regard her as a "real"feminist ultimately doesn'tmatter


must transcend politics



at the expense of the "human." Introducing the

political divisivenessinto the domain of the university,jeopardizing the culturalmission of that institution which, more than any other

for the New

and ideology, she repre-

sents the mediationof"human"communication by interest-a diation that, for Mamet, transformsthe relationship between equal

SouthAtlantic Review


dialogicalpartners into an imperialistic exerciseof power in which


interested speaker utilizes language to manipulate and objectify "partner." This tensionbetweenthe disinterested"human"andthe interest

cultural specificity informsthe conflicting educational "philoso-



phies" of the


sincethe war, hasbecomeso a matterof course, andsucha fashion- able necessity, forthoseeitherof or aspiring tothevastnewmiddle

andhaveceasedto ask,

class, thatwe espouse it, asa matterof right,

two characters. John offersa succinctaccountof the

theAmerican university: "I saycollegeeducation,

'whatis it

senseofthe degeneration ofAmericanculture.Ashedoesin


anceof criteriafor

what happens whenwe



for?'" (33).John's comments encapsulate Mamet's


Speed-the-Plow, Mamethere suggests the disappear-

grounding value judgmentsby reminding us


pervert the meaning of "good," wrenching it

asthevitalcenterof an ethical vocabulary andtrans-


forming it into a synonym for "success." John implies that the best answerto the question of what educationis good forlies in "alove of learning"(33). In other words, for John (and we can almost hear


is a good in itself-an

view educationas an end ratherthan a means. It is precisely the instrumentalizationof educationthat Carol rep- resents. Carol freely admits that she sees education as a means for attaining the social mobility that will allow her to rise above her

lower class origins. Ratherthan defining "alove of learning" as an integralpart of the humanistidealof the ethicallygood life, she views knowledge as a good only to the extentthatit can alterherstatusand advancethe interestsof class empowerment. She identifiesherselfas one of the "people who came here[to the university]. To know some-

thing they didn'tknow

to education

becomes symptomatic of the larger crisisof AmericancultureMamet

apropos of capitalist

legitimation crisis,


the world"' (12). Such an instrumentalized

William Bennett or Allan Bloom


"in-itself"whose goodness demands that we

To get, what do they say? 'To get on in


a crisisin which, as Lyotard observes

judgment [our why it [success]

culture] will accept. Yet it is

is good, just, or true, since successis self-proclaiming"(18-9).

interpretive "screen"of gender issues

distorts the extent to which "we're just

class interest has eclipsed a concernedwith what "is good, just, or

human,"John's sense that

"successis the only criterion of

incapable of saying

that the

Like his



true"when deciding what educationis good for, performs its ideo-


Carol's willingness to use education as a means of

social aspirations,John obscuresthe extent to which, by participat-


engages in reifying the classdifferencesand antagonisms that mani- fest themselves precisely in the economic "prejudices" and "humili- ations"that Carol desires to escape. While such "prejudices" work against those "aspiring to the vast new middle class,"the university empowers those who, like John, alreadybelong to that class. John's motivationsfor seeking tenurerevealhis own desirefor an empow- ermentthat is as much materialas it is ideological:

ing in the cultural (re)production of class identity,