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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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From: sumonja petar

Subject: a tribute video to John Cassavetes

Dear Ray Carney,

i have written to you some time ago now...
i was doing that master on John Cassavetes at the time.
I would just like to send you a link of something i have made that i have posted on youtube.

its a sort of a tribute video to John Cassavetes

hopefully you will find it interesting.

100 Faces Of John Cassavetes - A Tribute

RC replies:

subject: cave man thoughts

Thanks very much!

Unfortunately, my computer is too ancient (steam powered and four hundred and ten years old) to access videos. But I shall post on my web site and ask my readers to report back to their fearless leader. (I guess that's me.)

Keep the faith and keep working for truth and moral values in art.

A confession: I remember your earlier email and project, from a year or two ago, but I forget what country you live in. Remind me please.



Petar replied:

i live in Serbia... a small and insignificant country in the Balkans... don't know what else to say about it.

Thank you! Hope that someone will like it. It's a "post modernistic" mish-mash cut-up of his films. It's something I wanted to do for a long time. To make some sort of tribute to John Cassavetes.


An important survey from one of the major online film publications, IndieWire. But it did not begin auspiciously for me at least. IndieWIRE is so "industry-centric" that there is no category for "film educator," "film professor," or "film critic" (nor one for "film student") on the first page. I had to describe myself as a "film fan," and many site readers will have to also. Who says America (or American film) respects intellectuals and thinkers? Sarah Palin and IndieWire would probably agree on that subject! -- RC (who thinks of himself as more -- or less -- than a "fan")

From: Eugene Hernandez
subject: indieWIRE Survey: We need your input & guidance


Back in mid-July, as indieWIRE hit its twelfth anniversary, we announced our sale of iW to Ted Leonsis' new company, SnagFilms.

Since the partnership with the folks at Snag, we've spent quite a bit of time pondering indieWIRE and its future. Rest assured, indieWIRE's focus will not shift, but the way we deliver our content will. As moviegoing and filmmaking continue to change, we are exploring many opportunities to bolster the community of filmmakers, industry and aficionados who are members of indieWIRE.

For twelve years, iW has been the gateway for our members to discover intelligent films: independent, international, documentary cinema. Being that gateway for intelligent film remains our passion and is driving our development of the new indieWIRE.

We've had great conversations with numerous friends and colleagues about our plans to dramatically re-develop As we continue working towards the launch of the new indieWIRE in early '09, we need the input, guidance and advice of our members.

Please take a moment to participate in our survey. We invite you to share ideas, thoughts, and feedback and appreciate your continued support of indieWIRE.



Prof. Carney,

I found you on the internet.

I am looking for a copy of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater, "Free of Charge" with John Cassavetes.

One of my favorites of all time. I had a VHS copy back in the 1970's when it was broadcast on the ABC series Startime. But it is now gone.

I did get to meet Mr Cassavetes once in Los Angeles in the 1980's.There was a panel truck driving down Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills that was plastered with posters from the movie Opening Night. I pulled up next to it at a stoplight and yelled in " Do you have an extra copy of the poster?" To my surprise leaning out the truck to hand me a poster was John.

What a guy!

Thank you,
LS Love
Santa Fe, NM

RC replies: Dear LS (short for "love streams?") Thanks for the great story! And typical "John." Just the guy I knew. Yes, he WOULD HAVE leaned out of the truck -- that's just like him!!! -- and, if you had asked for it, he would have given you HIS SHIRT too!!! He was a total nut case. That was what was so great about him. He was absolutely fearless. And didn't give a damn what anybody thought. He would do ANYTHING!!!! (I am a little like that myself, demented in the same way, but boy does it get me into trouble with "formal people!") So thanks, but sorry I can't help with "Free of Charge." I have my own copy, but the Bob Hope Presents folks would sue the pants off me if I started distributing it: Law suits, demands for moola, stupidity, the works!!!! just can't afford the court costs or lawyers' fees, but I promise you, if you are ever in Beanburg, give me a call, and I'll try to screen it for you. It's really (I mean really!) a wonderful piece. Strictly between ourselves (shhh--don't tell anyone): You want to know an even more wonderful (and rare) Cassavetes work? It's called "XXXXX." Try to see that one if you can. It's friggin' a-maz-ing. And I may be the only person in the world who knows about THAT ONE! One of the most important works John ever did in his whole life. Keep the faith, my dear friend. And do let me know if you are ever up in this area, and I'll set up a screening. Honest injun. -- Ray Carney

