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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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This came in from former Boston University student and site regular, independent filmmaker Lucas Sabean. -- R.C.

Subject: Pascal

Hey Ray-

Re-reading Pascal's Pensées for a third time. What an amazing revolutionary genius. I remember we talked about him years ago on the phone and you said something like, "Pascal is the foundation of french thought and literature." Well, here is a quote from a much longer section that struck me this morning:

"This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses."

Reminds me so much of Emerson. I guess great minds think alike.

I also wanted to throw my hat in the ring for "Rachel getting Married", I was spellbound for the first two-thirds of the film. (A note from Ray Carney: See independent filmmaker Jim McKay's letter near the bottom of Mailbag page 119 for the recommendation of the film by Jonathan Demme to which Lucas is referring.) It reminded me a lot of Vintenberg's "The celebration" in tone, style and narrative mistakes. I was rooting for the film the whole time. I kept thinking "please don't go there--don't ruin a good thing." And for the most part the film tosses you into the mud and you don't know whom to trust--Who is right and who is wrong. It blew me away and I thank Demme for providing such a great experience. There are things that could have been shorter etc., but the acting was wonderful and it clearly shook up many people in the audience.

Side note--I was writing to a friend the morning BEFORE I saw the film (Sid Varma actually) and I signed the letter "Shiva the destroyer"--which I have never done before in my life--well, in the film Anne Hatheway gives a speech and when she introduces herself she says "I'm the bride's sister--Shiva the destroyer". I almost fell out of my seat in the theatre. Weird. Strange. Wonderful.

Great exhibit just opened at the MET on "Love and art in the renaissance"--Like the previous show "Treasures from the royal court"--we get to see these amazing objects (this time bowls and plates--from "treasures" tables and furniture) that usually play second fiddle to paintings. I was so engrossed and amazed by the beauty of certain objects that I entered into a new way of seeing--like I was seeing them in this totally fresh way before thought could really enter--I was seeing the beauty with my heart-if only for a few minutes. So awesome--three hours just came and went. Of course I always stop by to say hello to Rembrandt and Halls (and a few other favorite pals---"Hey Lucas how are you my friend"). Boy do I feel nuts some times. Sometimes. Always!!

Oh yeah, what do you make Gurdjieff? Is he worth reading? I just ordered "The Beelzebub tales", but don't know anyone who has read him.

Hope all is well.


RC Replies:

In haste: Thanks for the great tips, Lucas. I shall share them with site readers.

About your "Shiva the destroyer" anecdote. It's not necessarily just a coincidence. There is a group mind. And group effects. This is not science-fiction or mumbo-jumbo. It's good basic physics. It just hasn't been discovered yet. (And of course most physicists are too stupid and arrogant to realize that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their current theories. As Wallace Stevens said, the imagination is always at the end of an era.) Of course I can't say exactly what was going on in your case, but it is certainly possible that you knew things you didn't know. In a few hundred years, physicists or biochemists will definitely be writing about this. They just haven't gotten there yet. As I say, there's a lot contemporary science hasn't discovered! But it will, a thousand or million years hence. So just be patient!

About Gurdjieff: He's good. Very good. His work on meditation is solid; and mediation is the key to understanding the nature of existence; but there are many different paths of course. His way in is only one of hundreds that all lead to the same place (or non-place), the same depth (or non-depth), the same fullness (or emptiness). Since you got me onto this topic, I can't resist quoting something else about mediation from a book (not by Gurdjieff) that I value very highly since it understands that the realms of the spirit and the body, of science and religion are the same. It understands that the soul is a physical body, not a metaphysical one. I quote, somewhat freely and loosely, from memory:

