“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.” — George Bernard Shaw
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
For many of us who’re in constant search for the miraculous, which requires the utmost commitment that follows the calling (as if we have a choice) to find what compels us to go to unknown places, where the mysteries and uncertainties of profound discoveries are kept, we often ask ourselves: how will we be endowed with fearlessness, the courage that is required to create or make something, which can achieve some form or shape that speaks to who we are as unique and autonomous beings, while generously generating universal and shared values from our creations to our fellow human beings? This intense and complex relationship between maintaining the freedom of our personal space, which is necessary in order to meditate while nurturing the process of creating an object of our truest expression (be it an essay, a work of art, a book, a poem, a piece of music, a film, a dance, etc.), and feeding our growth and imagination from the public space (be it a classroom or a congenial workplace), can be extremely fragile when one dominates the other.
This is not that dissimilar to how we’d experienced the most extreme fragility of our democracy during the Trump presidency, for it is a symptom of what had gone wrong with the so-called “mechanistic distributions of power” instead of compassionate leadership from the top, both left and right. We’ve come to realize ever since the end of the Cold War that terminated Soviet Communism in 1991, our elected officials have grown to become complacent, insular, and far removed from common Americans, especially the suburban middle-class and the rural working-class across the country. While politicians need not work hard, campaigning on a regular basis to their constituents in order to win their votes, as they know wealthy businessmen would offer their money to pay for advertisements on network television, and all social media outlets to get them elected or re-elected, it’s heartbreaking to discover there’s no real relationship between them and the people they serve. These mutually-beneficial exploitations of the American consumer, middle-class and working-class alike, have led to colossal economic disparity, among other political and social unrests. In knowing the polarization industry, with its powerful technological interruptions, thrives upon everlasting conflicts and degradation of our public sphere (which in turn generates chaos and divisions within our communities that not only benefit social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook, among others, but also provide bountiful feeding grounds for opportunist entrepreneurs and covetous politicians to exploit for their personal greed or the greed of their coteries), what and how are we to mediate such conflicts, while at the same time confronting other conflicts with Russia and China? Are we ready to undertake the strength of our democracy to resolve urgent domestic conflicts and the imminent conflicts abroad simultaneously?
Just as the United States of America never refers to itself as an empire, we similarly don’t refer to our clash of values with China as a new Cold War, despite knowing it has the capacity to escalate to a planetary scale of destruction. We should remind ourselves of the last sentence of George Kennen’s “Long Telegram” (written on February 22nd, 1946) to the State Department, “We must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet Communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.” This is an important reminder of how we can avoid these two disastrous incidents in the future: our own police force attacking our own people, the peaceful protesters, to clear the way for former President Trump to take his photo op at St. John’s church on Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, and the infamous Capitol attack on January 6, 2021 with the role in reverse—an angry mob attacking the police. From the perspectives among our friends and colleagues in the arts, humanities, and sciences, most acknowledge they have far too long been over-professionalized to the point that they won’t read anything except books written by those in their peer group. As we know in fact if no one can interact with each other, it will lead to the decay of each discipline, hence becoming irrelevant to our creative and intellectual life as a whole, nevermind how we can speak on the behalf of the struggles our fellow beings, the role that was once called “public intellectuals.”
Never before have we, in the various communities at and around the Brooklyn Rail, felt so inspired and determined with emphatic clarity of purpose to create and mobilize bountiful platforms on all fronts of our media and social media with one unified goal: to subvert and break through the crushing convention by deploying whatever technological tools available to cross-pollinate the arts, humanities, and sciences in our print issues, online, as well as on our Instagrams, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Having discovered endless possibilities to conduct in-depth conversations every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday with our friends in the visual culture, say from museum directors, curators, and art historians, to artists here and abroad, we welcome the same concept in inviting our poet friends to read poetry as a collective aim to amplify the beauty, the complexity, and the subtlety of our language every Wednesday under the heading Radical Poetry Reading. And lastly, every Thursday, we bring other aspects of our cultural, social, and political life by featuring local activists, concerning voting suppression, mass incarceration and prison reform, immigration, climate change and global warming, as well as artist foundations, nonprofits in the visual and performing arts, and small publishing press of experimental writing and literature. We are poised with our ever-popular New Social Environment (NSE) lunchtime conversation series, which has now reached over 400 episodes, and is filled with exciting programs till next year; not to mention our ongoing on-the-spot with the artists in their studio for the Weekend Journal series, and our Art-in-Transit, Music-in-Transit, and Poetry-in-Transit, all of which are imbedded on our Instagram.
In addition to welcoming our friend RoseLee Goldberg (who founded Performa in October 2004) to co-celebrate the Brooklyn Rail’s 21st year anniversary and Performa’s 17th year anniversary, we are also publishing our long-awaited River Rail: Puerto Rico, and a special issue of Donald Judd’s critique of the Panza Collection, Una Stanza Per Panza, and intend to bring our staff, editors, writers, artists, professors and their students to hand out all three issues at several subway stations throughout the boroughs as a collective public performance. Last but not least, we’ll be wheatpasting our project We The Immigrants (an urgent project aimed at elevating immigration in our communities across America and honoring the creative individuals of past and present, who have immigrated to the US and made an impact across the sciences, arts, and humanities) in six locations across DUMBO. All of our miraculous projects are intended to remind ourselves that America is made of a beautiful and monumental diversity, from the far left to the far right, and we’ve thus far, based on the strength of our constitution, have been able to debate those intense differences with the middle (consisting of we the people who understand public officials can make serious mistakes when they’re not challenged). Let’s cherish the continuity of our memory of the past, for it matters when we recall what were considered profoundly inspiring actions, as opposed to those uninspired and mediocre moments! It matters how we communicate to one another with the welfare our community as one human race, despite our perpetual two conflicting impulses, one which treasures freedom, security, love, and community while the other craves the power that feeds dominance, instability, narcissism, and whatever else belongs to personal satisfactions. This is our only way to restore trust while building our social solidarity indeed.
With solidarity, love, and courage to us all,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. On behalf of us at the Rail, I’d like to thank Sophia Pedlow (our phenomenal Managing Director from 2019 to 2021) for all of her brilliant work in nurturing our living organism while keeping our morale high, especially during the pandemic. We wish Sophia luck and best wishes on her next journey. Meanwhile, Ellen Robinson has accepted the baton as our new Managing Director with pride and enthusiasm. We would also like to welcome S. David to our team of terrific Production Assistants.