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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page) to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.

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"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child" Department:

I've been re-reading my way through Shakespeare recently, and remembering back a long time ago -- to the day I first learned to read. Of course, I don't mean I really learned to read in a single day. It took something like a year or two to master the skill. I've been thinking how amazing learning to read was. How important it was. How it changed my life. How it changed everything. How it made me what I am today. I was in my early twenties, in the first year of graduate school, majoring in English literature, taking a course with a professor named Richard Poirier. An astonishing teacher. And a totally amazing reader in his own right. We were doing Shakespeare in the class. I'm pretty sure we were reading Antony and Cleopatra -- one of his greatest plays, but we might have been reading Othello or King Lear or Hamlet. But whichever play it was, I remember how Poirier was trying, ever so patiently but firmly, to teach us how to read. He had to be firm because it wasn't easy. Many of the students, I remember, were resisting, digging in their heels. They thought they already knew how to read. Most of them had favorite little methods, ways of reading they had been taught by other teachers years before, from first grade through high school. But, for whatever reason, I was ready to learn something new that year. I was wide open and focused on every word Poirier said. I was listening to his tone of voice as he read the lines in the play we were discussing. I was awed and mystified. I had never heard anyone talk about Shakespeare the way he was doing it. He was reading passages in a totally different way from the way I did, from anything I had ever even thought of doing to them. He was, in effect, reading different passages from the ones I thought were there. I was mesmerized. After each class, I would go home and see if I could do what he was doing on my own, without his voice or hints to help me. It was crazy, frustrating work. And then one day I suddenly understood how to read in a different way. I suddenly understood how to read in a way I had never dreamed of before.

It's hard to explain the difference, the shift that took place (and if it could be explained in a paragraph or two, it wouldn't have taken me months in Poirier's class to begin, and additional years after that to master it, of course); but one way of explaining this different way of reading is to say that up till then I had been treating words as if they were windows you looked through to see what was on the other side of the language. As if words and sentences and paragraphs referred to things outside of themselves: ideas, emotions, concepts that were just sitting out there waiting to be named like Adam and Eve named the animals. And what Dick Poirier showed me (though he never of course explained it this way) was that words weren't a bunch of tiny, transparent windows, but were closer to being course after course of dense, opaque bricks. Taken together, they made a wall -- a thick decorated, bejeweled, dazzling wall of language. In other words, language didn't open up a view of a world "out there" -- a world of objects, emotions, thoughts, and concepts on the other side of language -- but opened itself to view. Language was, in itself, the delightful green, bosky intellectual and emotional world that the work presented. There was nothing on the other side. There was no other side. Language, when it was understood with the degree of complexity and mobility that Poirier presented it, contained everything. And that was enough. In fact, what made it so fascinating was that the world of language was a heck of a lot more interesting than the world beyond language. DIck showed me that reading involved understanding, enjoying, appreciating the wall of language -- not seeing past it or through it or getting to some space on the other side of it. Words and sentences didn't refer to something outside themselves. The words were something in themselves -- and the reason that mattered is that the words that were on the page were MUCH more interesting, much more complex, much deeper in their implications than anything that they referred to, anything that was on the other side of words, beyond the page.

I thought of the story Helen Keller told about discovering language. I realized that up to that moment I had been Helen Keller making the connection between "water" and WATER. In other words, up till that moment, like her, I had been deaf and blind. I thought "water" referred to what came out of a faucet, to what you drank, to what you washed your hands in. Poirier turned Helen Keller upside down. He showed me that the word "water" didn't refer to anything outside itself. It was even more complex if it just was the word "water." He showed me how to make the word be enough in itself -- to hear its Teutonic, low Dutch origins, to see how it syntactically functioned within a particular sentence, to note what other liquidy words it related to in adjoining sentences, to respond to where it occurred in the verbal flow of the work. And, just as Helen Keller says her discovery was for her, my Helen Keller inside-out discovery was a miracle for me. I could finally read Shakespeare's language, by staying INSIDE Shakespeare's language, and not translating it into MY language, MY ideas, MY references. (Though, as I say, it took a lot more work over the next months and years to deepen and broaden my understanding--and, ultimately to take what Poirier taught me beyond literary language and into the languages of film, dance, music, and other art.)