Photo by Mark Backus / Summer 2005A note from Ray Carney: William James is one of the most important philosophers of the past 400 years. His writing about the difference between conception and perception, ideas and experiences, is very relevant to the work of the artist. Below I reprint an extended excerpt from Chapter 6 of A Pluralistic Universe, one of James's most important books. I recommend this excerpt to every creative artist. Think about how ideas mislead us, how abstractions can take us away from reality, how the "conceptual transformation" can represent a profound loss for life--and art. Every artist must grapple with the issues James deals with in this piece. In fact, it would not be too much to say that this is the most important issue that artists must deal with. Artists need to have ideas, and need to use various forms of conceptual and temporal shorthand in their work (metaphors, symbols, typologies, summaries and abbreviations of all sorts) -- but they must also understand how ideas and abstractions and summaries can and do betray or falsify the deepest and most important aspects of lived experience. Life is non-conceptual. Life is not ideas. Life is experiences. How can an artist make a work of art responsive to the non-conceptual, non-abstracted, temporally flowing side of reality? How can an artist avoid giving his or her viewer or listener "ideas" in place of "experiences?" Read and think about these issues. -- R.C.

Bergson alone challenges its theoretic authority in principle. He alone denies that mere conceptual logic can tell us what is impossible or possible in the world of being or fact; and he does so for reasons which at the same time that they rule logic out from lordship over the whole of life, establish a vast and definite sphere of influence where its sovereignty is indisputable. Bergson's own text, felicitous as it is, is too intricate for quotation, so I must use my own inferior words in explaining what I mean by saying this.

In the first place, logic, giving primarily the relations between concepts as such, and the relations between natural facts only secondarily or so far as the facts have been already identified with concepts and defined by them, must of course stand or fall with the conceptual method. But the conceptual method is a transformation which the flux of life undergoes at our hands in the interests of practice essentially and only subordinately in the interests of theory. We live forward, we understand backward, said a Danish writer; and to understand life by concepts is to arrest its movement, cutting it up into bits as if with scissors, and immobilizing these in our logical herbarium where, comparing them as dried specimens, we can ascertain which of them statically includes or excludes which other. This treatment supposes life to have already accomplished itself, for the concepts, being so many views taken after the fact, are retrospective and post mortem. Nevertheless we can draw conclusions from them and project them into the future. We cannot learn from them how life made itself go, or how it will make itself go; but, on the supposition that its ways of making itself go are unchanging, we can calculate what positions of imagined arrest it will exhibit hereafter under given conditions. We can compute, for instance, at what point Achilles will be, and where the tortoise will be, at the end of the twentieth minute. Achilles may then be at a point far ahead; but the full detail of how he will have managed practically to get there our logic never gives us--we have seen, indeed, that it finds that its results contradict the facts of nature. The computations which the other sciences make differ in no respect from those of mathematics. The concepts used are all of them dots through which, by interpolation or extrapolation, curves are drawn, while along the curves other dots are found as consequences. The latest refinements of logic dispense with the curves altogether, and deal solely with the dots and their correspondences each to each in various series. The authors of these recent improvements tell us expressly that their aim is to abolish the last vestiges of intuition, videlicet of concrete reality, from the field of reasoning, which then will operate literally on mental dots or bare abstract units of discourse, and on the ways in which they may be strung in naked series.

This is all very esoteric, and my own understanding of it is most likely misunderstanding. So I speak here only by way of brief reminder to those who know. For the rest of us it is enough to recognize this fact, that although by means of concepts cut out from the sensible flux of the past, we can re-descend upon the future flux and, making another cut, say what particular thing is likely to be found there; and that although in this sense concepts give us knowledge, and may be said to have some theoretic value (especially when the particular thing foretold is one in which we take no present practical interest); yet in the deeper sense of giving insight they have no theoretic value, for they quite fail to connect us with the inner life of the flux, or with the causes that govern its direction. Instead of being interpreters of reality, concepts negate the inwardness of reality altogether. They make the whole notion of a causal influence between finite things incomprehensible. No real activities and indeed no real connections of any kind can obtain if we follow the conceptual logic; for to be distinguishable, according to what I call intellectualism, is to be incapable of connection. The work begun by Zeno, and continued by Hume, Kant, Herbart, Hegel, and Bradley, does not stop till sensible reality lies entirely disintegrated at the feet of 'reason.'