"Many different practices suffice, but the best is to meditate in such a way that the mind is concentrated on a part of the body or a physical sensation. The ingoing and outgoing of the breath is often the best. This relieves the onslaught of impressions coming in from the physical world on the electromagnetic body and enables it to resonate and expand. Paying attention to physical sensation is paying attention to energetic sensation. Watching oneself and one's surroundings -- what the masters call paying attention or waking up -- increases the intensity of the impressions so that they affect the spin of the electrons present in the nervous system. Being awake means being aware of oneself while at the same time absorbing impressions from the outside. The increase in spin and enrichment of the complexity of the pattern of electron spin that results brings increasing form to the radiant body. In other words, you must be able to watch and not watch at the same time. You must be within life, but not entirely absorbed in life. Inside and outside it. Part of you feels and experiences, but part observes yourself from a distance. If you do not watch, you do not see, and if you do not see, you do not impart a change in the spin of the electrons. The development of the soul is slowed by points of attachment with the world and the body. So detachment is essential to ecstasy. You must live life as both an observer and a participant. Buddha understood this. The outsider notices the shine of the spoon, the sunlight on the plate, the taste of food; the participant only eats. Many situations try to take us out of this vast deep calm, but even when the house is burning, you can maintain an absolute, perfect composure, and smell the smoke, feel the heat, watch the flicker of the flames. Concentrate on your body, follow your breath, and you will become God, loving, enjoying, participating in the ecstasy of the world."

Words worth pondering.... Gurdjieff's discoveries were not far from this. Nor was the work of Krishnamurti. I recommend his writing too. And Dogen's. And Hakuin's. And that of a hundred others. There is lots of good, deep thinking on this subject. You'll learn good things from any of it. -- R.C.

Thom Powers, whose documentary programming for the Toronto Film Festival and the IFC CENTER (323 Sixth Ave @ 3rd Street) in Manhattan has been mentioned elsewhere on the site, sent some information about two upcoming screenings that should be of interest to NY City residents. I highly recommend both events. For more information, go to:

Kevin Rafferty is one of the wild-men stylistic zanies of American documentary filmmaking and I assume that the work of the great Ricky Leacock needs no introduction. He is one of the spiritual godfathers, one of the founding fathers of the entire American documentary tradition.

And don't say "it's just a documentary." Since the mid-1960s a small group of American documentary filmmakers (including the two named above) have created a body of work that is far more interesting and important than the entire cinematic output of all of the Hollywood studios combined--and you can quote me on that! -- Ray Carney

TUES, NOV 25 at 8pm

Q&A with filmmakers Kevin Rafferty & Frank Keraudren

followed by a gathering at 99 Below with a

"Last Cigarette Drink Special"

Kevin Rafferty's documentary career has been rich and varied. He collaborated on the breakthrough doc ATOMIC CAFE (1982) that opened filmmakers to new ways of interpreting archival footage and was such a surprise hit, he was invited on The Late Show with David Letterman. His other films include BLOOD IN THE FACE (1991) about neo-Nazis and FEED (1993) which made inventive use out of satellite feeds during the 1992 Presidential election, revealing all the bits about politicians you weren't meant to see. And if that wasn't enough, Rafferty helped launch the career of Michael Moore as the cameraman on ROGER & ME.
Rafferty's latest work (opening today at the Film Forum) is HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

To honor this impressive career, STF is bringing back THE LAST CIGARETTE (1999) in which Rafferty and Frank Keraudren apply the treatment of ATOMIC CAFE to America's obsession with cigarettes. The film compiles eclectic footage ranging from Hollywood to Madison Ave to bizarre fetish videos. Whether you smoke, quit or never caught the addiction, this film will deepen your understanding of why tobacco has such a powerful hold over America. Not to mention, it's hugely entertaining and being presented on a wonderful 35 mm print, courtesy of New Yorker Films.

From Janet Maslin's review in The New York Times: A horde of film clips illustrate the movie shorthand of a meaningful gesture and a lighted cigarette. It was an especially valuable prop in the days when films required visual metaphors for what they could not otherwise say, as in a romantic scene that ends with Jennifer Jones and a bare-chested William Holden locking eyes while touching their cigarettes together. And by angrily throwing a cigarette away, John Wayne could make himself look even tougher. There are even glimpses of latter-day smoke-porn videos in which a fully clothed woman, perhaps one with two-inch talons and a tattoo, does nothing but smoke her cigarette and talk about it. And it goes without saying that an actor who pauses before exhaling looks thoughtful, even if he's not.

TUES, DEC 9 at 8 PM

Q&A with Richard Leacock

The 87-year-old Richard Leacock makes a special return appearance to STF, visiting from his home in Paris, to present and discuss film clips that accompany the autobiography that he's been writing for several years.

