The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

All Issues
JUL-AUG 2021 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers,

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road …. Unless you fail to make the turn.” — Helen Keller

“Never trust your fear, they don’t know your strength.” — Japanese Proverb

“[U]nderstanding the true nature of instinctive decision making requires us to be forgiving of those people trapped in circumstances where good judgment is imperiled.” — Malcolm Gladwell

There was a king with one eye. To replace the missing eye the king searched across the land and found a renowned magician whom he commissioned to craft him an artificial eye. When it was complete, no one in the whole kingdom could tell the difference. One day a murderer was brought before the king, to be either pardoned or put to death. The king told this murderer of his artificial eye and its perfection, how no one in the court and the kingdom could tell the difference. He said, “Now, if you can tell me which eye of mine is real, I will pardon you!” Without a blink and with barely a glance, the murderer responded, “Your right eye is the real eye, your majesty.” The king, impressed by the murderer’s quick reply, said “You’re right, but how did you know?” The murderer answered, “I know because the right eye has a glint of mercy in it.”

This story, told by Oscar Wilde, compels us to read it as either the power of a fictional narrative or as a snap judgment. Either way, in thinking of how former President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) correlates with President Biden’s pledge to “restore the soul of America,” we immediately think of the difference between fiction and fact. Without taking a deep dive into their respective analyses, we can fairly propose that while they may seem to amplify opposite ideas, they in fact often intersect in subtle ways that assert their own interdependence. If we were to accept the construct of mythology as a creation to mitigate our fear of the unknown, we would then admit that as human beings, our nervous system is inherently hardwired for comfort, which we often take for granted. This is to say what actually nurtures our soul is greatly different, the very essence of our growth requires constant cultivation of self-inquiry, even at the expense of our own given duality that lies deep within each of us. For those of us who are endowed with various forms of creative impulses, we feel grateful for such endless possibilities of self-discovery through the act of making something, be it a painting, a sculpture, a poem, a song, a dance, and so on. As many of us are simply content with work that demands a repetitive deployment of the body at the service of making consumed products for the masses, we’d expect our criteria for pleasure may mean something else altogether.

What are we to make of the coexistence of these two conditions? How are we to communicate with our fellow human beings whose jobs had been taken from them overseas, which we know to be true? What are we to do when the discrepancy between academic studies and vocational training is as vast as what lies between the East and West Coasts of America? Where do we begin to balance the distribution between labor and work, knowing one needs the other, and vice versa? If the creations in the arts, humanities, and sciences are perceived as products made for the cultural elites (which at this point, seems to be quite apparent, as higher education has been transformed into a highly profitable business), we wonder who will tend to our nation’s infrastructures, including fixing bridges, tunnels, roads, etc., not to mention the service industry that includes restaurants, bars, traveling, anything tourism or even at the levels of personal needs such as the maintenance of our cars, our homes, etc.? To what extent will many of us function as the cohesive means to bring about healing without blaming each other, as President Biden has suggested?

For one, we should acknowledge that myths, stories, and narratives are far more powerful than facts. As we recall, we were terrified by the regressive slogan of MAGA from the Republicans, which was simply based on the concept of nostalgia for the past (any past that is not at the present condition), we were equally terrified by the Democrats’ insistence on the importance of facts. As it has become easier to simply Google facts, the right, when pressured to provide facts for their actions, simply offer their “alternative facts.” At the same time, as we’re still in the midst of an ideologically divided moment, with the unresolved social, racial, and political tensions of the 1960s (before the end of the war in Vietnam) we’re more mindful now than ever of how technology and social media can be exploited and deployed by any ambitious individual who is possessed by the drive for power and wealth. We also have experienced too often when our fellow human beings make snap judgments, they surrender to all kinds of easy mechanisms of ignorance and dismissal. How can we mobilize patience, empathy, and compassion through thoughtful communication, be it written or spoken words that foster curiosity or the excitement of mutual exchange through learning? Can we subvert technology and social media with substantive content in place of their usual design for constant snap judgments and automatic misunderstandings? If we can only listen to our conscience as the murderer did, seeing the king’s real eye through his heart, we’d know then our intuition should be used judiciously and decisively when it’s imminently important.

In solidarity, with love and courage as ever,

Phong H.Bui

P.S. This summer issue is dedicated to the passing of our friend Diego Cortez (1946–2021), whose profound and generous contributions to the worlds of art, music, and publishing were an inspiration to the Rail as a “living organism.” We’d like to send our belated happy birthday greetings to Sophia Pedlow (the Rail’s beloved managing director), and our two dear friends Nicholas Logsdail (legendary gallerist), and Sean Scully (inimitable artist), and a fond farewell with sky-reaching hopes for our luminous and cherished Production Assistant Henry Adeson. Lastly, please tune in for our daily NSE (New Social EnvironmentLunchtime Conversation) series from Monday, July 19 to Friday, July 30 which will feature the Rail’s 10 luminous sections (Field Notes, Art, Art Books, Books, Music, Dance, Theater, Film, Poetry, and Fiction).


Phong Bui

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


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

All Issues