“Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite…. if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of great examples, they associate.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s exactly twenty-two years ago this very month that the Brooklyn Rail was given a sporting chance to prove itself, whether it would survive more than five years, as our late friend, the legendary publisher Henry Luce III gravely pondered before his passing in 2005. The Rail was created with the intention of bringing forth the brilliant freedom of scholarly thinking found in October magazine and the New York Review of Books, infused with the accessible language of the Village Voice. Our editorial philosophy is to bring our friends and colleagues from the arts and humanities together to share their respective passions for what they do as lifelong commitments, with the hope that they will cross-pollinate, sharing ideas that nurture one another. Hence, culture wouldn’t be comprised of highly specialized disciplines; instead, it might elevate our fellow human beings from underserved communities to immeasurable heights of freedom, freedom to imagine how we can create our own values through things we make. There should never be a separation that divides academic life from vocational pursuit. Just as we appreciate works of art, which may or may not evoke specific values as permanent or ephemeral objects of deep contemplation or pleasure for particular audiences, why wouldn’t we appreciate the handiwork of those who have different labors to perform? From fixing our cars and repairing our highways to renovating our homes and mowing our lawns. The impulse to make things has its significance and dignity, and it should in fact be our moral principle. This is to say, culture should never be divorced from life, from the commonplace, or consider other divisions of labor to be inferior; it shouldn’t be made for a class of elites but for everyone.
Throughout the history of the US there has been constant friction between the two predominant political parties: the party of liberty, which constitutes the tyranny of the minority, versus the party of equality, which is dictated by the tyranny of the majority. And every now and then, one seems to eclipse the other, as for example Trumpian America reminds us of the Jacksonian America of the 1830s. Still, we have our best moments when culture is mindfully advocated for by our best minds and those whose lives are dedicated to maintaining the balance of the two parties from the middle, a space from which the intelligent and compassionate humanists project their voices, be it the founding members of the constitution, poets, philosophers, writers, artists, social activists associating with transcendentalism, and with pragmatism. We recall how the civil rights movement gave birth to the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the women’s liberation movement, and how all of these motivated groups exercised the art of joining effectively and successfully on all fronts. The key was simply to activate the old concept of the town hall, the public sphere, the common ground where representatives of different social classes can be brought together to share their concerns and struggles without anyone being made to feel inferior or undignified. We all know that people from the working-class and recent immigrants share common traits: to work hard, to make sacrifices so their children can get a better education, which can lead to endless opportunities. This is called into question when education itself becomes an industry. And when our public intellectuals, who once fought and protested on the streets while writing thoughtfully without spoon-feeding their readership—because they assumed that their readers had a similar intelligence, or at the least a similar commonsense—are now content to remain in the narrow confines of the academy. To put it bluntly: they only write for each other. And what is even more discouraging, is that both parties have been asleep at the wheel since the end of the cold war; they’ve both fallen out of touch with their constituents.
The Rail has been able to persevere, sometimes through tremendous hardship, in good part because it has been inspired by those amazing humanists who surrendered themselves to the visions that gave their lives true meaning -- many of whom died before their works ever gained visibility, let alone admiration. We believe that every city in the US should have its own Rail, be it The Philadelphia Rail, The Milwaukee Rail, The Los Angeles Rail, The Chicago Rail, The Houston Rail, etc., etc. Those of us who appreciate freedom and the self-correcting ability America has in its roots, should dig deep into our local culture and cultivate it with local philanthropists, local poets, local workers, philosophers, artists, writers, filmmakers, composers, and all other people who work hard to create. Their knowledge should be shared, celebrated, and—most importantly -- made accessible to all. It’s in this way that the knowledge of one becomes the wisdom of many. As E.M. Forster once remarked, “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” The Rail is committed to not condescending to our readers. We don’t seek a particular demographic; we simply wish to reach those who read.
Lastly, as the popularity of our programing increases, including the daily New Social Environment (NSE) Lunchtime Conversation Series, the forever active Rail Curatorial Projects, along with our Weekend Journal, Art-in-Transit, Poetry-in-Transit, and Music-in-Transit series, we remember that they all share one thing in common: to amplify “social intimacy” and bring out the indispensable warmth of human spirit while cultivating the necessary slowness of culture. All of these activities are reflections of the art of joining, affirmations of our essential humanity.
Onward and upward, in solidarity
with love, courage, and cosmic optimism to us all,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. This issue is dedicated to Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who was beaten to death on September 16th, by the Guidance Patrol (vice squad/Islamic religious police, established in 2005 with the task of arresting people who violate the Islamic dress code) accusing her of wearing an “improper” hijab in violation of Iran’s mandatory hijab law), and the 76 protesters who were killed by Iranian security forces sparked by what is now referred as The Mahsa Amini protests. Following the publication of an image of Amini's tombstone in Saqqez, her hometown, and the city of Sanandai, its inscription became a slogan of the protests: "Beloved ina (Mahsa), you will not die. Your name will become a symbol." We’re also in great bereavement of the passing of the legendary photographer, filmmaker William Klein (1926-2022), and the visionary director, screenwriter, and film critic Jean-Luc Godard (1930-2022), whose remarkable lives and works have elevated our deeper understanding of photography and film as art forms, and of life itself. We’d also like to send our monumental salutations and admirations to Studio In A School on its 45th anniversary; it has a remarkable history and has thrived ever since the remarkable Agnes Gund founded it in 1977. To date, it has successfully served over one million students from kindergarten to high school, in classrooms and communities across all five boroughs. Lastly, we send our best wishes to two dear friends and great artists: Dorothea Rockburne on her 90th birthday, and John Currin on his 60th birthday.
To celebrate the Rail’s 22nd anniversary, we invite you all to see our two concurrent exhibits:
Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, part 6 (on view till October 16th)
Miguel Abreu Gallery
88 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002
Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, part 7 (on view till December 17th)
900 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11232