Of the 'absolute' reality which reason proposes to substitute for sensible reality I shall have more to say presently. Meanwhile you see what Professor Bergson means by insisting that the function of the intellect is practical rather than theoretical. Sensible reality is too concrete to be entirely manageable--look at the narrow range of it which is all that any animal, living in it exclusively as he does, is able to compass. To get from one point in it to another we have to plough or wade through the whole intolerable interval. No detail is spared us; it is as bad as the barbed-wire complications at Port Arthur, and we grow old and die in the process. But with our faculty of abstracting and fixing concepts we are there in a second, almost as if we controlled a fourth dimension, skipping the intermediaries as by a divine winged power, and getting at the exact point we require without entanglement with any context. What we do in fact is to harness up reality in our conceptual systems in order to drive it the better. This process is practical because all the termini to which we drive are particular termini, even when they are facts of the mental order. But the sciences in which the conceptual method chiefly celebrates its triumphs are those of space and matter, where the transformations of external things are dealt with. To deal with moral facts conceptually, we have first to transform them, substitute brain-diagrams or physical metaphors, treat ideas as atoms, interests as mechanical forces, our conscious 'selves' as 'streams,' and the like. Paradoxical effect! as Bergson well remarks, if our intellectual life were not practical but destined to reveal the inner natures. One would then suppose that it would find itself most at home in the domain of its own intellectual realities. But it is precisely there that it finds itself at the end of its tether. We know the inner movements of our spirit only perceptually. We feel them live in us, but can give no distinct account of their elements, nor definitely predict their future; while things that lie along the world of space, things of the sort that we literally handle, are what our intellects cope with most successfully. Does not this confirm us in the view that the original and still surviving function of our intellectual life is to guide us in the practical adaptation of our expectancies and activities?

One can easily get into a verbal mess at this point, and my own experience with pragmatism makes me shrink from the dangers that lie in the word 'practical,' and far rather than stand out against you for that word, I am quite willing to part company with Professor Bergson, and to ascribe a primarily theoretical function to our intellect, provided you on your part then agree to discriminate 'theoretic' or scientific knowledge from the deeper 'speculative' knowledge aspired to by most philosophers, and concede that theoretic knowledge, which is knowledge about things, as distinguished from living or sympathetic acquaintance with them, touches only the outer surface of reality. The surface which theoretic knowledge taken in this sense covers may indeed be enormous in extent; it may dot the whole diameter of space and time with its conceptual creations; but it does not penetrate a millimeter into the solid dimension. That inner dimension of reality is occupied by the activities that keep it going, but the intellect, speaking through Hume, Kant & Co., finds itself obliged to deny, and persists in denying, that activities have any intelligible existence. What exists for thought, we are told, is at most the results that we illusorily ascribe to such activities, strung along the surfaces of space and time by regeln der verknüpfung, laws of nature which state only coexistences and successions.[1]

Thought deals thus solely with surfaces. It can name the thickness of reality, but it cannot fathom it, and its insufficiency here is essential and permanent, not temporary.

The only way in which to apprehend reality's thickness is either to experience it directly by being a part of reality one's self, or to evoke it in imagination by sympathetically divining someone else's inner life. But what we thus immediately experience or concretely divine is very limited in duration, whereas abstractly we are able to conceive eternities. Could we feel a million years concretely as we now feel a passing minute, we should have very little employment for our conceptual faculty. We should know the whole period fully at every moment of its passage, whereas we must now construct it laboriously by means of concepts which we project. Direct acquaintance and conceptual knowledge are thus complementary of each other; each remedies the other's defects. If what we care most about be the synoptic treatment of phenomena, the vision of the far and the gathering of the scattered like, we must follow the conceptual method. But if, as metaphysicians, we are more curious about the inner nature of reality or about what really makes it go, we must turn our backs upon our winged concepts altogether, and bury ourselves in the thickness of those passing moments over the surface of which they fly, and on particular points of which they occasionally rest and perch.

Professor Bergson thus inverts the traditional platonic doctrine absolutely. Instead of intellectual knowledge being the profounder, he calls it the more superficial. Instead of being the only adequate knowledge, it is grossly inadequate, and its only superiority is the practical one of enabling us to make short cuts through experience and thereby to save time. The one thing it cannot do is to reveal the nature of things--which last remark, if not clear already, will become clearer as I proceed. Dive back into the flux itself, then, Bergson tells us, if you wish to know reality, that flux which Platonism, in its strange belief that only the immutable is excellent, has always spurned; turn your face toward sensation, that flesh-bound thing which rationalism has always loaded with abuse.--This, you see, is exactly the opposite remedy from that of looking forward into the absolute, which our idealistic contemporaries prescribe. It violates our mental habits, being a kind of passive and receptive listening quite contrary to that effort to react noisily and verbally on everything, which is our usual intellectual pose.

What, then, are the peculiar features in the perceptual flux which the conceptual translation so fatally leaves out?

