Tied to a tree
The other has a bad ear
Having kept up with the insightful articles that appeared in our Field Notes section, as well as those in the NY Times, the Nation, and other news sources that cover social and political affairs around the world, I was deeply saddened, like most of us, by the Charlie Hebdo shooting on January 7, which quickly became the top news story, overshadowing the endless bombings in Baghdad; the Ebola crisis in West Africa; the missing AirAsia flight 8501; the ISIS hostage situation; and Winter Storm Frona that took 16 lives in the Midwest, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast, among many other natural and human disasters. How is it that we can be subjected to steady and simultaneous streams of bad news and consumerist distraction? How can we still aspire to notions of freedom and justice while we are haunted by religious wars, ideological genocides, and other masochistic terrors which lurk right beneath the surface of our fears?
Having been brought up in a Vietnamese family where divided politics was always a source of conflict, especially after the Tet Offensive in 1968 in Vietnam, I was primed in my youth by the past of my old country: from the nearly 2,000 years of Chinese domination, 200 years of French colonization, and 25 years of war with the Americans, to the recent and ongoing disputes with the ancient adversary China over Vietnamese borders. Recent events are more fluid and symptomatic that we like to think—I mean the inevitable complexities that are tied to the mere differences that polarize Western emphasis on individualism and Eastern depersonalized systems of belief. Even though Nietzsche’s concept of “will to power”—which once undermined a dominant Christian ethos—is now seamlessly integrated with both pragmatism and capitalism, the greatest resistance to it is based on a longing to restore a utopian dream associated with brotherhood. Religious conflicts are inevitable in our times.
Late last night, in between working on the Rail’s editorial content and the portraits for the featured interviews in the Art section, I was pacing my racing thoughts (thanks to Jasper Johns for having concretized the term in his 1983 painting “Racing Thoughts”) over the pages of William James’s classic volume The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. What I found in the following words was quite revelatory:
The warring gods and formulas of the various religions do indeed cancel each other, but there is a certain uniform deliverance in which religions all appear to meet. It consists of two parts:
1. An uneasiness; and
2. Its solution.
1. The uneasiness, reduced to its simplest terms, is a sense that there is something wrong about usas we stand.
2. The solution is a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers.
As life goes on we are urgently reminded how short it is before we all leave this earth. What is it that we all want to accomplish and what differences do we wish to make for the betterment of our culture before we die? At the Rail, we turn to the labor of love shared among creative individuals in the fields of the arts and the humanities, as well as sciences and other disciplines that are driven by inner necessity. However much all are guided by their particular notion of truth, they are constantly correcting themselves for the sake of greater unity. They’re the masters of their works and rise above the fears of others. Their freedom can inspire others to be free.
All the updates about our forthcoming projects and publications will be sent out for your attention as soon as these coming weeks in February.
Thanks for your support and compassion.
In solidarity as always,
Phong Bui is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.