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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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Hey Ray,

Just a quick follow up from your last letter. If you're looking for Dancer in the Dark, I think New Line is supposed to have the best DVD available. Epidemic was released a few weeks ago by homevision, and there's also a DVD out there of his version of Medea (from Dreyer's script). I saw it in the theatre a while back. Really liked it. I don't know if you want Dogville (I didn't like it very much) but the US relaes is supposed to be good, and the edition from Nordisk (in Denmark) is supposed to be even better. Can't verify it myself, but you can check out reviews on DVD

As for Mike Leigh, Waterbearer has released two box sets so far for his early films, but I think they are probably the same as their (cruddy) VHS. I think Who's Who still has the same still from Grown-Ups on the cover. He deserves better, and the discs aren't inexpensive to boot. You can also get them as individual discs. Meantime was released by another company, and I think the quality is a little better (I have the VHS). If you have a region-free DVD, you might want to check out what's available overseas Life is Sweet is available in England but not here). The British version of Abigail's Party also has commentary from Leigh.

Also, I saw today at Masters of Cinema a link for Rouge, an online journal which has a piece by Robert Kramer on Bob Dylan (he was trying to make a film about him- Side note- it looks like Todd Haynes' version is gearing up soon to do his version), and a piece by Mark Rappaport about the Paradine Case (he writes the article as Hitchcock- I've only skimmed it). And BFI is doing a monograph on Vampyr next year by David Rudkin, in case you're interested.

Okay, I know you're very busy, so I'll leave it here. Let me know if there's anything else you need to find and I'll try what I can. Thanks for the recommendations- I'll try to see those films soon.

Rob Quirk

Hello Mr. Carney

I was quite surprised to see you published my letter on your site, but also quite flattered.

My last film I made, was a disappointment. I am absolutely shocked at how chicken shit some actors are, it's a very sad story, but I have learned from my mistakes.

At the moment I am confused and not sure what direction to take with my next film. I have found out first hand why I must not copy other films, nothing at all can come from it. The result of my final cut was fairly rambling and I was disappointed. I intend to remake it, changing the story quite a bit, but I just wish I could get some advice on how to approach this whole thing. I am starting to think that before I can do anything unconventional, I should be able to do the conventional stuff first and get good at that.

I am a big fan of Nicholas Ray and Samuel fuller and was wondering whether or not you knew whether I should try something with a more constructed story and kind of more punch to it, go for a more conventional approach or try to redo what I did before where the characters change in feeling is all that matters. You see my big concern is that I'm just gonna land up being another 'Cassavetes wannabe' and not really find something that is from me.

I would appreciate your advice on the matter.

Shaun Katz from Australia.

P.S. I read a review that Stanley Kaufmann did for Mikey and Nicky - what a moron. He was talking about how quirky and unusual the movie was with it's 'homo-erotic tones' then he republished the review a few months later saying that he was wrong about his initial critisism and instead claimed it to be the best American film ever made by a female director.

Ray Carney replies:


As I'm sure you realize, it's impossible to give you advice on what or how to film. The only rule is that there are no rules!

All I can say is: tell the truth as you know, feel, and experience it in your own life. That is the only way to be sure you will be true. Anything else is pretend. All those crazy stories in Cassavetes' films were just things he lived though and experienced himself. It would be totally wrong to imitate him. But you know that.

Dig deep into you own life and the lives of the people around you. Your understandings and reactions are what you should be putting on screen.

Best wishes,


P.S. Mikey and Nicky is one of the best films of the 1970s. I have an essay about it in Magill's Survey of Cinema. I didn't have to see it twice to realize how amazing it was.

Dear Ray Carney:

I am an AFI graduate and recent Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker, seeking a good mentor/teacher in the art and craft of acting. Can you recommend a good teacher in the Los Angeles area? Are there any books you can recommend on the subject of film acting - and screenwriting? I have read most of your books on Leigh and Cassavetes and have learned a great deal! But here's my dilemma: it seems to me that what unites the work of Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, Abbas Kiarostami and Mike Leigh is an exploration for truth and humanity in the actor's (or non-actor's) performance. Each has their own unique approach. But I find it disheartening when Mike Leigh, a director I admire very much, says in regards to Cassavetes: "I find some of his work patchy - some of it very fine and some of it extremely tedious - limited to the actor's really - spewing it out - which is the antithesis of what I've been concerned with - getting the essence of the real world". This leaves me somewhat confused because I hold both of these artists dear to my heart. Ben Gazzara and Timothy Spall are both wonderful. In regards to my training as a director competent to work with actors (and non-actors), I hope you can point me in the right direction. Thank you for your invaluable and important writings on the art and craft of cinema as an expression of the human condition.