The essence of life is its continuously changing character; but our concepts are all discontinuous and fixed, and the only mode of making them coincide with life is by arbitrarily supposing positions of arrest herein. With such arrests our concepts may be made congruent. But these concepts are not parts of reality, not real positions taken by it, but suppositions rather, notes taken by ourselves, and you can no more dip up the substance of reality with them than you can dip up water with a net, however finely meshed.

When we conceptualize, we cut out and fix, and exclude everything but what we have fixed. A concept means a that-and-no-other. Conceptually, time excludes space; motion and rest exclude each other; approach excludes contact; presence excludes absence; unity excludes plurality; independence excludes relativity; 'mine' excludes 'yours'; this connection excludes that connection--and so on indefinitely; whereas in the real concrete sensible flux of life experiences compenetrate each other so that it is not easy to know just what is excluded and what not. Past and future, for example, conceptually separated by the cut to which we give the name of present, and defined as being the opposite sides of that cut, are to some extent, however brief, co-present with each other throughout experience. The literally present moment is a purely verbal supposition, not a position; the only present ever realized concretely being the 'passing moment' in which the dying rearward of time and its dawning future forever mix their lights. Say 'now' and it was even while you say it.

It is just intellectualism's attempt to substitute static cuts for units of experienced duration that makes real motion so unintelligible. The conception of the first half of the interval between Achilles and the tortoise excludes that of the last half, and the mathematical necessity of traversing it separately before the last half is traversed stands permanently in the way of the last half ever being traversed. Meanwhile the living Achilles (who, for the purposes of this discussion, is only the abstract name of one phenomenon of impetus, just as the tortoise is of another) asks no leave of logic. The velocity of his acts is an indivisible nature in them like the expansive tension in a spring compressed. We define it conceptually as [s/t], but the s and t are only artificial cuts made after the fact, and indeed most artificial when we treat them in both runners as the same tracts of 'objective' space and time, for the experienced spaces and times in which the tortoise inwardly lives are probably as different as his velocity from the same things in Achilles. The impetus of Achilles is one concrete fact, and carries space, time, and conquest over the inferior creature's motion indivisibly in it. He perceives nothing, while running, of the mathematician's homogeneous time and space, of the infinitely numerous succession of cuts in both, or of their order. End and beginning come for him in the one onrush, and all that he actually experiences is that, in the midst of a certain intense effort of his own, the rival is in point of fact outstripped.

We are so inveterately wedded to the conceptual decomposition of life that I know that this will seem to you like putting muddiest confusion in place of clearest thought, and relapsing into a molluscoid state of mind. Yet I ask you whether the absolute superiority of our higher thought is so very clear, if all that it can find is impossibility in tasks which sense-experience so easily performs.

What makes you call real life confusion is that it presents, as if they were dissolved in one another, a lot of differents which conception breaks life's flow by keeping apart. But are not differents actually dissolved in one another? Hasn't every bit of experience its quality, its duration, its extension, its intensity, its urgency, its clearness, and many aspects besides, no one of which can exist in the isolation in which our verbalized logic keeps it? They exist only durcheinander. Reality always is, in M. Bergson's phrase, an endosmosis or conflux of the same with the different: they compenetrate and telescope. For conceptual logic, the same is nothing but the same, and all sames with a third thing are the same with each other. Not so in concrete experience. Two spots on our skin, each of which feels the same as a third spot when touched along with it, are felt as different from each other. Two tones, neither distinguishable from a third tone, are perfectly distinct from each other. The whole process of life is due to life's violation of our logical axioms. Take its continuity as an example. Terms like A and C appear to be connected by intermediaries, by B for example. Intellectualism calls this absurd, for 'B-connected-with-A' is, 'as such,' a different term from 'B-connected-with-C.' But real life laughs at logic's veto. Imagine a heavy log which takes two men to carry it. First A and B take it. Then C takes hold and A drops off; then D takes hold and B drops off, so that C and D now bear it; and so on. The log meanwhile never drops, and keeps its sameness throughout the journey. Even so it is with all our experiences. Their changes are not complete annihilations followed by complete creations of something absolutely novel. There is partial decay and partial growth, and all the while a nucleus of relative constancy from which what decays drops off, and which takes into itself whatever is grafted on, until at length something wholly different has taken its place. In such a process we are as sure, in spite of intellectualist logic with its 'as suches,' that it is the same nucleus which is able now to make connection with what goes and again with what comes, as we are sure that the same point can lie on diverse lines that intersect there. Without being one throughout, such a universe is continuous. Its members interdigitate with their next neighbors in manifold directions, and there are no clean cuts between them anywhere.

