The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

All Issues
SEPT 2022 Issue
Co-Founder's Message

Dear Friends and Readers,

“When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, [and] place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.” — Meng Tzu

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” — George Bernard Shaw

As human beings, we collectively have acknowledged that our species was given the gift of higher consciousness, a far greater ambition than the kingdoms of the animals, vegetation, and everything else that exists in our natural world (including our ability to invent machines that would replace our hand labor, even our ways of thinking, which we now can legitimately refer to as our artificial world). Many of us may recall, from our first reading of Western philosophy in college, the miraculous philosophical mediation of Immanuel Kant, who somehow managed to propose a most plausible, generous synthesis, bringing together the effectual destruction of mind by Bishop Berkeley and the aggressively dismantled matter by David Hume when philosophy itself was in the midst of its ruin, when there was absolutely nothing left, hence leading to the known axiom, “No matter, never mind.”

Many of us know how hard the founding members of the US—however imperfect they all were, namely John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington—tried to bring a similar synthesis of what they had learned of the philosophy of continental rationalism from Europe and the philosophy of British empiricism. We can only imagine through their reading of the former, including René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz—all of whom regarded reason as a fundamental source and test of knowledge—on one hand, while digesting the latter, Thomas Hobbes, Bishop George Berkeley, and David Hume—all of whom were invested in sensory experience being the primary basis of knowledge—they were able to wisely create a constitution that separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments. In other words, however much friction arose, as the so-called Trumpian America of our present day resembles Jacksonian America of the 1830s, democracy is both extremely fragile and extremely resilient. For it has at times fallen into the hands of ambitious autocrats who take advantage of the vulnerability among frustrated citizens, whose livelihoods were taken away by technological machines or bureaucratic machines. Yet, every time the four-year term for each president (who was given the opportunity to advance his political agenda) is fulfilled, if he succeeds one more term is granted at the maximum. If he fails, we can be certain that the next president will surely advocate everything as the complete opposite. Our framers of the constitution were conscious of the potential rise of tyrants, demagogue as they had observed in old Europe and elsewhere, and hence American democracy has its own self-corrective mechanism, which thus far has been an effective tool, capable of rebuilding itself from its constant failure.

Since the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union—the one common enemy that brought the two parties working together at least till 1991—both parties have been complacent in economic neglect on domestic fronts—putting into practicing the idea that money can buy any elections anywhere, and anytime—while advancing the agenda of liberal hegemony in the rest of the world. We can all agree that this naive ambition has proven to have been a disastrous consequence, as not every nation would like to be assimilated into the US's idea of a melting pot. Even at the moment when our two parties’ inability to listen to one another—NO MATTER, NEVER MIND, end of story—casts a dark cloud everywhere we turn in the suburbs, rural areas, and especially in the midwest (where Americans have truly felt they were abandoned for three decades now), we feel a great urgency to reapply that self-corrective mechanism among ourselves. We must reclaim the middle ground, the public sphere, communal spaces as a place where all voices can be expressed with civility without the fear of being stigmatized by political correctness and so on. How can we grow without being challenged? How can we grow without a belief, for belief itself needs to be defended as much as it needs to be questioned by ourselves and others. As John Stuart Mill once famously remarked on liberty, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”

The very idea of giving our fellow human beings labels, identifying them by some invented names, boxing them in some specific niches, is the most destructive thing we can do to ourselves. It not only makes us into machine-like conformists, but it takes away our chance to feel our own true suffering, for without suffering, there will be no growth and compassion for our fellow human beings. For every one of us is so specifically ourselves in our voices, our temperament, like an instrument that has a particular and unique sound. Shall we work together to create opportunities for us to bring each of our unique sounds to sing in unison, instead of surrendering to uniformity, from here onward throughout our city, and other cities in the US?

In solidarity, with love and courage, as ever,

Phong H. Bui

P.S. This issue is dedicated to the extraordinary lives and works of our two legendary friends, the artist Jennifer Bartlett (1941-2022) and the photographer Eric Boman (1946-2022) whose legacies have enriched the cultural firmament of our world. We send our deep condolences to Jennifer’s former two husbands, Ed Bartlett, Matthieu Carrière, her daughter Alice Carrière, and the extended family members, as well as Eric’s lifelong partner artist Peter Schlesinger, his friends and admirers, including Gabriela de Ferrari. We send our belated birthday greetings to our beloved friends, including Anselm Berrigan, Agnes Gund, Charles Schultz, Ysabel Pinyol Blasi, Augustus Duravcevic, Amanda Millet-Sorsa. We’d also like to send our huge congratulations to Jacob and Marine Ninaud Bromberg on the birth of their daughter Isadora “Zazie” Moon Bromberg. We would also like to send our deep gratitude to our Production Assistant Maia Siegel. Lastly, you all are invited to join us at the two opening receptions of our forthcoming Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy exhibitions (see below):

Singing in Unison, Part Five
Miguel Abreu Gallery
September 7, 2022
6–8 p.m.
88 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002

Singing in Unison, Part Seven
Industry City
September 23, 2022
900 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11232


Phong Bui

Phong H. Bui is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

All Issues