Leacock's career spans the whole history of modern documentary, making his first film CANARY BANANAS at the age of 13. He served as a cameraman in World War II and on Robert Flaherty last film LOUISIANA STORY. In the 1960s, Leacock pioneered the 16 mm movement working with Drew Associates on classics such as PRIMARY and CRISIS and with D.A. Pennebaker on MONTEREY POP. Leacock directed several touchstone works including HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY and CHIEFS (about a 1968 police convention). As an instructor at MIT, he inspired a new generation of filmmakers including Ross McElwee and Rob Moss. In the age of video, he directed the first hi-8 film shown on French television LES OEUFS A LA COQUE. And that's only skimming the surface of his credits. For more, see his web site

Two years ago, STF presented a tribute to Leacock showing TOBY AND THE TALL CORN, JAZZ DANCE and HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY that was unforgettable to everyone who attended.

This AUTOBIOGRAPHY presentation will focus on different works and is not to be missed!

Excerpts from a note from Ken Cormier, a Ph.D. student at U. Conn. I have removed some of the personal material to focus on a specific observation he makes. -- R.C.

Dear Professor Carney,

I am a longtime fan of the films of John Cassavetes and an admirer of your books on Cassavetes. I'm a current PhD student student at the University of Connecticut, a former manager and projectionist at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, and a fledgling independent radio producer. I do a lot of other stuff, but I'll leave it at that. ....

.... Thanks for all the work you've done on Cassavetes. I spent a semester showing several Cassavetes films at the library here at UConn, mainly geared toward the English Department, and I'm always looking for ways to get people to stop and take notice of his incredible accomplishment. I'm teaching Emily Dickinson today, and I am reminded of Cassavetes when I read how critics like Bowles and Higginson told her she didn't know what she was doing as a poet in her time. "Obey the rules!" was all they could seem to muster. I think the majority of people still feel that way about Cassavetes. "He missed the mark." "The films aren't polished." "The scenes go on and on!" It's tough to get a real conversation going even among people who know independent film. Egad!

Anyway, thanks for your time.

Best wishes,
Ken Cormier
Editor, The Lumberyard (
PhD Candidate in English Literature
University of Connecticut

RC Replies:


A very interesting (and true!) observation. I was talking with an art film programmer for a major film venue only last spring about this issue. He was talking about his programming and mentioned that it was a very rare viewer, even of the ones who bothered to attend the screenings, who could appreciate what he or his institution was attempting to do. He noted, as an aside, that English professors and other professors in arts fields -- even famous prize-winning, book-writing professors at Ivy League universities -- often had the worst taste in film. The most conventional taste. They loved junky Hollywood movies. Or movies they had seen in their teens and twenties. In effect, their appreciation of film had never grown up since their college days. They went to their graves never really understanding or appreciating the art of film. (Think Stanley Cavell -- or worse.)

I have a few reflections on this subject in the "Polemical Introduction" I wrote for the special issue of PostScript magazine that I edited after Cassavetes' death. I noted how easy Woody Allen was for intellectuals to appreciate: the wit, the jokes, the play, the gorgeous music, the gorgeous photography, the tortured (parody!) intellectuals -- all rang bells. Professors and so-called intellectuals "got" those kinds of things. No strain. No pain. But Cassavetes doesn't give us those kinds of things. His films aren't "beautiful" in the postcard way. The soundtracks don't have Gershwin or a juicy tenor sax wailing in the velvety darkness. The characters are not cool and poised -- but hot and sweaty and embarrassing. The soundtrack is scrappy and the shots are all elbows and knees. That's not what the professors want in their art. They want unworldly beauty and smoothness and perfection. They want prettiness. They want stylistic virtuosity. They want fancy shots and camera angles. They want visionary control and poise and balance. They want intellectualism and abstraction. (Go to the middle of Mailbag page 118 to read a little more discussion of this issue and go to the bottom of that same page to find a few links to click on. And also click on this link to read part of an essay I wrote that touches on the cult of picture postcard beauty and Faustian stylistic effects, and a million other stupidities that are often confused with ART -- but there is really just too much to say about how backward film and most other humanities professors are when it comes to art, so there is lots more that I'll have to resist the temptation to mention. But I'm sure you saw enough of that in your university course work. The profs -- with the fewest of exceptions -- are just too dumb. They're such slow learners. They'd rather clang their beat-up symbols and sling their French and German jargon than risk encountering a new emotion or idea in a work of art. That would be too threatening to their intellectual stances.)

