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Stirring Controversy at the MLA

At the MLA, it should surprise few readers that "Playing Misogyny: Pinter et al Stage the Rage," the Special Session chaired by Judith Roof at the Toronto MLA last December, should play to a standing room only audience of approximately sixty academics.

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Stirring Controversy at MLA

From its earliest performances at the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in May 1992, David Mamet's Oleanna has ignited controversy. Thus, it should surprise few readers that "Playing Misogyny: Pinter et al Stage the Rage," the Special Session chaired by Judith Roof at the Toronto MLA last December, should play to a standing room only audience of approximately sixty academics. Of particular interest was Katherine H. Burkman's paper entitled "Web of Misogyny: Pinter and Mamet's Betrayal Games." Unmasking Mamet's women as Strindbergian femmes fatales, Burkman argued that Oleanna should properly be viewed as an "education con" consistent with those that characterize Mamet's body of work. Illustrating her point by reference to Karen's willingness to sell her body in Speed-the-Plow and the mother "conned" into giving up her son in Homicide, Burkman's premise was that cons perpetuated by women or upon women encourage the misogyny of male characters whose behavior is then justified by the treachery of women. Extending her analysis of Mamet's female figures to those of Harold Pinter, Burkman, a highly respected Pinter scholar, maintained that Pinter's women have a complexity that Mamet's clearly lack. Her comments elicited a staging of rage within the meeting room in the form of vocal support of her position and virulent objection peppered with vilification against it, that coupled with the crush of people, might have warmed the chilly Toronto evening. But, listening to her paper, this reviewer felt that Burkman's argument too closely paralleled the position of the student Carol in Oleanna for whom accusations, though lacking substantiality, once heard "have been proved." The misogyny charge was a lightning rod in the politically charged atmosphere of the Toronto MLA, and athough admittedly Burkman inflamed the argument, she did little to animate it.

Leslie Kane