Poirier's teaching me to read in this way set me afloat in a world of water. It launched me tacking my way on an intricate voyage through a tempestuous, flowing kingdom of shifting, adjusted, compared, contrasted diction, suspended syntax, and whirling emotional and intellectual eddies. Shakespeare's plays finally came to life. They weren't reducible to the boring stuff that I had previously tried to fit them into: plot events and character psychology. They were no longer translatable into childish symbols and metaphors. They weren't ideas anymore. Those were the ways of reading that so many of my classmates didn't want to let go of. They were committed to all those rigid, mechanical, dead, frozen formulations from all those chapter books they had read in grade school and middle school: "Lear is taken in by flattery ...." "Cleopatra confuses Antony ...." "Othello is jealous....." "Edmund is a natural man...." "The storm is a realm outside of society...." What many of my classmates didn't understand was that their ways of reading froze the turbulent, zig-zaggy, on-rushing white water of Shakespeare's streaming linguistic flow into heavy, static, hulking white icebergs. Their conventional psychological descriptions, their attributions of conventional motives and trite goals to characters, their clanging symbols and metaphors translated the richness, strangeness, mystery, and slipperiness of Shakespeare's language into something boring and banal. The way of reading Poirier taught me was always on the move, incredibly exciting and shifting, far beyond anything that references to categories and events outside Shakespeare's language could hold on to. The way of reading he taught me was electric with shivering, unresolved energies. It was the most exciting way of living imaginable.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I have been incredibly fortunate in my teachers. Thank you, Dick Poirier. You gave me a great gift. -- R.C.

"What's wrong with this picture?" department -- By coincidence the following notice for a conference on the Tango arrived in my mailbox only minutes after I had written the preceding note. Can you tell which kind of "reading" this conference is devoted to and which kind of readers it was organized by? Will Tango be understood as a darting, dancing, swirling expression of flowing energies or will it be turned into a series of blockish, block-headed political and sociological "points." (Hint: read the last twenty-one words of the conference description, beginning with "this conference will consider tango as....") The old ways of reading clearly live on--and flourish--at Harvard University. -- R.C.

Tango! Dance the World Around:
Global Transformations of Latin American Culture

October 26-27, 2007
Agassiz Theatre, Radcliffe Yard
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tango! engages with the history and aesthetics of a vital dance form in order to explore traditions of culture and politics in Latin America and across the world. Through performance and conversation, this conference will consider tango as a global metaphor with deeply embedded connections to urban poverty, social marginalization, and masculine authority.

Yo-Yo Ma, cellist
Pablo Aslan, bassist and composer
Osvaldo Golijov, composer

Homi Bhabha, Harvard University
Alicia Borinsky, Boston University
Juan E. Corradi, New York University
Deborah Foster, Harvard University
Florencia Garramuño, Universidad de San Andrés
Merilee Grindle, Harvard University
Barbara J. Grosz, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Matthew B. Karush, George Mason University
Sylvia Molloy, New York University
Federico Miguel Monjeau, Universidad de Buenos Aires
Marta Elena Savigliano, University of California at Los Angeles
Mariano Siskind, Harvard University
Diana Sorensen, Harvard University
Julie Taylor, Rice University

Tango! is cosponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the Humanities Center at Harvard, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, with the generous support of the Consulate General and Promotion Center of Argentina in New York.

I print the following remarks from Noam Chomsky (sent to me by Darren Pardee) to stimulate thought about moral responsibility. Chomsky's initial points are profound and important: Namely, that NO ONE ever, in any situation, at any moment in history, has felt that he or she is behaving "immorally," "evilly," "unethically," "wrongly." As Jean Renoir says in The Rules of the Game: "Everyone has his reasons." We all have ways of justifying what we do. And, as Chomsky suggests, while we judge others by their actions, we judge ourselves by our intentions. And everyone always has "good intentions." (I have written at length about this in my books.)

I would ask my readers: What does this recognition that even Hitler had "good intentions" do to concepts of intentionality? What does this recognition that even Mao and Pol Pot believed they were acting in the cause of good do to our belief in concepts of "moral responsibility"? If you want to read a deep consideration of this issue, I would recommend Jonathan Glover's Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2000). And, if you are interested, I have a discussion of Glover's book on page 79 of the Mailbag (accessible via the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of the Mailbag pages). Be good--or be as good as you can imagine being! --R.C.