All my best,

Daniel Raim

P.S. Have you seen Kiarostami's new documentary 10 on Ten where he discusses film acting as he drives around Tehran? It is included as a bonus feature on the new "Ten" DVD.

Ray Carney replies:

To respond to your second paragraph first: You can't expect filmmakers to like all the same films you do, or even to like the right ones. Mike Leigh is a genius level artist, but only a mediocre critic. Same with Rappaport. Even Cassavetes. So Leigh doesn't like Cassavetes' work. Well, Cassavetes would have hated Bresson's and Tarkovsky's. Except it was worse than that. He didn't even know who they were. I gave Mark Rappaport a tape of Woman Under the Influence once and he told me it was so unbearably awful to him that he turned it off after twenty minutes and couldn't watch any more. Moral: These guys aren't critics, they are filmmakers. The history of other arts is no different. Faulkner didn't like Joyce's work and Beethoven didn't appreciate Bach's. To be an artist is to be a highly specialized individual. It is not the same thing as being an intellectual or having wide-ranging capacities of responsiveness to others' work. It's the same thing with my struggle to educate Gena Rowlands about the importance of her husband's manuscripts and alternate versions of his work. She may be a genius level actress (and she is), but when it comes to understanding the value of her husband's work, she's an ignoramus. (Sorry to have to say it, but I am trying to tell you the truth.) Look at the movies she chooses to act in. Sentimental garbage all. Well that's not really different from most other actors, no matter how great. Lawrence Olivier's theories about Hamlet are balderdash, while his acting is brilliant. Someone like Peter Falk is completely clueless about the meaning of Woman under the Influence, even as he turns in the greatest performance of his life in it! But enough on this subject. The point is when you want art go to an artist and when you want critical perceptions, appreciations, awareness, go to a ....... oops, I almost said critic, but we know that can't be the right answer. Most critics are even dumber than the artists about new art. Go to a good deep thoughtful friend.

And that leads me to a response to your first paragraph. First thing to say is AVOID THE PROFESSORS, THE ACADEMICS, THE PH.D.S! Just because someone has a Ph.D. doesn't make them perceptive about art. You'll waste your time looking for professors who understand film. There are almost none. That's because the skills that are required to get a Ph.D. in film (mastery of arcane terminology; soul-killing research orientation; theoretical hypertrophy; interest in abstractions; sociological reductionism; etc.) are the opposite of what great art requires: humility, spiritual depth, originality and freshness of response. Go to an artist. They are much more aware of what art is than the professors. Read what Leigh and Rappaport and Cassavetes say and write about art and then apply it to other works. They will never lead you astray.

Or you could go to a good acting teacher. Non-Ph.D.s I mean. Non-academics. Private teachers. They won't teach you theory of course, but practice, acting, doing, being. But that's what matters. There are many out on in L.A. The best way to find one is to find out who actors you know and love study with. Who does Sean Penn study with? Who does Nick Cage? Who does Chris Walken? Who does Christian Slater? Who does Crispen Glover? Who does John Malkovich?

But, but, but—the ultimate teachers are the works of art themselves. Not the acting teachers, not the artists, not the professors, not the critics, and certainly not the reviewers—but the films, the plays, the sonatas, the paintings, and all the rest. The great works of art. Twister. Another Girl, Another Planet. Kiss of Death (Leigh's). Vampire's Kiss. Indian Runner. Etc.

I know each paragraph contradicts each other, but to quote Tony: "That's the best I can do, Mom."


Dear. Mr. Carney.

Seldom do I regret not being properly educated. When I apprehend propriety and what it is - or isn't - I realize it's mostly fallacious and I return to my satisfaction for not attending college. I am thirty-two years old and have lived in New York City for almost half that time. I have been writing what I see and hear, weaving together stories for the screen and stage that have kept me in obscurity and privation (convincingly, the very elements which compel me to write in the first place).

