Fifty Years Ago Today: Ray Johnson Reviews / Ray Johnson Reviewed

Affinities, Ray Johnson

April 18th, 2014


 Ray Johnson








Reviews of The Paper Snake by Ray Johnson, 1965


this is not a bk of poems to be “read” & then yell “GREAT! GREAT!” this is not a bk of poems. this is not a bk. GREAT! GREAT! the best thing to do i’ve found, to approach this “bk” is by picking it up only when you feel like it, say hello, or whatever you say to a friend & then pick out a pg that is appetizing to all of yr senses. eventually every pg will magnetize you. there is nothing in here which won’t be chewed on & researched by all mental cells, but NONE OF IT will be “read” the way we are accustomed to reading anything. it will be “read” the way a scrap bk is thumbed thru or a dream is recollected, piece by piece; for this is nothing more than a man forming a few thoughts & occurrences into a collection via postcards, photographs, check stubs, torn pieces of cloth. whatever is attracted to him becomes him & he, in return, offers it to us along w/words designed not to “say” anything but to recreate these material attachments & incidents for us to behold. GREAT! GREAT!

—from Ole Issue 2, March 1965, publisher: Douglas Blazek*


A reviewer ought to read a book when he reviews it, so I read The Paper Snake. He ought to mention the subject and give you a notion of the author’s competence in dealing with said subject. Reader, dear, here I have let you down.

I tried to find out what the subject of The Paper Snake is, but I’m still mystified. Somewhere along the line I missed the point or lost the thread of the argument and was unable to retrieve it.

It’s supposed to be no fair peeking at the dust-jacket blurb, but this time I peeked. The blurb is by William Wilson (not the same as my friend Edmund Wilson), who is a master of arts and a doctor of philosophy, and it runs to 600 words—not as long as The Paper Snake proper. Mr. Wilson doesn’t say what Mr. Johnson is talking about. He himself seems a competent writer, and he is fairly successful in putting a good face upon the situation in which he is confronted.

Mr. Wilson says, among other things, “The meaning in Ray Johnson’s work is not logical. . .” I shall not contest that judgement.

The Paper Snake is copyrighted, I don’t know why—that seems excessive caution.

The book is priced at $3.47. Again I wonder why.

—M.B., Source unknown, found in the archives of the Ray Johnson Estate



*Issue number of Ole unconfirmed!

“Review” by Ray Johnson, 1964 copyright the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Richard L. Feigen & Co. All rights reserved. Published in Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson, 1954-1994, edited by Elizabeth Zuba (Siglio, 2014)