The great clash of intellectualist logic with sensible experience is where the experience is that of influence exerted. Intellectualism denies (as we saw in lecture ii) that finite things can act on one another, for all things, once translated into concepts, remain shut up to themselves. To act on anything means to get into it somehow; but that would mean to get out of one's self and be one's other, which is self-contradictory, etc. Meanwhile each of us actually is his own other to that extent, livingly knowing how to perform the trick which logic tells us can't be done. My thoughts animate and actuate this very body which you see and hear, and thereby influence your thoughts. The dynamic current somehow does get from me to you, however numerous the intermediary conductors may have to be. Distinctions may be insulators in logic as much as they like, but in life distinct things can and do commune together every moment.

The conflict of the two ways of knowing is best summed up in the intellectualist doctrine that 'the same cannot exist in many relations.' This follows of course from the concepts of the two relations being so distinct that 'what-is-in-the-one' means 'as such' something distinct from what 'what-is-in-the-other' means. It is like Mill's ironical saying, that we should not think of Newton as both an Englishman and a mathematician, because an Englishman as such is not a mathematician and a mathematician as such is not an Englishman. But the real Newton was somehow both things at once; and throughout the whole finite universe each real thing proves to be many different without undergoing the necessity of breaking into disconnected editions of itself.

These few indications will perhaps suffice to put you at the Bergsonian point of view. The immediate experience of life solves the problems which so baffle our conceptual intelligence: How can what is manifold be one? How can things get out of themselves? How be their own others? How be both distinct and connected? How can they act on one another? How be for others and yet for themselves? How be absent and present at once? The intellect asks these questions much as we might ask how anything can both separate and unite things, or how sounds can grow more alike by continuing to grow more different. If you already know space sensibly, you can answer the former question by pointing to any interval in it, long or short; if you know the musical scale, you can answer the latter by sounding an octave; but then you must first have the sensible knowledge of these realities. Similarly Bergson answers the intellectualist conundrums by pointing back to our various finite sensational experiences and saying, 'Lo, even thus; even so are these other problems solved livingly.'

When you have broken the reality into concepts you never can reconstruct it in its wholeness. Out of no amount of discreteness can you manufacture the concrete. But place yourself at a bound, or d'emblée, as M. Bergson says, inside of the living, moving, active thickness of the real, and all the abstractions and distinctions are given into your hand: you can now make the intellectualist substitutions to your heart's content. Install yourself in phenomenal movement, for example, and velocity, succession, dates, positions, and innumerable other things are given you in the bargain. But with only an abstract succession of dates and positions you can never patch up movement itself. It slips through their intervals and is lost.

So it is with every concrete thing, however complicated. Our intellectual handling of it is a retrospective patchwork, a post-mortem dissection, and can follow any order we find most expedient. We can make the thing seem self-contradictory whenever we wish to. But place yourself at the point of view of the thing's interior doing, and all these back-looking and conflicting conceptions lie harmoniously in your hand. Get at the expanding centre of a human character, the élan vital of a man, as Bergson calls it, by living sympathy, and at a stroke you see how it makes those who see it from without interpret it in such diverse ways. It is something that breaks into both honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, stupidity and insight, at the touch of varying circumstances, and you feel exactly why and how it does this, and never seek to identify it stably with any of these single abstractions. Only your intellectualist does that,--and you now also feel why he must do it to the end.

Place yourself similarly at the centre of a man's philosophic vision and you understand at once all the different things it makes him write or say. But keep outside, use your post-mortem method, try to build the philosophy up out of the single phrases, taking first one and then another and seeking to make them fit, and of course you fail. You crawl over the thing like a myopic ant over a building, tumbling into every microscopic crack or fissure, finding nothing but inconsistencies, and never suspecting that a centre exists. I hope that some of the philosophers in this audience may occasionally have had something different from this intellectualist type of criticism applied to their own works!

What really exists is not things made but things in the making. Once made, they are dead, and an infinite number of alternative conceptual decompositions can be used in defining them. But put yourself in the making by a stroke of intuitive sympathy with the thing and, the whole range of possible decompositions coming at once into your possession, you are no longer troubled with the question which of them is the more absolutely true. Reality falls in passing into conceptual analysis; it mounts in living its own undivided life—it buds and bourgeons, changes and creates. Once adopt the movement of this life in any given instance and you know what Bergson calls the devenir réel by which the thing evolves and grows. Philosophy should seek this kind of living understanding of the movement of reality, not follow science in vainly patching together fragments of its dead results.