Subject: concept of universality
From: Darren Pardee

Noam Chomsky wrote:

"You almost never find anyone, whether it's in a weapons plant, or planning agency, or in corporate management, or almost anywhere, who says, 'I'm really a bad guy, and I just want to do things that benefit myself and my friends.' Almost invariably you get noble rhetoric like: 'We're working for the benefit of the people.' The corporate executive who is slaving for the benefit of the workers and community; the friendly banker who just wants to help everybody start their business; the political leader who's trying to bring freedom and justice to the world-and they probably all believe it. I'm not suggesting that they're lying. There's an array of routine justifications for whatever you're doing. And it's easy to believe them. It's very hard to look into the mirror and say, 'Yeah, that guy looking at me is a vicious criminal.' It's much easier to say, 'That guy looking at me is really very benign, self-sacrificing, and he has to do these things because it's for the benefit of everyone.'

"Or you get respected moralists like Reinhold Niebuhr, who was once called 'the theologian of the establishment'. And the reason is because he presented a framework which, essentially, justified just about anything they wanted to do. His thesis is dressed up in long words and so on (it's what you do if you're an intellectual). But what it came down to is that, 'Even if you try to do good, evil's going to come out of it; that's the paradox of grace'. -And that's wonderful for war criminals. 'We try to do good but evil necessarily comes out of it.' And it's influential. So, I don't think that people in decision-making positions are lying when they describe themselves as benevolent. -Or people working on more advanced nuclear weapons. Ask them what they're doing, they'll say: 'We're trying to preserve the peace of the world.' People who are devising military strategies that are massacring people, they'll say, 'Well, that's the cost you have to pay for freedom and justice', and so on.

"But, we don't take those sentiments seriously when we hear them from enemies, say, from Stalinist commissars. They'll give you the same answers. But, we don't take that seriously because they can know what they're doing if they choose to. If they choose not to, that's their choice. If they choose to believe self-satisfying propaganda, that's their choice. But it doesn't change the moral responsibility. We understand that perfectly well with regard to others. It's very hard to apply the same reasoning to ourselves.

"In fact, one of the-maybe the most-elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, If something's right for me, it's right for you; if it's wrong for you, it's wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has that at its core somehow. But that principle is overwhelmingly disregarded all the time. If you want to run through examples we can easily do it. Take, say, George W. Bush, since he happens to be president. If you apply the standards that we applied to Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, he'd be hanged. Is it an even conceivable possibility? It's not even discussable. Because we don't apply to ourselves the principles we apply to others.

"There's a lot of talk about 'terror' and how awful it is. Whose terror? Our terror against them? I mean, is that considered reprehensible? No, it's considered highly moral; it's considered self-defense, and so on. Now, their terror against us, that's awful, and terrible, and so on.

"But, to try to rise to the level of becoming a minimal moral agent, and just enter in the domain of moral discourse is very difficult. Because that means accepting the principle of universality. And you can experiment for yourself and see how often that's accepted, either in personal or political life. Very rarely." -- Noam Chomsky

A thought from Ray Carney: For what it is worth, I have my own definition of being a "minimal moral agent" and it doesn't have to do with "universality." It is that someone is willing to pay something for their act, something significant, to incur a cost for it, to suffer for it. In other words, if it doesn't cost you something, it's not really a moral act. If you don't lose friends and make enemies, have to quit your job (or get fired), make others mad, or lose something important to you because of your words or actions, then you may still be behaving morally, of course, but I give you little or no credit for being an independent agent of morality. You're just doing what everybody else is doing, swimming in the same direction they are, marching along in the parade. That's easy. That's nothing. That's not being a moral agent. It's being a moral follower. You have to suffer or pay a significant price, by being different from others and opposing them in some way for your act to count as a moral act. Christianity understands (or used to understand) this. It is the Christ story. The apostle story. The evangelist story. The great artists, thinkers, and religious leaders of Western civilization have taken this for granted for the last thousand years. But America's current shop-till-you-drop culture of celebrity and popularity, with its belief that the majority-is-right has forgotten the basic truth that taking a moral stand (as opposed to merely acting correctly) represents opposing, diverging from, questioning the values of the world. Moral agency has to be that or it is nothing--at least in the state the world is today (and has been for the past three millennia). -- R.C.

Arthur Vibert reponded to the letter Margaret wrote that I posted on page 90 about the difference between art and commerce, personal expression and manufacturing a product to sell:

Dear Ray,

This is in response to Margaret's letter on Page 90.