This problem, this blindness, says a lot about what most people think art is about -- even English professors and a lot of film professors too! They still live in some 19th century backwater where art is supposed to be transcendent and purifying and resolving. As if 20th century painting and music and sculpture and dance hadn't happened.... Well, I better stop. It's such a reductive notion of what art is and does. Even back in the 17th century, Rembrandt and Frans Hals created art that was more complex than this. But these people will never understand that. They use the same methods they do in film to take the threat, the danger out of earlier work as well .....

You know I always tell my graduate students that someone should write a "history of taste" in 20th century America. Not about the good taste, but the bad--what became popular, what became fashionable, what became "hot." About how stupid, bad, immoral paintings, television shows, movies, and books became (and still continue to become) wildly popular. And about how and why great, stimulating, profound things are passed over. There are reasons for why this happens, but maybe it is too painful for anyone to write about. That's the noble reason why I figure no one's taken me up on this as their thesis. In my dark moods I imagine no one is interested in this subject because they don't even see what is going on, because they themselves are captive to easy beauty and cheap effects. Or am I being too cynical? Sometimes it's hard to tell cynicism from reality.


From RC: A newsletter from distinguished independent filmmaker Jon Jost arrived, with information about his recent projects and plans. I am glad to share it with site readers:

The autumn leaves are in full color, up on the mountain sides and hills here in Seoul a tawny range of ochre yellow rusted red, and littered on the ground the oxidized residue of one more year of life is swept up and bagged, sent off we presume to some recycling center, round and round like the earth's orbit of the sun, leading inexorably to a missing letter, obit dicta. [So I wrote a handful of days ago, but now a few days of sub freezing weather have stripped the trees, and the barrenness of winter already embraces us with a flurry of short-lasting big snowflakes.]

Marcella has been bitten by the bug - specifically the filmmaking one. Coming down from editing of the to-be-renamed RANT, a major job and done well, she started making a film blooming into a feature-length one, with some friends she has among the US and other expats, here teaching English in various schools, from children up to college. She seems to have maybe 30 minutes already in hand, edited, and the tentacles of the improvised manner are reaching out. It looks to be a mix of a look at the here-today/gone-tomorrow little community of young people and their mores and foibles, along with their interface with another very different culture. So far it is looking very good and interesting and I am glad to see Marcella take the leap, even if it brings the customary anxieties of creative work. I suspect she'll be on this one longer than she thinks.

Meantime I had my all-too-fast journey to the US - Lincoln, Chicago, Philadelphia, NYC - with screenings, talks, workshop all crammed into 10 days. Made some $, saw friends, if all far too hastily. On getting back had acquired or aggravated a nasty bronchial cold, for which I finally succumbed a week and some ago to taking antibiotics to kill, and it now seems cleared up. Fully on feet, back to work.

Sent off new films - PARABLE and RANT and LOVE IN THE SHADE (ominbus item of 90 mins, 2 shorts by students of mine, one by me, all circling around the topic of love Korean-style) - to Rotterdam and Berlin, and await word from them. I am pretty sure they'll all find a place, and if so Marcella and I will be off to Europe during the academic winter break, in Jan-Feb. If so, likely for 4-6 weeks. We think. Meantime Marcella's two sisters will be here for 2 and a half weeks come December, each with friend in tow. 2 will stay here, 2 at a friend's place. Should be fun, especially for Marcella - taking them to eat live squid, or dog ! Or just a real Korean meal for 3 Euro, excellent and more than sanity should allow.

We are pondering the coming year - whether to stay in Korea, and stay at Yonsei (if they decide to reinvite - my contract is annual). I am looking around a bit for another university in case we want to stay. Would prefer one a bit more creatively minded and have a line on a few things. Yonsei is a bit too much a rich kids' place. We shall see.