Thus much of M. Bergson's philosophy is sufficient for my purpose in these lectures, so here I will stop, leaving unnoticed all its other constituent features, original and interesting though they be. You may say, and doubtless some of you now are saying inwardly, that his remanding us to sensation in this wise is only a regress, a return to that ultra-crude empiricism which your own idealists since Green have buried ten times over. I confess that it is indeed a return to empiricism, but I think that the return in such accomplished shape only proves the latter's immortal truth. What won't stay buried must have some genuine life. Am anfang war die tat; fact is a first; to which all our conceptual handling comes as an inadequate second, never its full equivalent. When I read recent transcendentalist literature--I must partly except my colleague Royce!--I get nothing but a sort of marking of time, champing of jaws, pawing of the ground, and resettling into the same attitude, like a weary horse in a stall with an empty manger. It is but turning over the same few threadbare categories, bringing the same objections, and urging the same answers and solutions, with never a new fact or a new horizon coming into sight. But open Bergson, and new horizons loom on every page you read. It is like the breath of the morning and the song of birds. It tells of reality itself, instead of merely reiterating what dusty-minded professors have written about what other previous professors have thought. Nothing in Bergson is shop-worn or at second hand.

That he gives us no closed-in system will of course be fatal to him in intellectualist eyes. He only evokes and invites; but he first annuls the intellectualist veto, so that we now join step with reality with a philosophical conscience never quite set free before. As a French disciple of his well expresses it: 'Bergson claims of us first of all a certain inner catastrophe, and not every one is capable of such a logical revolution. But those who have once found themselves flexible enough for the execution of such a psychological change of front, discover somehow that they can never return again to their ancient attitude of mind. They are now Bergsonians ... and possess the principal thoughts of the master all at once. They have understood in the fashion in which one loves, they have caught the whole melody and can thereafter admire at their leisure the originality, the fecundity, and the imaginative genius with which its author develops, transposes, and varies in a thousand ways by the orchestration of his style and dialectic, the original theme.'[2]

This, scant as it is, is all I have to say about Bergson on this occasion--I hope it may send some of you to his original text. I must now turn back to the point where I found it advisable to appeal to his ideas. You remember my own intellectualist difficulties in the last lecture, about how a lot of separate consciousnesses can at the same time be one collective thing. How, I asked, can one and the same identical content of experience, of which on idealist principles the esse is to be felt, be felt so diversely if itself be the only feeler? The usual way of escape by 'quatenus' or 'as such' won't help us here if we are radical intellectualists, I said, for appearance-together is as such not appearance-apart, the world quâ many is not the world quâ one, as absolutism claims. If we hold to Hume's maxim, which later intellectualism uses so well, that whatever things are distinguished are as separate as if there were no manner of connection between them, there seemed no way out of the difficulty save by stepping outside of experience altogether and invoking different spiritual agents, selves or souls, to realize the diversity required. But this rescue by 'scholastic entities' I was unwilling to accept any more than pantheistic idealists accept it.

Yet, to quote Fechner's phrase again, 'nichts wirkliches kann unmöglich sein,' the actual cannot be impossible, and what is actual at every moment of our lives is the sort of thing which I now proceed to remind you of. You can hear the vibration of an electric contact-maker, smell the ozone, see the sparks, and feel the thrill, co-consciously as it were or in one field of experience. But you can also isolate any one of these sensations by shutting out the rest. If you close your eyes, hold your nose, and remove your hand, you can get the sensation of sound alone, but it seems still the same sensation that it was; and if you restore the action of the other organs, the sound coalesces with the feeling, the sight, and the smell sensations again. Now the natural way of talking of all this[3] is to say that certain sensations are experienced, now singly, and now together with other sensations, in a common conscious field. Fluctuations of attention give analogous results. We let a sensation in or keep it out by changing our attention; and similarly we let an item of memory in or drop it out. [Please don't raise the question here of how these changes come to pass. The immediate condition is probably cerebral in every instance, but it would be irrelevant now to consider it, for now we are thinking only of results, and I repeat that the natural way of thinking of them is that which intellectualist criticism finds so absurd.]

