“The pen is the tongue of the mind.” — Horace
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” — Muhammed Ali
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
As we’ve been experiencing the extreme fragility of our democracy in the last few years, we came to finally realize there was no “public intellectuals” who would stand in the middle mediating, working with the broader public, our middle and working-class Americans as means to “check and balance” both the left and the right for their ineffective policies, here and abroad. How can we then advance our “participatory democracy,” which as we all know is resting on a tiny strand of hair separating the tyranny of the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and vice versa? And in knowing once this tiny strand of hair is severed, things will fall into constant chaos and intense divisiveness while, at the same time, create strange and surreal, even perhaps insular complacencies on both sides. This disequilibrium will surely lead to the erosion of what Alexis de Tocqueville in his indispensable Democracy in America referred to as “self-interest well understood,” for it being the moral criteria best suited to the needs of our contemporary democratic life.
Keeping the Brooklyn Rail free, both in print and online for 21 years, was once considered an impediment or an impractical disbursement, now seems urgently advantageous and well-appreciated, partly because we never try to spoon feed our readers nor do we ever make them feel inadequate in their comprehension, for our written texts are often most thoughtful and generous. And unlike other publications, which are generally aimed to appeal to a particular demographic of readership, the Rail offers an unorthodox and timely unification of the arts, humanities, and sciences while, at the same time, we bring the older and younger generations together as they write side-by-side in the pages of our journal. This unity, which Henry David Thoreau referred to as a counter-friction against the machine, not only can help heal our social and political ills, as well as the pandemic, it can also foster the essential relationship between education and creativity. Most importantly, keeping the Rail free has proven that culture belongs to all, not just the cultural elites.
As John Dewey, one of our most beloved sages, once said, “democracy must be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” What we do at the Rail is essentially a form of democratic learning, where individual growth and the growth of the community are both equally nurtured. With the Rail’s readership now reaching nearly three million across the US and abroad, we’re ready to bring the intelligence and wisdom of our mentors and friends in the Academy accessible to our other fellow human beings from all walks of life indeed. As we need to continue keeping the Rail thriving, relevant, and free, we’re inspired to create our first-ever ten million dollar endowment. So please support this undertaking. For the Rail is a non-profit, every single contribution, however small or large, counts as tax-deductible. Let’s march forward together with greater commitment, with greater clarity, certainly with greater energy to restore the fragility of our democracy, as we all know we’ve done it in the past. We can absolutely do it now.
Happy holidays with solidarity, love and courage, as ever,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the extraordinary lives of our friends Etel Adnan (1925–2021), Carlo Maria Mariani (1931–2021), Robert Farris Thompson (1932–2021), Sylvère Lotringer (1938–2021), Lawrence Weiner (1942–2021), and Dave Hickey (1940–2021), all of whom had made significant and profound contributions to our culture. We’d like to send our deepest condolences to Simone Fattal, Carol Lane, Alice Weiner, Iris Klein, and Libby Lumpkin, along with their immediate family members, friends and admirers all over the world, as their respective tributes in the Rail will be planned in the near future. We’d like to thank our guest critic W.J.T. Mitchell and our guest designer Jon Gorman for their exciting collaboration of what’s promised to be the most pleasurable reading and viewing experience for the winter indeed. We’re thrilled to welcome our friend JoAnne Page, the legendary President and CEO of The Fortune Society (an agency founded in 1967 to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals become productive, contributing members of society) as our new editor-at-large, and Madison Ford as a new production assistant. We’re grateful to the Andrea Frank Foundation as our new sponsor for the Film Section, and the Garmany Fund for underwriting our Music Section. We’re proud to announce Tristar as our official printer. Lastly, we send our congratulations to both of our friends Brian and Agota Nawroth on the birth of his daughter Lily, and Dan Desmond and Uya Chuluunbaatar on the birth of their son Tamir. Between the passing and the births of our friends, let’s celebrate and make the interval as meaningful and pleasurable as we all can, shall we?