I was doing research on Sunflower Productions, an producing entity of Terence Malick's which fosters stories outside Hollywood (anything outside that insipid territory attracts me). The very first article of research I encountered was on your website - a letter from a Sunflower Productions associate inquiring, with short-sight, about Mr. Casavettes' "how and why" of movie-making. Your response to her was fantastic, a decimating echo of how I imagine Mr. Casavettes might respond directly. I was curious, no, inclined to navigate your site and continue reading. At this writing, I have pieced together thirty-two pages of your thoughts about art/cinema and the unfortunate disparity between art and those who are "successful" and have "made it" (how I loathe that term).

My correlation to academia - and ultimately you - is this: had I attended college, I would have wished to have you as a professor. Your thoughts, insight and agreeable diatribes against artifice and falsities have me thinking, confounded and yet affirmed. I have no literary representation nor have I desired to earnestly seek it (as most "representation" champions garbage). I live in Greenwich Village with my wife and live as close to a bohemian life as our culture and capitalism will allow. I spend a lot of time bewildered at how blind and gluttonous our culture is. How they feed off of the sugar-coated life presented in movies and on stage. How do these things get produced? How is it that so many people are deceived. The herd mentality certainly is prevalent, especially in our country.

I feel lost and alienated. Not in life, because fortunately, my faith also defies hiding reality and masking the confusion and mess of a man that I am the people that we are. I relate much of what you've had to say so far to my Christianity and how, even within that community, I am dispirited by the blatant and gross lack of realness and truth. Everyone wants to be okay and seem okay and be perceived okay. That, to me, is bullshit.

Jokingly, I say to my wife that we should go to the South, open up a little hardware store, sell fertilizer and candy sticks, but then I'm sure Home Depot would open down the street and put me out of business.

I suppose I have no real narrative here, or point, for that matter. I am trying to work out some things and wanted to extend my gratitude for your defiance against artifice in art. (peculiar how "art" is the prefix of artificial). Thank you for your stance, your insight and convictions. I feel protected, in an odd way, by what little I've read. And, I feel encouraged to continue writing the way I am and have been for most of my life. I haven't "made it" in the show business sense of the word. But, I am confident that I have made art, and for that, I am grateful. Like Mr. Casavettes said, it's about pouring our life into something and giving, not seeing what we can take from it.

I wish I had gone to college and had had you as one of my professors. But, maybe, instead, we can have a coffee if you're ever in New York City. I assume you're busy, but at least you're busy advocating art and not trashing it.

Thanks again. I don't even know if you'll read this. If not, I have not wasted my time as my thoughts are sincere and mean the same whether you're aware of them or not.

If ever we meet, I'd welcome it.

Be well, Mr. Carney.


Michael Albanese

Re: Question

Dr. Carney, what, exactly, is "scenery chewing?"


Gary Johnson

Ray Carney replies:

Dear Gary,

It's what Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, and Nick Cage (who could have been a genius if he hadn't sold his soul to Hollywood values) make careers of doing. It's what Orson Welles does throughout Citizen Kane. Going over the top. Crying. Throwing tantrums. Screaming. In a word: overacting. It's worthless. It's bogus. It's a lie. Life is not all peaks. It has valleys, silences, quietnesses, smallnesses, private intensities. The peaks and the Godawful extremity are the postcard versions of our imaginative landscapes. Reviewers love it of course. And it gets you an Academy Award. But it's a cheap thrill. Of course, that's what Hollywood is all about.

Re: Our Class Featured In A Documentary


Remember when I was a student of yours and you let that pompous ass who directed Boondock Saints, Troy Duffy, come into the class and talk to us? Well, if you do, you may also remember that he had his friends there with him filming a documentary about him. My friend Neal Block (also BU class of '01) just saw the finished documentary in New York and the scene in our class room has made it into the movie. The finished movie is called Overnight.

Basically his friends realized how ridiculous this guy Troy was and have turned it into a movie offering him up as a sort of example of how to become an awful person/filmmaker/musician. Neal cites one laugh out loud moment where, in our class room, Troy says, "Most of you in this room will never make it. (he starts pointing at students) You'll never make it. You'll never make it. And YOU will definitely never make it." When he gets to that last YOU he points at Elon. I'm not sure if you remember Elon.

