"Artist on the Make: David Mamet’s Work Across Media and Genres. An Essay in Semiology"

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


During a prolific career spanning four decades David Mamet has attained a rare degree of popular and critical success in a wide array of artistic 'disciplines.' At the same time, his omnipresence starkly contrasts with the extensive, though mostly one-sided scholarly attention his work has received for over a quarter of a century. Indeed, only a small fraction of the secondary literature addresses the interrelations between these various ventures, and if so with but limited theorizing involved. Therefore the present study aspires to fill a gap in the extant Mamet-criticism by confronting the findings of close readings with a progressive, yet non-causal argument 'disciplined' by the interplay of concept and object. Without such in-built reassessments little justice can be done to the meandering quality of David Mamet's work, not to mention its wider artistic implications.
For the very reason that artwork, medium, and meanings are inextricably entwined, mediation and perception constitute two sides of one and the same cognitive coin. In the postmodern context of a cultural complex where fields or 'disciplines' hybridize and distinctions crumble, where the last remnants of 'truth' are assaulted from within, and where methods increasingly admit to their own powerlessness, a semiological perspective inspired by the heuristic qualities of the analogy-principle allows for 'functional,' though non-reductive readings of the necessarily elusive means of 'meaning making.' After all, with so many communicative media to be covered, a common denominator imposes itself. The product of intuitive associations, analogies are 'scandalous' semiotic phenomena capable of integrating an unlimited number of signifying systems. Hence the semiotic excess generated by the essentially functional interconnection of the different analogical vehicles can be repurposed for epistemological ends.
Since this is first and foremost a critical study of David Mamet's work across different media and genres, and the elaboration of a semiological model a not so distant second, the primary 'epistemological' objective concerns a better understanding of the artist's chief artistic tenets (Chapter 2). Along the proposed 'loopish' feedback model of gradual and reciprocal refinement funnelled by a 'superobjective,' to use terminology coined by cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter in his I Am A Stange Loop (2007), then, the study's following main focal point translates as a diachronic take on the technical evolution of the artist's work, intra- as well as trans-medially (Chapter 3). Once the applied and more media-oriented epistemology is in place, Chapter 4 then (re-) conceptualizes the inter-medial creations, relations, and transfers that inform a significant part of Mamet's artistic output - once again as part of the overall argument, and as verification of the preceding chapters. Chapter 5, finally, wraps up this 'semiological spiral' with an analogously structured reassessment of the study's various stages: from David Mamet's aesthetic, through his work's artistic impact and influences, to its meta-artistic and philosophical relevance for contemporary cultural studies.
Date of Award1 Dec 2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohan Callens (Promotor), Gilbert Debusscher (Jury), Ronald Geerts (Jury), C.w.e. Bigsby (Jury), André Helbo (Jury) & Bruce Barton (Jury)


  • intermediality
  • David Mamet

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