Also it will depend rather a bit on the larger world situation - whether we spiral, as I fully anticipate, into some kind of full-tilt deep deep recession/depression, or not. Mr Obama is being handed a ravaged, worse than empty bag by the departing Mr Bush and friends and I don't think there's any magic cure for some decades of American (and elsewhere) decadence. The last minute pillaging by the bankers and other uber capitalists for whom the rules go by the board as soon as their interests are threatened - AIG execs partying to the end while wallowing in public billions, and sneak raids on public funds pulled off by Paulson to benefit those who sucke(re)d us into this mess - all offer an ugly sign-off for a whole era. Good riddance. We'll see just which way Obama plays this. My fingers are x'd, though frankly the hints given by appointments so far are much too "centrist" for me.

So dependent on these matters we will/won't stay another year, and if not, just where we'll go, after a European stop of a while for Marcella, is none too clear. I don't frankly expect much clarity for a while. Our earnings in Won, juxtaposed to the almight Buck, have diminished over 30% in the last 8 months, but that could flip easily, or get a lot worse. My crystal ball declines to inform me just which way things will go. I'm checking around for other sectors of the world where perhaps the Won didn't get so dented exchange-wise. South America? Africa? India?

Anyway that's news from here for now. For further ruminations and thoughts, see blogs per below.

Hope all is well with you as we enter soon into winter, and if you have time and the spirit moves, please send us a note. We'd love to hear from you.

jon and marcella

Professor Jon Jost,
Yonsei University
Graduate School of Communication and Arts
134 Shinchon-dong, Seodaemun-gu
Seoul 120-749, Korea


A note from Ray Carney: I'm always amazed at the things that get sent to me. At how lucky I am, I mean. I don't deserve my good fortune. A DVD from a young, unknown filmmaker who had never contacted me before arrived in the mail a few days ago. Just a disk in an envelope with a short personal note on top of it. I sat down and looked at it tonight. It was a film called Creative Nonfiction by a writer-director-actress named Lena Dunham -- and it was terrific! I haven't talked with the filmmaker yet, so I don't know much more than that, with respect to who she is or how or when she made her movie; but I want to go on the record to be the first critic to offer her the verbal equivalent of a handshake or a hug or a "bravo" or a football cheer. Thank you, Lena, for sending me your film. It's amazingly good. Creative Nonfiction is a wonderfully perceptive study of a group of college friends and roommates, mainly young women but a few young men, and (this is the miraculous part) a few minutes into it, magic happens. It gets to the place of truth and stays there. Lena Dunham has created a group of young college roommates and friends and lovers who look, sound, and act like people we know -- people like us or our friends, people with the same problems and concerns we and they have. That may not sound like much, but it sets Creative Nonfiction apart from 99 out of 100 other films I see. Film is still a mystery to me -- a wonderful, alluring, sometimes maddening mystery -- and it can be almost impossible to say what makes one movie work and another not work, but whatever magic it is, Lena Dunham has it. Thank you, Lena.

This came in from two of my favorite indie filmmakers: Randy Walker and Jennifer Shanin, the collaborating writer-directors of Apart from That. (Click on this link to read a description of it that I wrote when I programmed it for an independent film festival at Harvard two years ago). I haven't seen the films they mention, but their recommendation is enough for me. And the book about their own film, available through the third link, is a beautiful souvenir and keepsake. -- R.C.

Randy & Jenny here. Just a brief howdy and a nudge; a few of our friends are releasing their films this holiday season, and if you'd like to throw a bone to some starving artist/filmmaker type folk (whilst giving the gift that keeps on giving, by golly) here's the scoop:

1. "Manhattan, Kansas". Superb doc. DVD release, with beautiful cover art by cartoonist Joe Lambert;

2. "The Last Romantic". Great narrative film with a funny-looking tall guy and the Coco Chanel chick in it, just released on IFC On Demand;

...and we're also reducing the price of the special edition "Apart From That" CD/DVD/Photo book;

Hope you are all well, and please keep in touch. We'd love to catch up.