Anyways, the movie's playing at Film Forum right now and hopefully it will get Boston distribution. I thought someone at BU should know about this.

Ryan Walsh

RC replies:

Thanks for the head's up, Ryan. Of course I remember Troy Duffy. What a donkey.

I appreciate your telling me about the film. A surprising number of people have seen it and written me about it. Hundreds. It amazes me how many viewers certain films reach. Even stupid, idiotic ones. (All we have to do is look at Hollywood for proof of that.) But don't worry: no one at BU has mentioned it or is likely ever to see it, since (with the exception of my courses) indie films are not really that important here or viewed by most faculty members in the film program. So we'll just keep it our secret, ok?


Ryan and Ray,

My friend from Thinkfilm, the company that's releasing OVERNIGHT, told me that the film is opening at the Kendall Square on 11/26.

Neal Block

Ray Carney replies:

Ryan and Neal,

I remember. And I was trying to forget! I'll have to make sure I miss it. Seriously, thanks for the info. I think. : )



i dare to write you because i am looking for the scenario of A woman under the influence. in france, we can only find movie's traduction and i think it's very bad...

i've the project to bring to theater an adaptation of the movie. i really admire John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands. My big wish is to bring them, and all the characters they have built around them, on stage. i mean i would love to see Cassavetes's reality on stage. and mostly the work they've done together.I've spoken already with Gerard Depardieu (he owns the movie's rights) and he's waiting for the adaptation i've proposed to him. it would be an honor for me to bring on stage the meaning of this film.

So, my question is : can you tell me where can i find the scenar of a woman under the influence?

Thank you very much for your answer,

All my greatings and admiration,

Anne Rebeschini

Ray Carney replies:

I have the script (actually many different drafts of it)—including, believe it or not, several versions of A Woman Under the Influence written to be mounted specifically as stage plays. They are qute amazing. They were gifts to me from John before he died, but Gena would throw me in jail if I sent you copies. If you think that's a joke or an exaggeration see my web page urls: or

You'll see I'm not kidding! Summary: Gena Rowlands is waging a campaign in retaliation for things I have done and written that she doesn't agree with: specifically for 1) my not agreeing to turn the first version of Shadows over to her to destroy or suppress and 2) for my telling the truth about John Cassavetes' life and work. (She is terrified of the truth and focused on covering it up and denying it.) So she is retaliating against me for revealing things she doesn't want revealed. Her treatment of the Shadows and Faces finds, and her insistence that Criterion remove my name from the Cassavetes box set are an attempt to shut me down.

She's already taking legal action against me for finding and attempting to screen the first version of Shadows, and I just can't handle any more legal harassment, so I'm sorry, I can't pass the screenplays or plays John wrote on to you. That would surely turn into one more thing she would get the lawyers to hammer me with.

But I don't understand why you need the script. You have the film. Why not use that as your script and do a better French translation? Surely it wouldn't take much work to transcribe and translate it. I do much more work than that when I write a book about John's work. Work is good for the soul. It's good if things don't come too easy. But of course you will still need Gena's permission to mount your translation as a stage play. I have her address and phone number but she has told me I am not allowed to give them out. But ask Gerard Depardieu. He surely has them.

While you're talking to Depardieu, ask him if I would be willing to attempt to persuade Gena to let the first version of Shadows be screened in Paris. I'd love to show it there! She needs to hear it from someone else. She won't listen to me. I have given up on trying to persuade her.

Best wishes,



Quick note: Gena and Peter Falk were on Fresh Air yesterday. Also I assume that you heard that Gena, Ben, and Peter Bogdanovich were on Charlie Rose. I was gonna watch, but when the first sound bite from Gena came on as a preview: "Shadows, John's first film, was completely improvised" I decided to not watch it. I went and read Crumb comics instead. He is at home in the muddy water.

The tapes are available for download on their sites.

Hope you are well.