In my view, an artist has a truth that needs to be communicated. It may be a small truth or a big truth - it doesn't matter. It probably isn't something that can be easily articulated in an "elevator pitch." What matters is the need to get it out - give it form and life.

A product is something that exists to be sold. It has no utility to the creator unless money is exchanged for the use of it. It is created to make money and for no other purpose. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. There are a lot of products that are very useful indeed. It is not, however, to be confused with art.

Things do get confused when the artist starts making decisions that are swayed by how "salable" the artist thinks they will make the work. The truth is a fragile thing. It can't tolerate much manipulation before it ceases to be true. So when decisions are made to "have a happy ending because that's what audiences like," for example, that kernel of truth quickly vanishes. All decisions must be made in the service of the truth of the work - no matter how painful and seemingly "audience unfriendly."

Art is not about audiences. It's about expression. This may seem contradictory in a medium designed to be seen by many people but that can't be the artist's concern. It may be that a film that contains a genuine truth will be seen by only a handful of people. And the Hollywood blockbuster will be seen by tens of millions.

The difference is that no one person in all those tens of millions will have been any more deeply affected by the blockbuster than they would have by the purchase of a new toothbrush. But of the handful that see the other film some will walk away deeply affected. They'll work it over in their minds - see if the artist's truth has resonance for them. They may go back and see it several times. It will become a part of their life.

For an artist, there can be no choice. Taking any other path means that, whatever else you may become, you have ceased to be an artist.

Arthur Vibert

A few days later, in a note to me about a film he recently saw, he incidentally illlustrated his own point, probably without intending to:

Dear Ray -

...I'm currently recovering from "The Valley of Elah," a film I saw with a friend last night. It had what you'd expect in a contemporary Hollywood film - histrionic performances, gratuitous scenes of torture and dismembered body parts, and Charlize Theron in the role of a single-mom police detective, mysteriously glamorous in a crowd of overweight character actors. You'll be pleased to know that I learned that war is bad.



Subject: Tokyo Twilight

I just wanted to make sure that you have seen Ozu's "Tokyo Twilight" (1957), which is available through Netflix. I watched it friday night and could not believe how incredible it was. By far his darkest film and I definitely put it into the top three of his. You can also get "End of summer" his penultimate film. Another gem. But, "Tokyo Twilight" is devastating and the main girl, Setsuko Hara's younger sister in the film, gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen put on film. It is Falconettiesque. As you like to say, walk over glass to see this one. It was a weird night too because I tried listening to the Brandenburgs and couldn't connect, tried reading James, "The Outcry" couldn't connect, so I said alright, put on this Ozu movie and wham I was taken in from frame 1. Funny how that all works out. I wen't from supreme frustration to one of the great moments I have had with a film in a matter of hours.

All the best,

Subject: love streams plays BAM in NYC


I see that Love Streams is playing coming up at BAM on November 19th, as part of its "Jonathan Lethem Selects" series, its of course listed at 144 minutes. Thought you'd like to know if you don't already.

Love Streams (1984) 141min
Monday, November 19 at 6, 9pm

Anyway, hope you are well and enjoying the fall.

Matthew Weiss


Great to hear from you! Thanks for the heads-up. Here is something to look for to see if it's the "re-edited" (or "TV-edited?") print: Look to see if there is nudity in the early shower scene in Robert's house near the start of the film. When Robert walks into the bathroom one of the girls in the shower should be visible rising from a squatting position and you should see her breast. (Several seconds of footage at the start of this shot was apparently taken out of the edited print so that you only see the girls from the shoulders up.) That is an easy litmus test to spot and go by.

Hope Lenthem's intro (assuming he gives one) is smarter than the essay he wrote about Cassavetes' work a few years ago and that (if memory serves) Criterion included in their DVD set. It was completely worthless. All jargon and navel-staring at himself watching Cassavetes. May he have thought more about the films since then, and learned to express himself more deeply. -- R.C.

P.S. The series looks pretty banal and predictable, beyond Love Streams. Why do these places get people who don't really know much about film to curate such events? Guess it's our celebrity culture striking again. If a film professor put a listing together, nobody would come.