Randy & Jenny


A friend of mine told of her experience seeing a documentary film about women artists at a film festival last week, and I thought you might possibly have an interest. My friend who is a successful artist in her own right was so profoundly affected she cried through the whole film. She says it's about what it's like for a woman to be an artist while having to juggle all of her other responsibilities, how she strives to be who she is through her art without compromise and what that means. It's about five women artists in different art forms, eg dance, drumming, sculpting, etc. The film is called "Who Does She Think She Is?" by Pamela Tanner Boll. Have you heard anything about it?


RC replies: Haven't heard of it, but I am glad to pass along information to site readers. I'd love to hear other responses and observations, or any other information that may be available, about it, the filmmaker, or future screenings of the film. -- R.C.

A note from Ray Carney: I'd be interested in hearing site readers' thoughts about Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. The fundamental question is whether it is really, truly an important and enduring work of art, a film that will be thought about, viewed, and discussed decades from now, a work that can deepen and enrich our lives, or just a flash in the pan. If I receive enough thoughtful responses, I'll devote an entire page (or more) of the site to a discussion of the movie.

This page of the Mailbag was up only for a few nanoseconds, when Australian correspondent Fraser Orr weighed in with a response to my comments to Ken Cormier halfway up on the page (next to the yellow graphic of PostScript magazine). --R.C.

Subject: A History of Taste

Professor Carney,

I loved your comments on the latest letters page about the declining taste of American culture (I'm Australian, and would guess it's just as accurate to say "Western culture"). My own half-baked opinion is that the junk now churned out through all forms of media works in the same way as a narcotic.

When a person takes, for example, an amphetamine the drug causes the brain to release endorphins, which make us feel good. These endorphins are usually released after a person has achieved success in life, say through a relationship or a new job. Endorphins are our brains way of rewarding us for the hard work we have done. I'm probably embarrassing myself with how little I know about the brain here, but you get the drift. The drug user has found a way to get the reward, without having to put in the hard work.

So much of what we consume in modern society (film, television, sport, even the news!) works to activate perhaps these same endorphins and fool our brains into thinking we're doing something constructive with our lives. But we don't call it a narcotic, we call it entertainment.

I know you've studied the way the brain works to some extent, do you know of any scientific studies that monitor the brain as it watches a Hollywood film? I wonder how that brain would compare to the brain of someone gambling, playing a computer game, eating junk food, at a sporting event or on drugs.

Thanks for all the work you've done. I've just finished university, and reading "The Films of John Cassavetes" had more impact on me than anything else I've done in the four year degree.

Fraser Orr

RC replies: Sorry to hear Australia is no different, but it doesn't suprise me. I could feel the effects of the "thought police" during my visit there a few years ago. The "cultural studies" nuts and the "language censors," at least. They were all over film study.

Don't faint, but I once said more or less the same thing you do in your note in a class. It was a year or two ago. I told the students that we lived in a druggie culture (in the largest sense of the adjective), and it was not surprising that our films were made by druggies to provide drug experiences for drugged viewers. Well, you should have seen the looks on the students' faces. You would have thought I said a swear word. I had just "pulled a Carney," I guess. I was told a day later by one of the female students, in confidence, that the girls went into the ladies room during a subsequent class break and whispered the whole time to one another about what I had said! Shocking. Shocking. The truth always is. The fish can never see the water it swims in. It's always shocked to learn that it's not flying through the air. Where something is everywhere, it's always invisible.

With respect to the psychologists' studies of the effects of film. Psychologists are the last people on earth I would ever turn to for accurate information. American psychologists in particular have all sold their souls to various fashionable ideas (the social "construction" of identity, the infinite plasticity and malleability of human nature, the born-in-the-bone equality of childrens' intellectual and moral capacities, the infinite reformability of character, and a million other trendy TV cliches about race, class, and gender). Show me one psychologist who ever took a daring stand on anything -- who ever said something that upset anyone. (They're like ministers that way. They want to tell everyone what they want to hear and already believe. They don't dare risk alienating anyone by ever expressing an original thought. Jeremiah Wright was the last minister who did that, and look at the brouhaha he caused! Not one defender in the entire American media empire. What a jerk. He actually said something we needed to hear.)

