Dear Readers and Friends,by Phong Bui
We are children of our age,
it’s a political age.
All day long, all through the night,
all affairs—yours, ours, theirs—
are political affairs.
Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.
Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.
Even when you take to the woods,
you’re taking political steps
on political grounds.
Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
and though it troubles the digestion
it’s a question, as always, of politics.
To acquire a political meaning
you don’t even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,
or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months:
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one.
Meanwhile, people perished,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.
“For history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility—based upon the fact that it is enacted by men and therefore can be understood by men—is in danger, whenever facts are no longer held to be part and parcel of the past and present world, and are misused to prove this or that opinion.”
“If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.”
Richard J. Bernstein’s essential, short, and timely book Why Read Hannah Arendt Now, and Timothy Snyder’s even shorter yet equally impactful On Tyranny Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century share similar concerns with how we confront and mediate the gravity of our actions in response to the current conditions of our social and political lives. It’s been over one year and three months since Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. Everything we dreaded of Trump’s uninformed and scatter-brained agenda at the White House has increasingly intensified. We’re reminded of Arendt’s many important observations. First, her insightful analysis of the difference between acting without thinking, which implies a person who executes order without being aware of the consequence, and thinking without acting that suggests a person who understands the situation yet does nothing. Secondly, these dynamics are the nature of politics and political life, (as distinct from the private realm, that is evermore enmeshed in public and social ambiguities). Thirdly, Arendt outlines how people can work together for the good of communities, which requires clarity of attention that leads to the distinction of how and not why, and we and not I. And lastly, how totalitarianism cannot exist without the masses, which can be manipulated into obedience.
Inevitably, we’re coming to terms with a circumstance that has created a president who is, in Jack Goldsmith’s words, “a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.” Yet our circumstance has also given rise to a group of inspiring and courageous young individuals who now speak loudly and clearly against gun violence, in monumental protests. The former condemns the media for generating fake news and creating alternative facts, the latter thrives on real news and true facts. March For Our Lives is a bona fide testament of how to be responsive to social injustice and political corruption by turning a personal, private realm out onto the social and political sphere, implementing a thought domain into tangible action.
We were galvanized by the profound optimism and hope demonstrated by March For Our Lives on March 24th, 2018. It was a day to be forever remembered: organized by the fearless survivors and friends of the victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida: more than 200,000 people attended the march in Washington D.C., and nationwide over two million, from an estimated 800 marches, joined in the spirit of determination to demand changes in gun control regulation. We are proud of the clarity of their motivation, which succinctly says, “March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students of all ethnicities, religions, and sexualities across the country. […] We came together on March 24th and through continued unity, we will save lives. We will not stop our advocacy until we see the change we demand—a change that is necessary in order to save innocent lives across the nation.”
Finally, April is National Poetry Month. The Rail is pleased to welcome Ann Lauterbach as our guest critic with the timely subject Why Poetry Now? With this occasion, we inaugurate the first of a new reading series—on Friday April 6, 2018 at the Rail HQ—graciously sponsored by our friends Musa and Tom Mayer in memory of Philip Guston and his poet comrades. William Carlos Williams nourishes our exhausted mental states when he says, from a 1950 radio interview on the Mary McBride Show:
If an artist is sufficiently accomplished, he brings relief to others, quite unsentimentally, by presenting to them, putting before them, something which they may not understand but gives them a secret satisfaction. And they look at a work of art. Otherwise, why should we have museums everywhere? And why should the greatness of Greece have been perpetuated and saved by the people? Except that it was a tremendously valuable thing and took them out of that thing which is supposed to kill them: frustration. You know, deep frustration. For God’s sake, let’s get over that idea and get to work! And make things! Put them on paper! Paint paintings! Write poems! That’s what culture means, and that’s what it means to us. And that’s why America should have a culture.”
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the poetry month. And to the memory of Linda Brown, whose courageous effort ended segregation in American schools; also again to those whose lives were taken by gun violence.
PHONG BUI is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.