Dear Friends and Readers,
“Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep,
War is kind.”
“My spoon was lifted when the bomb came down
That left no face, no hand, no spoon to hold.
One hundred thousand died in my hometown.
This came to pass before my soup was cold.”
“I divide all readers into two classes: those who read to
remember and those who read to forget.”
—William Lyon Phelps
“Publication—is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man.”
Having just commemorated the fifteen-year anniversary of 9/11, we are reminded to consider the psychology of violence: it amplifies a feeling of safety by remaining distant, until it strikes. Inevitably some people in power choose to manipulate this psychology by magnifying nearness and evoking fear. An illusion of safety is then re-drawn within a simplistic universe of stark contrasts: good versus evil, day versus night, us versus them. Every complex issue of human nature rests on subtle differences and is overlooked by this manipulation. Please vote with your clear conscience and intelligence.
Anxiety is very visible in our lives at the moment leading up to the Election Day on Tuesday, November 8. And while it’s true that no work of art has ever succeeded in preventing a war or winning an election for the favored candidate, we, as creative individuals and free thinkers, still march on with our freedom of expression and voices of dissent. Written and spoken words, painted and sculpted images, songs and dance performances are our weapons against corruption, violence, and the oversimplified picture.
Keeping up with the pace of the endless events last month, while always finding new friends to support our journal, has been exhausting yet extremely rewarding for all of us at Rail HQ. We hosted New French Theory at Albertine, Print Matters: Art, Literature and Design in the Digital Age at the Strand, and Poetry on Art, a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event and our first collaboration with the Poetry Foundation and the Knockdown Center. At Socrates Sculpture Park’s thirtieth-anniversary gala, honoring its founder, the formidable Mark di Suvero, I was emphatically reminded that everything we, as a collective living organism, have accomplished thus far has been a direct product of our love for art and culture, and it must be nurtured with the right intention. We must have a clear understanding of where we are—the space that took our past and present colleagues sixteen years to carve out—and how we can continue to grow and contribute to our community here in New York City and beyond without compromising the Rail’s resilience, flexibility, and dedication to independent and alternative voices, or, as I refer to it, our “anarchistic benevolence.”
We’re constantly reminded that we treasure printed materials—be it books, magazines, journals, periodicals, or pamphlets—for good reason. While there are those who steal and burn them on one side, there are those who collect and treasure them on the other. Reading as an essential human activity has a 6,000-year history, and it has been kept alive by the indispensable relationship between writer and reader. I was recently reminded of the two reasons that I became involved in publications in the first place. The first was reading the countless inspiring essays published in the so-called “little magazines” —the Partisan Review, The Kenyon Review, Black Mountain Review, Folder, The Modern Quarterly, The Paris Review, The London Magazine, Kulchur, Caterpillar, and Dissent—along with many artist magazines like Blast, View, VVV, The Tiger’s Eye, The Seven Arts, Cahiers d’Art, It Is, Film Culture, Avalanche, October, and Art-Rite. The Village Voice’s stylistically colloquial but culturally groundbreaking coverage of politics and art, and the intellectually rigorous New York Review of Books , were also significant influences. These were coupled with a particular and special affection for visual art. In creating the Rail, we cofounders envisioned a synthesis of all of those little magazines without nostalgia and sentimentality. We were also driven by a desire to create a thriving and dynamic artistic entity that, beyond the pages of the magazine, would be a driving creative force in the art world.
In the end, we love reading printed materials; we love living with them just as we love looking at and living with works of art. As technology mediates more and more of our experience of the world, we must think about cultivating attention as a matter of ethics, a matter of making first-person experience in our contemporary world possible. And, as a large number of commercial magazines have ceased to provide the literary services they once did, the need for “little magazines” has never been greater. (The response to this need is evidenced in the success of the recent Brooklyn Book Festival, NY Art Book Fair, and thousands of small book receptions across many cities.) The Rail has already sown the Miami Rail and the Third Rail, but more cities should take it upon themselves to offer opportunities for new generations of artists and writers to embrace publishing and develop their own readership. “One must gain courage to resist the power of money and cultivate the power of art,” is how di Suvero stated his philosophy at the Socrates celebration. I feel after enduring for a good sixteen years, and after gaining the support of our community of respect, that I can say with great certainty that the Rail is not a journal exclusively for artists and writers, but an expression of artists and writers for our broader community. All of us at the Rail HQ await our next journey, a new chapter indeed, with full anticipation and courage.
Onward and upward, in solidarity,
P.S. On behalf of the Rail’s board and the staff I would like to commend Jonathan T.D. Neil, who served as our brilliant editor of the Held Essays on Visual Art from 2011 to this year. His vision, indicated by the multitudes of commissioned essays reflecting well-balanced and thoughtful perspectives, was in perfect harmony with the Rail’s democratic spirit. We send our profound appreciation and best wishes to Jonathan in his journey as the director of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in L.A. Meanwhile, Alexander Nagel, the esteemed art historian, writer, and director of Graduate Studies at the Institute of Fine Arts, will become Jonathan’s successor. We look forward to working with Alex who, incidentally, has recently become a proud father. His wife, the artist Amelia Saul (who contributed an excellent essay on Donatello’s St. John the Evangelist in the Guest Critics Page in September 2015) gave birth to their son Marlon Emmanuel Nagel just over a month ago.
PHONG BUI is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.