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Recessional by David Mamet Book

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Overview: Savagery appeased can only grow. Once you give in to it, it must escalate, like a fire searching for air.”

The man who won the Pulitzer Prize for GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, who wrote the classic films THE VERDICT and WAG THE DOG sounds his alarm about the Visigoths at our gates.

In RECESSIONAL he calls out, skewers, mocks, and, most importantly, dissects the virus of conformity which is now an existential threat to the West.

A broad-ranging journey through history, the Bible, and literature, RECESSIONAL examines how politics and cultural attitudes about rebellion have shifted in the United States in the last generation. By screaming down freedom of thought and expression, Mamet explains, we kill invention and democracy – the foundations of security and growth.

A wickedly funny, wistful and wry appeal to the free-thinking citizen, RECESSIONAL is a vital warning that if we don’t confront the cultural thuggery now, the commissars and their dupes will transform the Land of the Free into the dictatorship at which they aim.

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Recessional by David Mamet Book Read Online Chapter One

The Fountain Pen

Parsons in pulpits, tax-payers in pews,

Kings on your thrones, you know as well as me,

We’ve only one virginity to lose,

And where we lost it there our hearts will be!

—Kipling, “The Virginity” (1914)

I write with a fountain pen. I bought it on Lexington Avenue in New York, December 31, 2000.

I’ve had ink on my hands most of my life. I grew up with ink on my hands. The oak and iron desks in the 1950s Chicago public schools still held the glass inkwell, and there was then a debate about allowing students to hand in assignments written with the newly invented ballpoint pen.

I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I wrote the whole thing and set it in type on a wooden compositor’s stick. The type came out of a California Box, so named because it was the basic, portable set of characters carried by the pioneers who headed west to find a likely spot and set up a newspaper. Mark Twain set type out of a California Box, a process not at all different from that used by Johannes Gutenberg.

I portrayed Gutenberg for the West German Pavilion at Expo 67, the Montreal world’s fair. I was dressed in what I suppose was fifteenth-century fashion and worked an 1800 model of his 1439 invention, inking a block and pulling sheets from the press, happily covered in ink.

The Park Forest Star in Illinois took notice of my sports articles in the high school paper and hired me to cover high school sports in the area. I was paid four dollars an article, my first income as a writer. Sixty years ago.

Chicago’s literary tradition derives from journalism. Dreiser was a newspaperman, as were Carl Sandburg, Eugene Field, Ida B. Wells, who was born into slavery and dedicated her life to the eradication of racism, Frank Norris, who called out the trading pit and the railroads, and, of course, Ben Hecht.

He and Charles MacArthur wrote the greatest—in any case, the most transformative—American play, The Front Page. Do read his sketches of city life, A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago (1922), dashed off and perfect; and see also his contemporary Finley Peter Dunne and his comic creation Mr. Dooley, the great Irish sage and bartender.

There was no better school for a writer than journalism. One learned on the instant, or got out: to get it right, get it fast, keep it simple, and pay it off. Damon Runyon (1880–1946) wrote sports for Hearst and took his wry genius with him into covering news (in addition to playwriting, screen writing, short stories, and novels). He covered the Lindbergh trial for Hearst, as did its other ace crime reporters, Adela Rogers St. Johns and Dorothy Kilgallen.

Kilgallen became America’s most famous journalist. She had a daily column, “The Voice of Broadway,” in 140 papers. She had a daily radio program and a weekly appearance on the television show What’s My Line.

She was the only reporter to interview Jack Ruby; the information she gained sent her to New Orleans on the trail of Kennedy’s actual assassins, and she returned to New York announcing she was going to print the truth and was discovered dead the next morning from an overdose of “You got too close.”

Martha Gellhorn (1908–1998) worked, out of college, for the Federal Writers’ Project with the photographer Dorothea Lange, documenting the Depression and the dust bowl. She was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, herself one of the most influential journalists of the twentieth century. Roosevelt’s “My Day” was a nationally syndicated column. From 1935 to 1962, she wrote as an advocate for civil rights, the rights of women, the UN, and the New Deal.

Gellhorn covered wars from the front (definition: when there is nothing between you and the enemy) from Spain through Vietnam. She was the twentieth century’s greatest war correspondent. Her coequal was W. C. Heinz. He wrote that the soldiers got up every day to fight, as they had to in order to live, and the correspondents went with them, as they had to in order to live with themselves. He, incidentally, wrote the film M*A*S*H, and The Professional, one of the great novels of boxing.

Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright both wrote for the papers, as did Itzok Granich (Mike Gold, Jews Without Money), each writing about and for the benefit of his race. The Chicago Defender and New York’s Amsterdam News were the voice of Black America during the long night of segregation, trusted and relied upon, as was the Jewish Forward, published in Yiddish and English.

Shakespeare called actors “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.” But, in my time, it had been the newspapers. Now, like the Deacon’s One-Horse Shay, we are going to pieces all in a day.* The three engines of cultural cohesion, those evolved to air and help adjudicate differences, are upon their death couch.

