The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

All Issues
JUNE 2021 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers,

“If you survive a storm, you won't be bothered by the rain.” — Chinese proverb

“Grow old with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.” — Robert Browning

“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied ‘the one I feed the most’” — George Bernard Shaw

When we think of the notion of “defense,” we think of it at the expense of having achieved the objective of what is considered “offense.” As the United States of America entered World War II on December 11, 1941, we knew we would succeed the British Empire as the world’s most powerful nation. After having dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, then the second on Nagasaki three days later on August 9, the war ended in the following month on September 2. We’d be amazed to think at the moment how the CIA was created on September 18, and less than half a month later on October 1, Levittown, the first archetype of the postwar era’s mass-produced suburbs, was officially opened. While the former’s sole purpose was to monitor Communist activities around the world and maintain perpetual arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, the latter’s ambition was to construct inexpensive and rapidly-built housing units for returning GIs and their families. It is unimaginable to think of the trillions of dollars the government spent through the CIA, it’s endless coup d’etats during the Cold War, from South Korea, Costa Rica, Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam to Cambodia, Grenada and Panama until the Cold War ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism. It is equally unimaginable to think of 9/11 as a massive unintended consequence of globalization, as the salient heightening of terror that prompted the quick and steady rise of conservatism and nationalism. Avoiding reckoning with the circumstances that preceded 9/11, and the consequences that followed it, has led to the disintegration of the suburban dream.

This pair of opposites, “defense” and “offense,” is only separated by one strand of hair. In other words, in order to defend American imperialism and exceptionalism we need to generate constant offenses elsewhere. Just as we assumed the safety and hegemony of our fragile democracy when the Cold War ended. We came to realize following the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, the dubious privatizations of industry, the war in Chechnya, and the financial default in 1998, among other crises, that the former secret police chief Vladimir Putin would be the chosen one to spark the same-old nationalism by presenting himself as the one who would restore great Russia’s glorious past, just as Donald J. Trump did in his presidency. The ripple effects of 9/11 that slowly eroded the once perfect utopianist vision of the aspiring, white middle class had in turn created another myth of the new Cold War. Meanwhile, politics, war, education, nursing homes, and social security are treated as endless business transactions, and the division of the youth and the elderly has increasingly widened ever since medicare was established by the federal government in 1965. Just as millions of young adults are out of school or work, their grandparents are feeling just as anxious about their own well being. While one is being pressured into work that they don't care about or love, the other are socially discarded once they enter retirement homes. The question is how can they pass along the wisdom of their life stories when the artificial construct that pigeonholes youthful energy as “speed” and elderly as “slowless”? It’s an immense psychological disconnect between the “speed” of the physical body and the “slowness” of the thinking mind, and there’s no neck to join them together.

During the course of getting through the Trump presidency, along with COVID-19, we’ve come to appreciate the lives of our artists, writers, poets, philosophers, composers, musicians, dancers, performers, among other creatives in the arts and humanities, for such a notion of retirement does not apply to their vocation. With greater appreciation than before, we recognize the healing power of works of art. We’ve seen our fellow creatives from older generations, from the overlooked and unrecognized, being acknowledged and shown with genuine collective appreciation in our cultural sectors. We hope that it extends and applies similarly to our scientific community, for passing the baton of wisdom and personal history, or shall we say self-created narrative, from the older generation to the younger one is urgent and crucial.

Onward and upward, with solidarity, love, and courage indeed,

Phong H. Bui

P.S.: This issue is dedicated to the passing of our two friends, the great sculptor Alain Kirili (1946–2021) and multidisciplinary artist Mary Beth Edelson (1933 - 2021), whose works share similar elevation of the human spirit through the freedom of form, material, and invention. They shall be missed profoundly. We are grateful to Dan Sullivan, our brilliant and beloved Film Editor, whose contribution and commitment to the Rail is deeply felt. We wish Dan the best of luck in his next journey, and welcome Laura Jane Valenza and Edward Charles Mendez as our new film editors. We’d like to send our monumental birthday greetings to our friends, legendary artists Martin Puryear, Joe Zucker, Philip Pearlstein, and our beloved Production Editor, contributing writer Louis Block, Managing Director Sophia Pedlow, Advertising Director Catherine Olson. Lastly may June be the month that brings us close, so we all can conspire to create concrete and beautiful things together in the bright sunlight, instead of hiding in the dark web of conspiracy theories that exploits our fear and anxiety hence leading us to a continual state of paranoia.


Phong Bui

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


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

All Issues