The absurdity charged is that the self-same should function so differently, now with and now without something else. But this it sensibly seems to do. This very desk which I strike with my hand strikes in turn your eyes. It functions at once as a physical object in the outer world and as a mental object in our sundry mental worlds. The very body of mine that my thought actuates is the body whose gestures are your visual object and to which you give my name. The very log which John helped to carry is the log now borne by James. The very girl you love is simultaneously entangled elsewhere. The very place behind me is in front of you. Look where you will, you gather only examples of the same amid the different, and of different relations existing as it were in solution in the same thing. Quâ this an experience is not the same as it is quâ that, truly enough; but the quâs are conceptual shots of ours at its post-mortem remains, and in its sensational immediacy everything is all at once whatever different things it is at once at all. It is before C and after A, far from you and near to me, without this associate and with that one, active and passive, physical and mental, a whole of parts and part of a higher whole, all simultaneously and without interference or need of doubling-up its being, so long as we keep to what I call the 'immediate' point of view, the point of view in which we follow our sensational life's continuity, and to which all living language conforms. It is only when you try--to continue using the Hegelian vocabulary--to 'mediate' the immediate, or to substitute concepts for sensational life, that intellectualism celebrates its triumph and the immanent-self-contradictoriness of all this smooth-running finite experience gets proved.

Of the oddity of inventing as a remedy for the inconveniences resulting from this situation a supernumerary conceptual object called an absolute, into which you pack the self-same contradictions unreduced, I will say something in the next lecture. The absolute is said to perform its feats by taking up its other into itself. But that is exactly what is done when every individual morsel of the sensational stream takes up the adjacent morsels by coalescing with them. This is just what we mean by the stream's sensible continuity. No element there cuts itself off from any other element, as concepts cut themselves from concepts. No part there is so small as not to be a place of conflux. No part there is not really next its neighbors; which means that there is literally nothing between; which means again that no part goes exactly so far and no farther; that no part absolutely excludes another, but that they compenetrate and are cohesive; that if you tear out one, its roots bring out more with them; that whatever is real is telescoped and diffused into other reals; that, in short, every minutest thing is already its Hegelian 'own other,' in the fullest sense of the term.

Of course this sounds self-contradictory, but as the immediate facts don't sound at all, but simply are, until we conceptualize and name them vocally, the contradiction results only from the conceptual or discursive form being substituted for the real form. But if, as Bergson shows, that form is superimposed for practical ends only, in order to let us jump about over life instead of wading through it; and if it cannot even pretend to reveal anything of what life's inner nature is or ought to be; why then we can turn a deaf ear to its accusations. The resolve to turn the deaf ear is the inner crisis or 'catastrophe' of which M. Bergson's disciple whom I lately quoted spoke. We are so subject to the philosophic tradition which treats logos or discursive thought generally as the sole avenue to truth, that to fall back on raw unverbalized life as more of a revealer, and to think of concepts as the merely practical things which Bergson calls them, comes very hard. It is putting off our proud maturity of mind and becoming again as foolish little children in the eyes of reason. But difficult as such a revolution is, there is no other way, I believe, to the possession of reality, and I permit myself to hope that some of you may share my opinion after you have heard my next lecture.

––Excerpted from William James, “BERGSON AND HIS CRITIQUE OF INTELLECTUALISM” (LECTURE VI in James’s A Pluralistic Universe).

To read excerpts from an interview where Ray Carney talks about the hazards of intellectualism in film study and how to "think without ideas," click here. And to read a lengthy essay about the ways common cinematic styles of presentation "de-realize" experience, click here. And to read a brief exchange wtih a site reader about this issue, click here.

To read Ray Carney's response on Mailbag page 119 to another question about this issue from a site reader, a response which links to several more discussions of the dangers of abstraction and intellectualism in criticism at other pages of the site, click here.

Subject: You are making a real difference

Prof. Carney,

Thought you might enjoy reading this piece I found... I'm not sure if you realize it, it may be invisible to you and to many others, but your work is seeping out into the consciousness of a new generation of students and making a real difference, changing minds, one at a time, all across the country. Here's one more Ph.D. student in film you have deeply affected with your deeply moral approach to art, criticism, and instruction.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Notes on the Career I Have Chosen

A couple days ago I turned in my dissertation. My advisor happened to be in his office when I dropped it by, so we planned a date for my defense, and we talked about Tarkovsky, the subject of my work, Tarkovsky scholarship and the state of things in academia. I'm still a bit shaken by the way our conversation ended, because it was one of those moments you may have had with a teacher/mentor figure of your own, where everything is moving along pleasantly, and then he starts to give you advice that makes you want to scream, because you find it offensive, and you feel sick that someone you respect so much, someone that has been your teacher and helped you open our eyes to so many important things, is now advising you to do something you find morally reprehensible.