Education, and the universities in particular, have long been beneath polite notice. Their cupidity, cowardice, and greed have been evident and decried for a hundred years.* It was thought sufficient in the 1960s to indict them as football factories. One may now mourn for those innocent days.

Politicians have always been a confederation of whores, now betraying, now colluding with that opponent now promising gain, both in league, finally, against the electorate. But the newspapers. What words can convey my sorrow at their transmutation into organs of state propaganda? Worse than that, they have become unashamed merchants of hatred and panic.

I am surprised that it breaks my heart, for, of the three organs, I’ve been most closely tied, the last sixty years, to the press. A playwright without the initial imprimatur of the New York press can gain no larger notice, and so no income. After the newspaper strike of 1978, the imprimatur could be granted only by that first among inferiors, The New York Times.

I’ve benefited from the support of two, and suffered under the implacable opposition of many journalists, and was only heard to whimper by anyone in my vicinity. But to see the whole damned thing turn pear-shaped broke my heart.

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss manufacturer of the finest writing instruments. It was founded in 1915 and named for Emmanuel Poiré, a Russian-born French caricaturist—caran d’ache being a transliteration of the Russian for “pencil.” He was famous for his anti-Semitic caricatures in the French newspapers and journals of the turn of the century.

French newspaper circulation quadrupled during the years of the Dreyfus affair (1894–1906) from the first false accusation, through his conviction, banishment to Devil’s Island, and two subsequent trials.

La Libre Parole, founded in 1892, made its publisher, Édouard Drumont, rich, hammering, day by day, incitements to hatred and riot and shunning not only the processes of reason but the very existence of fact. La Libre Parole and the anti-Dreyfus movement immediately progressed from the call for death to the (wrongly accused) Dreyfus to a call for death for his coreligionists, the Jews.

A journalist from Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse covered the trial. He was an assimilated Jew, Theodor Herzl. He was stunned to find France in an anti-Semitic frenzy. In the placards at Dreyfus’s trial and humiliation calling not for “death to the traitor” but for death to the Jews, Herzl foresaw the European extinction of Jewry.

This genius looked on Paris in 1896 and saw the inevitability of Dachau. He wrote The Jewish State in 1896. It led to the First Zionist Conference in 1897 (my great-uncle attended), and fifty years later Herzl’s vision became real, in the founding of the Jewish state.

But La Libre Parole and its like were a template for later anti-Semitic publications, notably, the Nazi Der Stürmer and, closer to home, Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent (1919–1927), an anti-Semitic publication force-distributed to all Ford dealerships.

The model—continued, unremitting hate mongering—has now been adopted with one or two exceptions by our national press.

Jefferson said that given the choice of government without newspapers or newspapers without government, he would unhesitatingly choose the latter. Now we have newspapers insisting on the infallibility of the state and calling out dissent as heresy.

What a history there is in one fountain pen. A vile anti-Semite drew hook-nosed Jewish fiends to pay the rent. An assimilated Viennese Jew saw in the psychotic frenzy the eradication of the Jews. His vision led to the existence of the Jewish state, the first refuge in two thousand years, from state anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, the media screams that the end of the world is at hand. The ancient business strategy, the incitement to fear, and thus hatred, is rediscovered. The corporations, the interests, the trusts, the special interests, the kulaks, Negroes, immigrants, Jews, the rich, the bourgeoisie, all these colorful, infinitely applicable terms have had their day, and now we find “the haters,” a term so weak it suggests a culture so fatigued and dispirited it is unable even to celebrate hate with a full heart; it is waiting to die. Which is what I have seen around me in this horrible year.

Inherited prosperity leads to sloth and then to greed and crime, as inevitably in the trust fund child as does state subvention in the welfare-raised gang member. They are both exemptions from work. The generations that worked for a living, and blessed the system that allowed them to do so, are on the edge of the grave, and rather than the looked-for period of leisure and contemplation, our vanishing store of energy is devoted to confusion, wonder, and sorrow.

I bought my pen December 31, 2000, at the Joon pen store on Lexington Avenue. The pen store closed in 2012, and Lexington has been closed by the virus panic and the riots.

Lexington was, for more than a hundred years, the small-business avenue of New York’s Upper East Side. Madison housed the tony shops and restaurants, and Lexington the barbers, picture framers, bookstores, hardware shops, and so on.

Eric Hoffer wrote in In Our Time, “. . . the end of the trivial, mean-souled middle class that will sell its soul for cash will probably mean the end of civility, of tolerance, and perhaps of laughter. When they have gone, the country will have died.”

Well, they’re gone from the cities, and the liberal cities have died. The vanished and banished middle class has taken with it that expertise and ethos which, as Milton Friedman wrote, are a possession in which the populace has a right.

My house displays the Stars and Stripes. I think I am going to pair it with the Pine Tree Flag. It was one of the flags of the Revolution, a pine tree above the motto “An appeal to heaven.”

The pine tree, matsu, or matsuko, in Japanese, is held by them to be the symbol of vigorous old age. The American experiment has come, in 240 years, to that fork in the road inevitable in any organism. We will either enjoy the respite of a vigorous old age or forgo that period and proceed directly and quickly to national death.

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