Lucas Sabean

Ray Carney replies:

Thanks Lucas. My computer is too old, my hard drive too overloaded, and my modem too molasses slow to access such sites. Translation: I have so many unpublished manuscripts clogging it up that I don't enough free space to download audio or video. So I'll have to remain in the dark I guess. If you ever cut a CD of either appearance, pass a copy onto me. I get lots of emails that tell me to click on links and download things, but I never can. Just too technologically behind the broadband curve.

So Gena was on both Charlie Rose and Fresh Air? I take the moral to be that when you're a movie star, you can get on anything you want to promote anything you choose or even nothing at all. Journalists will do anything to accommodate a movie star. The whoredom after celebrity. These same shows—and about twenty others—wouldn't even return my calls when I volunteered to talk about the Cass on Cass book or wanted to announce the discovery of the first version of Shadows..... I know I know I must have been out of my mind even to ask. I don't even have a publicist!

Subject: John Cassavetes Criterion Battle

Dear Mr. Carney,

I had planned to email you to let you know that I have been wearing out a copy of Cassavetes on Cassavetes since the summer (is this available in hard cover?). I won't go into my usual raptures about your books (especially this one) and bore you and so on. To keep it simple, it is great. I am learning so much from it and I find it so inspiring from a humanistic point of view. This book has been like a bible to me. It is rich in life lessons and philosophy. You could teach a course on how to live life from it.

Ok, now I need to get to down to business here. I haven't been on your site in a couple of months, and I came accross the news about your battle with Criterion and Gena Rowlands. I am so sorry to hear about what Criterion did and what GR is doing. After writing to you back in June, I was actually thinking about finding out how I could write to her (Gena) and possibly converse with her (as I had with you) about John Cassavetes and his work. I guess there is no point now. It's probably better I don't.

I am saddened about this news and disappointed by Criterion and GR. I didn't know about the Criterion release other that seeing a listing of it on Amazon as "John Cassavetes: Five Films". I assume that this is/was the collection? After reading the two interviews you gave, I now realize what a loss this is (it's not my intention to rub salt in any wounds) for you, me and everyone. I know that if I knew that you were at work on this project, I would have been bothering you every month for updates on the release of the set. Without a doubt, it would have been incredible to hear your voice over, see still photos, liner notes, etc. Knowing your work, the richness and depth of what you must have put into this collection would be second to none.

Mr. Carney, I wish there was something I could do to help. I really do. I actually wanted to say that the first time I sent you an email. This assistance is from the point of view of helping spread awareness of the work of JC, towards art vs. mainstream Hollywood product. How we are brainwashed by commercialism and have lost the ability to think and feel for ourselves. How I could possibly do this, I have no idea, as I am certainly not an authority or a scholar on this subject. I am just someone who wants to delve a little deeper than the next person. Now the issue seems to be Censorship, and the irony of where it is coming from, in this instance. I do support your view and your actions, as truth is the heart of the matter and in the end, the truth is all we have.

If you feel I can be of assistance, please let me know.

Yours Sincerely and in support,

Jordan Ivanov

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks for the kind words. And the offer to intercede. I've already tried everything I can imagine: from groveling apologies for any misunderstanding to offers to give her the film if she promises to do the right thing by it and not suppress it. But I've gotten nowhere. Even today, November 2004, Rowlands still (!!!!) denies there ever was a first version, treating what I found as if it were a piece of embarrassing, junky rough footage that deserves to be destroyed. And she hates that I tell the truth about parts of Cassavetes' life that she wants to suppress. So her way of retaliating is to call in the lawyers, to try to censor my work, and to get me fired from the Criterion project and my name erased from it. So thanks for the offer, but if she won't listen to someone who has spent two decades celebrating, promoting, the singing the praises of her husband's work, she certainly won't listen to you.

Thanks for supporting my attempt at truth-telling. The world is so full of lies and hypocrisy and deceit—particularly when it comes to dealing with the rich and powerful—that it shocks many people that I would tell the truth about a movie star. I was talking on the phone with a close friend of Gena's recently, and she told me she thought it was "outrageous" that I would dare to criticize her in public. But that's just what I call the Norma Desmond world of Hollywood. The world of the Academy Award acceptance speech where everyone so totally sucks up to everyone else that they lose sight that there is anything called truth.