Anyway, why do we feel we need (pseudo-) "scientific" validation for what is right in front of our eyes? What is this cult of (pseudo-) science that has us all brainwashed? Do we really believe that scientists are smarter or more courageous intellectually than the rest of us? Scientists -- even "hard" scientists like physicists, I should say especially physicists! -- are the most conventional, follow-the-leader intellectual lemming group in our society. When was the last time any of them risked tenure and promotion and government grants by daring to express a controversial or even a completely new idea? Scientists are slaves to trendy theories, not independent intellects.

Fare onward, voyager,


A note from writer-director Mary Bronstein, about one of my favorite films of the past year: Yeast. Highly recommended, and I guarantee that it won't be coming to a theater near you. It's too good. --R.C.



A film by Mary Bronstein

Starring Mary Bronstein, Greta Gerwig, Amy Judd, Sean Williams,

Ignacio Carballo, Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie

Crewed by: Sean Williams, Ronald Bronstein, Michael Tully, Sam Lisenco, Benny & Josh Safdie & Ignacio Carballo

Is now available for rent or purchase through's video-on-demand feature:

Fresh off a win at the St. Louis International Film Festival!

"...a riveting spectacle." --The Austin Chronicle

"...a tribute to excellent acting and directing.'Yeast' is an intense little film."
--Film Threat

"The world she creates is voiced not with conversational realism, but rather with a reactive, tweaked-out, primal scream." --Filmmaker Magazine Blog

A note from Ray Carney: I recently posted an essay "The Art of Fiction" by Henry James on another page of the site that I wanted to refer readers to. Though this essay is nominally about the novel, the observations in it apply equally to all other contemporary arts. I highly recommend that all artists (and critics) read and think about it. It is worth pondering.

This came in from Irish independent filmmaker Donal Foreman. -- R.C.

Hi Ray,

Don't know if you know or have heard of David Graeber, but I've been reading his stuff lately and came across this interview about being pushed out of his teaching job at Yale... Thought you might be interested in his analysis of it.


A note from Ray Carney: The article is brief but there is much in it to ponder: about how (bogus) claims of "confidentiality" are used by universities to squelch debate and discussion; about how taking a principled political or institutional stand can be used against a faculty member; about the "corporate" nature of decision-making in the modern university; about how the expression of differences of opinion becomes evidence of a faculty member's being "divisive;" about how administrative and faculty "bullies" systematically retaliate against faculty members who don't follow their lead or mouth the party line; and about many other related issues. I recommend it highly for an insight into how colleges and universities really function. The modern university, all too often, does not care about new ideas and new approaches; it cares about positive PR and contributions to the alumni fund.

See the material in the box near the bottom of Mailbag page 101 (accessible via the blue menus at the top and bottom of this page) for more reflections on the importance of absolute, unfettered free inquiry and free expression in American universities, and on how, in our culture of salesmanship, those things are all too easily confused with generating good PR and high application and enrollment figures. The university becomes indistinguishable from a corporation selling a product, and students are treated not as thinkers in the making, but as purchasers of a product, to be courted and sold on the basis of its future supposed financial value. The university is turned into a supermarket and students are turned into customers. "Quick Quiz: How many things are wrong with this picture? How many different ways does it distort the educational process and foster false (non-intellectual) values? You have one minute to list five. Five more will count as extra credit toward your final grade in the course."

But let me end on a more serious, and a more positive, note: What a joy to be a student in a university that doesn't function this way. A university that doesn't try to sell us something, or keep us happy, or please us, or flatter us. A university that challenges us and never stops challenging us. May we all be students for life in this other way. Not moving through college like a "consumer," asking a teacher or a school to give us what we want and think we need, but opening ourselves, humbling ourselves, throwing ourselves down to observe and study and learn. Infinitely curious, open, and receptive. I'm a student this way myself, right now, and have been a student of this sort for every minute of my life. May I always remain a student in this other way. To be a student forever. A student of life and art and all experience. There are no limits to that -- no boundaries to what we can learn, and no end of the learning. To be a student in this way is to live in a world of mountains beyond mountains and rivers beyond rivers, with no end. May it be forever so. Thank God it can be so! -- R.C.

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