This from the AAUP. Worth attending to:

In 2005—after several colleges and universities withdrew valid invitations to speakers during the 2004 election cycle—the American Association of University Professors published the statement Academic Freedom and Outside Speakers. Now that another election cycle is upon us, it is important to reiterate our policy’s key points:

1. Many colleges and universities permit student and faculty groups to issue their own invitations to outside speakers. That practice is an important part of academic freedom and institutions should respect it.

2. When an authorized faculty or student group invites an outside speaker, this does not mean the institution approves or disapproves of the speaker or what the speaker says, has said, or will say.

3. Colleges are free to announce that they do not officially endorse a speaker or the views a speaker expresses, but they should not cancel a speech because people on campus or in the community either disagree with its content or disapprove of the speaker.

4. Institutions should ensure that all legitimately invited speakers can express their views and that open discussion can take place.

We believe education is best served by the free pursuit of all ideas, including controversial ones.

Nor should the university compel a student group to invite an opposing speaker to ensure “balance” or create a debate format. It would be improper for a university administration to require the College Republicans to invite Barack Obama in order to “balance” Dick Cheney. Campus groups should not be compelled to invite someone they do not want to hear as a condition for inviting someone they do want to hear. A different student group can invite Obama, or the university can create its own event and add it to the campus schedule.

This reasoning holds true even when virtually everyone disagrees with an invited speaker. Students might at one time have invited an American Nazi Party representative to speak. The invitation might have sought to give the campus direct experience of a position all considered abhorrent. Once again, we should not assume that invitations represent endorsements. We should also give some credit to our student audiences. They do not need to be protected from outlandish ideas. They do not believe everything they hear, and they are on campus to learn to think critically.

Revulsion at ideas or fear of them is understandable, but ideas are best answered with thought and conversation, not with censorship. That is nowhere more true than at a college or university. Education will not be well served if only bland speakers with uncontroversial views are invited to campus. The costs—to education, to academic freedom, to the social good—are virtually always higher when an invited speaker is silenced rather than allowed to speak.

A note from Ray Carney: I print the following letter from a "seeker" in Eastern Europe as an illustration that we are all on the same path. No one can make the journey for us. We must go every step of the way on our own. But sometimes it is good to know that we are not alone. I give the writer all of my best wishes. May his future spiritual adventures continue to be as revelatory as his past ones have been. That's all we can ask of life. And it's enough.

I invite site readers to respond to any of the questions and issues in his letter. Can you say anything to him that you have learned that might help him? That's, after all, the mission of the site: to share our common knowledge and experiences to help each other. Thanks in advance for anything you can tell him. I will publish the best responses. Or pass along any confidential ones to him directly. -- R.C.

Dear Prof. Carney,

First, please excuse my not best English.

I wanted to write you again many times, but I was always find some reason to give up because I don't know what and how to really say it. I'll try to do it as things comes to me...

At the moment I am very uncertain and confused about my life, not sure what exactly I want or should do - again, I am very sure about what I don't want and that I want to change it.

Since I remember I see myself as observer. I like to observe, think, reflect world around me and I really enjoy it. It is something like illness. I cannot stop thinking and complicating my life . I think that's why I was always attracted to music, literature, poetry, painting, photography. In that way, not only I try to explore and feel more but I have this feeling of communicating with artists. If I like some piece of art, I can feel their spirit, soul... as I get to know them in person. Because of that many of them are my closest friends and sometimes the only ones! I gave up going in art school (and I always wanted that) because I did succeed to enroll in gymnasium. In gymnasium read a lot and I enjoyed it. But I never read what I was supposed to, but what I found myself interesting. In literature class I wasn't really successful, because I hated the way how (and why) literature was analyzed... I really hated it. I always wanted to study literature, painting or sculpturing. But, in gymnasium I came up to one theory: that if I study what I really love - I will probably start to hate it. I didn't even liked people who was in art stuff. I think I just had bad teachers. So until the end of high school I decided to go to study medicine on university - I wanted something totally different. Exact. I wanted to learn about science, genetics, molecules, human life. I thought I will understand secret of life and purpose of human existence. I wanted to know everything...and more... I became different person. For next 6 years I was reading only science books...I didn't have time or will to read anything else. During first years of studies I became pretty disappointed. It was more about passing exams than exploring the world of "unknown". On 4th year I admitted to myself I made a mistake studying medicine. I felt I wasn't made for that job. I felt lost again and it seemed to me that my life and all around me was getting more complicated. Much changed soon: at that time I discovered and fell in love with film. I was delighted with "auteur movies", like Carpenter, Cronenberg, Kubrick, Lynch.... I was impressed!!! Little by little a became interested in more alternative films, obscure cinema, non-narrative films etc. (these directors were good way to start a journey). That was find and explore new world of cinema... I felt I was born again... In 2 next years I watched more than 1500 films. I still had to read a lots of science books and film was perfect media for that time. I decided to finish medicine. When I did, I got for present my first (digital) camera. I fell in love with photography. Even today, I am soooo self-critic - I hate most of my photographs! It's same with paintings and drawings.