Rowlands is attempting to destroy my reputation and work. What she's retaliating for is not only my not agreeing to turn the first version of Shadows over to her, but also the truth-telling of my writing. She is striking back for things I have written that she doesn't want said. She is terrified of the truth about John Cassavetes' life coming out and devoted to covering it up and denying a lot of it, and I am not not playing along with her or allowing her to censor my work the way she would like to. That's what it's about. Her treatment of the Shadows and Faces finds, and her insistence that Criterion remove my name from the Cassavetes box set are an attempt to silence and discredit me.

Things have been pretty rugged. She has taken me to the cleaners legally. Tens of thousands of dollars to defend myself from her attempts to seize the print. How I hate lawyers! And her stupidity. For that's what it really comes down to. To make things worse, an Iago figure named Al Ruban is manipulating her. Feeding her all these lies. He's had it in for me for years and this is his way to get me once and for all. But if she's dumb enough to fall for it, the fault is still hers in the end.

Don't worry about me. I'm a survivor. And don't worry about the first version. I will go to my grave before I'll turn over the print of Shadows (a beautiful, polished, finished work of art) to Rowlands to be destroyed. I don't care what it costs me to hold onto it. This is for eternity—the next generation and John's memory.



P.S. I posted a new set of pages with a lot of the info on the "Ray Carney's Discoveries" button on the bottom of the Films of JC section. (Click here to go to that section of the site and then click on the items in the top menu.)

From Ray Carney:

I get at least ten emails a day asking me to: 1) recommend movies to view; 2) provide information about obtaining a video of a particular film; 3) send the writer a copy of a film; 4) give my views on a trendy new film. I often give the following reply, which I hereby share with all readers who are about to write me in that vein. In hopes that this will cut down on the "what movie to look at" queries:

Some general advice. Skip movies for a year or two. You're being tricked by ads into thinking your life is not complete without them. That they matter. That you have to keep up with the hamster treadmill of hot releases. Hooey. Ridiculous. If you never saw another movie for the rest of your life, you'd be missing nothing. There are plenty of other arts to feed your soul. And most of the works are a thousand times greater than all but the very greatest films. With very few exceptions, maybe only one or two films a year—some years fewer than that—movies are junk, trash, idiocy, wastes of time. Read novels, short stories, poetry. Listen to good music (classical not pop). Go to museums. Go to dance concerts. Study real art. It will bring joy to your life, beyond anything a stupid movie can do for you.

Re: Question about literature vs. film
From: Livefree XXXX,

Professor Carney,

After reading through much of your website and through one of the books I ordered and received a couple weeks ago (the one containing "The Path of the Artist" essay)click here to find out more about that material—I'm itching in the most diabolical way to ask you a question.

Knowing that your schedule is prohibitive, I'll get right to it: I was especially taken by the ten suggestions for film makers included in the book. While the raison d'etre of your writings I've read is film, so much can be applied to other pursuits, but I just have to ask: do you have any similar suggestions tailored to writers, specifically fiction writers, who are moved to try and live up to the challenges you pose? And who do you feel has really nailed it on the written page (I have a suspicion that Henry James may well top your list, but I'd be curious who'd you'd suggest as good, solid examples). I've always believed writers have it a hell of a lot easier than filmmakers, as thousands of books get published annually while so few films ever see the light of a projector, but better public access carries increased responsibility to do something truly worthwhile. And still, when I try and look around and make a list of contemporary writers who are really onto something these days, I can name Denis Johnson (who is to me, lit-wise, as Cassavetes has been to you, film-wise), Robert Stone (sometimes, mainly early on), a few more if I'm thinking clearly, and then the list begins to rapidly dwindle.

Anyway, I ask because I'm certain that your website gets hits from a significant number of people like myself who derive a load of inspiration from what they find there, but may not necessarily be chasing down their visions on film. And hearing your opinion on the subject would be supremely interesting.

Jonathan Dixon

Ray Carney replies:

The best way to find out the writers I'm crazy about are to look at my course syllabi, a small number of which are included on the site (see the About Ray Carney: Course Syllabi pages). I teach my passions. My work is made up of my obsessions. There's really no other way to go This spring, for example, I am teaching a "four twentieth century masters of the short story" course that focuses on Eudora Welty, Stanley Elkin, John Cheever, and Joyce Carol Oates. Last year I taught James and Hawthorne. Other years I've taught dozens of other writers. They are all ones I love. Plus hundreds of others other people at Boston U. teach: Chekhov, Turgenev, Wordsworth, D.H. Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, and a zillion others...... But there's no end to the list, so I'll have to stop there....... My list grows like Topsy. It doesn't "dwindle." (Just razzing you.)