Basically he was advising me to engage in dialogue with mainstream film criticism in respectful terms, and this is something I find myself completely unable to do. Because I think it is irresponsible. I am supposed to be writing a review for an on-line journal for a book entitled: Frames of Evil: the Holocaust as Horror in American Film. 100% academic bullshit. I sent a letter to Ray Carney about it, and he posted it in his mailbag. Go read it. When you're done with that, read some more stuff at his site. Particularly in the mailbag, Dr. Carney has been writing about something that he has only touched on from time to time in his books and essays, namely, the notion that art is a form of resistance. Real art is a form of resistance, not just the agit-prop that quasi-activist academics like to praise. Go read, The Difference between Fake and Real Emotions in Life and Art. It's short but maybe the best primer for thinking about art I can think of.

If you read these two sections you have a good sense of the problem. Part of it is that academics are playing games with each other. They write crazy things about bad art and leave good art alone, because writing about good art is no way to build a career. The other ingredient is that the so-called liberals in academia have turned the revolutionary aspect of art into a single note populist maxim. They have dumbed it down and reduced it to its shallowest manifestation without no regard for how this action plays into the hands of power brokers. The hegemony wants academia to be about esoteric minutia that no one would understand but an academic. That way they get to call us elitist. All the cultural studies brand deconstruction in the world will not so much as make a dent in the façade of hegemony. If you are a film scholar and you write wacky things about how Spielberg uses horror frames more familiar in Hitchcock as a code for evil so that the audience can make some unconscious connection between real horror and their experience of horror in film, and you think that this is an act of resistance, you are fooling yourself in a most profound way.

This brings me back to my advisor's suggestion that I give these people the benefit of the doubt. There is only so much doubt I can allow before I become morally irresponsible. My critique of their ideology already grants their purity of heart. I have been in college since 1992, and I know for a fact that it is widely considered professionally acceptable (and what's worse, economically viable, when a scholar should never in a million years have to think about how much money he can make from his writing) to be the first to make a case for something. That is just insane. You don't say something because no one else ever said it before; you say something because you believe in it. That this attitude is fostered and perpetuated tells us a lot about what is wrong with academia. We are more concerned about building careers than coming up with good ideas.

In short that's why I have to disregard his advice. The people who want to talk about representations of gender or representations of blackness or representations of "the other" in movies and me - we aren't writing about the same thing. Even if we both write about Tarkovsky, we aren't writing about the same thing. I'm writing aesthetics, they are writing sociology. Why would I read them? Why would I engage in dialog with them? Besides there are plenty of folks writing about film as art that I can argue with. I'll save my debate for the formalists, the amateur sociologists aren't worth the time.

Subject: Film Question for COM201

Professor Carney,

My name is Christine Warner and I am a freshman in COM. I am writing an article for my COM201 course about the formatting of film and video content to accommodate small screens. Some music video and film directors are beginning to adjust the filmmaking process to this development through center framing and changes in color, scenery and sound. I am interested in your perspective and opinion about this shift as a film professor involved in the industry. Do you think that catering the filmmaking process to smaller screens detracts from the artistic quality of film, or is it simply a natural progression for the industry?


Christine Warner


Three metaphors:

1. Art books do the same thing when they take Picasso's Guernica (twelve feet wide and six feet high) and put it on a nine by eleven inch page. Looking at it in a postage stamp reproduction is better than not being able to see it at all, but it will never replace the experience of pacing back and forth in front of it, looking up and down at it, stopping and starting and peering at details within it, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

2. Videos of football and basketball games, weddings, church services can be watched on TV or YouTube. And if you're half-crazy, I guess you could sing along with the church service or cheer for your team sitting all alone in your living room or with your laptop on your lap. But it bears almost no relation to going to church or standing up and yelling for your favorite player at the game. That is how watching a movie on your computer compares to watching it in a movie theater.

3. There are books published with titles like "the greatest lines in Shakespeare" or "the chief thoughts of the philosophers." When I was a kid there was a company called Reader's Digest that published "condensed classics" of the great novels, and there were "Classic Comic Books" too. You could read War and Peace in a half hour. They are all children's versions of works of art. Is anything lost? Is anything missing? Does our tolerance for such things, heck, our positive preference for them, tell us something important about us? You can answer that one yourself.

But all of these metaphors are subtly inappropriate, because in these cases someone else is doing it to the originator, someone else is making the changes and simplifications to the original work. So then ask yourself if Tolstoy, Shakespeare, or Picasso would have actually done this to their own works, and what it says about anyone who is willing to do it to him or herself. I mean--willing  to write the Classics Comics version of War and Peace instead of the thousand page version; willing to publish the postage stamp version of Guernica instead of the wall-filling one; willing to give us the "greatest lines" from Hamlet to spare us from having to read the whole darn play. That's what the people you are interested in are doing. Ask yourself about the power of money to corrupt and pervert and cripple and distort expression in our culture, including the expressions of the self-professed (but not genuinely real) artists in it.




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