“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” — Rachel Carson
“Two may become enemies, when their ideas are the same.” — Burmese Proverb
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi
“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” — John Dewey
By now, all of us are most definitely familiar with the word quarantine, the origin of which is quarantena, simply meaning “forty days” as Venetians took the lead of this preventive measure, requiring all ships in port to wait this amount of time to inhibit the spread of the Black Death between 1348 and 1359. Many of us are also too familiar with how the phrase social distancing has been detrimental to our psychological frame of mind. We at the Rail understood social distancing and its negative connotations as soon as Trump announced his 15-day plan to slow the spread of COVID-19 on Monday, March 16; viruses are only transmitted when we get physically close to someone, not when we're talking on the phone, video calling, or for that matter having a Zoom meeting. Our team responded swiftly and launched the next day, on Tuesday, March 17 our New Social Environment daily lunchtime conversations at 1pm (ET) with one unified aspiration: utilizing technology as a platform to welcome and bring together our friends and colleagues from all the creative fields in the arts and humanities while infusing front and center the impending and critical issues of our current social and political lives.
In all truth, being forced to slow down by COVID-19, all the while waiting for nature to heal her body from humanity’s aggressive abuse for far too long, most of us see this situation as a cogent opportunity for long-awaited self-contemplation about our individual lives in relation to our world. In our political contemplation, we’ve gained a better grasp of how Trump has fancied himself after Mussolini. (Here we’re reminded that Mussolini’s first name Benito was not an Italian name; it was rather given to him by his socialist parents after Benito Juarez, Mexico’s national hero. Additionally, Mussolini’s fascist doctrine was a replica, a political materialization so to speak of Futurism’s advocacy of speed and technology, especially after having met Filippo Marinetti, its founder, as soon as the Futurist political party was formed after WWI ended in 1918. Mussolini created the Fascist Party a year later in 1919.) Trump’s mobilization of speed has been his power and his ability to synthesize this animalistic instinct; on one hand, like a hyena sniffing out its prey, as he breaks the conventional decorum of political debate and from every scripted speech. The opposite of Hillary Clinton—whose overt confidence transpired her decision not to visit Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all the while her bureaucratic rigidity and business-as-usual speech revealed her inability to counter her opponent’s improvisation—Trump walks around while talking, thinking on his feet, ready to pounce. On the other hand, knowing that politics-as-usual is synonymous with politics of a monopolistic competition, this is reflected by the two-headed monster of technology and the news media, co-existing and codependent—while the speed in the former includes the various functions of Twitter, Facebook, texting, etc., this communication is incapable of independence from the endless deployments of phrases such as “Breaking News,” “Alternative Facts,” “Fake News,” among other rampant cacophonies, and whereas in the latter Trump has successfully devised an effective political tactic in tweeting as fast and unpredictable as humanly possible, irregularly throughout each day. This tactic has proven to be the GOP’s last great white hope for survival in US history, distracting news media and social media addicts alike, while they analyze Trump’s 5 a.m. tweet from the night before during their morning “Breaking News,” Trump is in fact already at the height of another tweetstorm by noon.
Being forced to slow down has revealed to us that slowness is naturally required in our beautiful tradition of humanistic inquiry. Slowness is essentially required to write or read a poem, to compose or listen to a piece of music, to make or to view a work of art. (These are facts, not alternative facts. What is a fact after all? In most languages, the word “fact” usually relates to a product of labor.) Slowness is timely, and reminds us to respect time and allows us to heal ourselves. This is a time for us to collectively mobilize slowness in the works of the arts and humanities that in turn become an antidote to Trump’s toxic deployment of speed. This is a time for us to amplify the beauty of our language against Trump’s verbal vulgarity. In fact, we’re more alive now than we ever were.
In solidarity, ever onwards and upwards,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the extraordinary lives of Helène Aylon, Maurice Berger, Germano Celant, David C. Driskell, and Paul J. Smith, whose profound contributions will perpetually nourish our art community for years to come. We also send our deepest gratitude to Emily DeVoti who, as editor, created and shaped the Theater section from the very beginning, even when the Rail was a bi-weekly pamphlet (1998-2000), then co-founding and naming the Brooklyn Rail after the L-train as our most popular distribution location. The same gesture is extended to Donald Breckenridge, who has single-handedly formed the Fiction section to what it is today with admirable labor and discerning advocacy for experimental writing. We wish them great prosperity and luck in their next journeys. Meanwhile, with pleasure and enthusiasm, we welcome Lucas Kane and Shadi Ghaheri as our new co-editors of the Theater section along with Will Chancellor and Kaitlyn Greenidge as our new co-editors of the Fiction Section. As the batons are passed on, a new chapter has begun, we’re thrilled to also welcome Helen Lee as a new member of the Rail’s Board of Directors. We’re indebted to Jeremy Zilar, our beloved Board Member and technology wizard, whose support has made our New Social Environment possible. Thank you. Last but not least, we’re grateful to our dear friends at Metabolic Studio for their comradery and support, especially just this last month having launched their weekly Interdependence Salons, dedicated to to nature and her sacred resources, among other hidden alchemies, which will surely embellish the cross-pollination between here in Brooklyn and there in LA, elsewhere in between, and beyond indeed. We consider this pandemic to be our most profound shared experience among our fellow human beings, hence we are determined to cultivate and nurture the arts and the humanities as our formidable armaments against any kind of political tyranny.