But there is too much to say. I get this question or some variety of it a lot. I'll try to find some of the lists I've sent to other questioners and post them on the site somewhere for you to find.... like an Easter Egg. (Hint: look in the letters section!)

All best wishes.


P.S. I always have liked the New Hampshire license plate motto: Live free or die. Too many people do the latter, alas.

Ray Carney writes:

I found a few earlier replies (cut and pasted from emails to others):

Eudora Welty's short stories; Stanley Elkin's Greatest Hits or Dick Gibson Show; Faulkner's The Hamlet; Emily Dickinson's poems; Melville's Moby Dick; Emerson's Circles, Fate, Experience; Henry James's The Sacred Fount and Awkward Age (two hardest novels ever written); Thoreau's Walden; Hawthorne's Short Stories; Berlioz's Memoirs. Ask me any other time, the list would be completely different, but those are on my mind right now.


Faulkner's Sound and Fury, Robert Lowell's poetry, Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, Eliz. Bishop's poetry, Emily Dickinson's poetry, D.H. Lawrence's Phoenix I and II, William James's Pluralistic Universe and Essays in Radical Empiricism, D.H. Lawrence's poetry, D. H. Lawence's short stories, start with volume 2 in the Viking Compass edition, vol 4 (something like 1895-1903) of the Library of America edition of Henry James' short stories, Shakespeare's Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, Proust's Recherche, Whitman's L of G. Unlike the hustlers who populate the film world, these guys don't have publicists working for them, shilling for them, convincing people that they have to know their work to be considered fully alive, which is why people aren't lining up to buy their books on Saturday night. Our culture only promotes what makes money, money, money. And these folks are low margin. You can't make six hundred million dollars off them. But that's just our screwed up values. Our messed up way of measuring things. What any one of them is doing is greater than all of Academy Award movies ever made, greater than the work of all but five or ten of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. That's why its so ridiculous that Charlie Rose rushes to interview some movie star while these books sit in bookstores, largely ignored (not counting the college students who are forced to skim them or skim the Monarch Notes version in a lit. course.)


....You must read the two Alices: Alice Munro and Alice Adams. Especially the amazing Munro. Her Open Secrets, The Moons of Jupiter, The Progress of Love, Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, and all of the other books are astonishing—so deep in their knowledge of life, so brave in their refusal to make human relationships simpler than they are, so strong in their understatement.......


Read the greatest novel ever written: Henry James's The Sacred Fount. Staying in the flow of its language is a test of your intelligence. Not James's—yours! Do you fail or pass? Do you avoid the stupidity of the essays that have been written about it? Every essay I've read is wrong, wrong, wrong. Promise me you won't read anything about it by anyone else. It will only pollute your mind. Study this voice, this range of perception. The central character is the greatest, noblest, most deeply sensitively aware of all of James's creations. But if you've been there done that, go to The Awkward Age and The Ambassadors and let me know what you think of Longdon and Strether. What amazing creations of consciousness. Hail to thee Henry, the greatest writer who ever lived. (No offence meant to Bill Shakespeare—and Marcel P., but move over guys, can you hear footsteps, can you feel the heat?)


.... Charles Darwin of course, and a good organic chemistry text too, and maybe something by Christian DeDuve. Bruce Alberts's magnificent Molecular Biology of the Cell is a great beginning for beginners.....


Then there are the sacred texts—and I don't mean the Bible, the OED, or Shakespeare's plays. The great visionary scriptures, predictions, seeings. But I'm sorry I can't share them with anyone by email. We don't know each other well enough and some things are too special to be taken out in the light, too fragile to be touched with bare hands, too dangerous to be opened without sufficient preparation and warning. You need a course of study before you go there. Don't take it personally. I don't even talk about them with my friends. Some things are meant to stay private. But you can find them on your own if you stay very very open.

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© Text Copyright 2004 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.