I ran into movie called "Husbands" ( which I found about on :) ) . Thank God for internet or I couldn't get to watch these movies ever! ...I don't know what exactly struck me so strong, but it was huge and important to me. In short... the freedom of human spirit, is what I felt in this movie, was a launcher for so different and new way of looking on life, love, people, arts, film... What I found mesmerizing in movies before, it started to unimportant and waste of time. 'Husbands' really changed my life.

I finally started to read again. I fell in love with Chekhov! He is my hero and real inspiration! Soon I fell in love ( I do this often :) ) with Cassavetes and his films. Naturally, it led me to Your site and l started to read Your books, letters, texts - it was so good to learn that there are nice, smart, inspirational people with spirit and heart who inspire me like You do! I started to love people again... but I didn't love my life anymore.....

I had nice opportunity to work on university of medicine on department for social sciences (field bioethics). I thought it is good compromise between what I studied and what I am interested in in my private life. And that is where I work now, for last 14 months... All these months I was thinking a lot about what I want with my life. The job is interesting but I feel like I am loosing my time here. I have enormous need to do something creative in field of arts... painting, photography, film (I even have need to write, and I never did it... ) I feel I lost myself in one point of my life and now am again on the beginning - where I was once, before studying medicine. I feel I can do anything and I really believe in myself and I never felt more self esteemed. When I think about doing something in art and when I am actually doing it I feel released and free. I enjoy it. It fulfills me. I believe that is what I should do. Film attracts me most, because it involves everything: photography, narration, poetry... Recently I considered buying some 3CCD Sony DV-cam. (What do You suggest?) All the time I have real problems with my self-criticism: I don't like anything what I film or paint or photograph. (I also don't like how this letter looks like!). But I want and I need to do it! Should I do it? I decided to leave this job and go and do where I feel home. I don't have time to do both. My mind is occupied with thinking about too many things apart from that job. I'm thinking about post-graduate program (Video) in Slovenia. I need some connections and directions. I feel alone with my thoughts, but I feel stronger. I don't want success. I want to feel alive. But how and where to start?

I wanted to share this with you. You helped me to believe in myself.

Warmest regards,

(name withheld)

A note from Ray Carney: I have no first-hand knowledge of the following book, but am glad to pass along a recommendation from Christopher Batty. For information about the book by Derrick Jensen that Batty refers to, see pages 55 and 41 of the Mailbag (accessible via the blue page numbers at the top and bottom of all Mailbag pages). For a discussion of "mental emotions" in art, another thing Batty mentions, click here.

Dear Prof. Carney,

I read an amazingly great book recently, The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. You and your readers are going to want to check it out because it deals with many of the same themes you write about ("fuzzy logic", fluid knowledge vs. fixed forms, etc.), but with more of a scientific, mathematical emphasis. Eisenstein writes like a less despairing, more polymathic Derrick Jensen.

Here's his website's description of his book:

"The Ascent of Humanity is about the history and future of civilization from a unique perspective: the evolution of the human sense of self. This book describes how all the expressions of our civilization?its miraculous technology as well as the pillage of earth, culture, goodness, and beauty?arise from our identity, our way of being, "the discrete and separate self". The gathering crises of our age demonstrate that this way of being is on the verge of collapse. And this collapse is setting the stage for a revolution in human beingness whose stirrings we already begin to feel."

This theory that our belief in, our over-emphasis on "the discrete and separate self" is leading our civilization to the brink of disaster reminded me of your criticisms of "mental emotions" in Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Titanic, etc.

He's made his whole text available online, with the option of the reader either using Paypal, or buying the hardcover at full price. I think you and your readers will find his book very, very compelling.

Christopher Batty



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© Text Copyright 2007 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.