The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2022

All Issues
NOV 2022 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers,

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Once you label me, you negate me.” — Sören Kierkegaard

In our perpetual mind/body predicament and our philosophical, and even ontological inquiries, we constantly pose countless distinctions: What are our mental states? What are our physical states? We similarly ask ourselves: How do we define our consciousness, or our intentionality, and how do both relate to our mind and body? Additionally, we tend to ask ourselves, especially when no one is near, what is the self? How is it related to our mind and body?

In all truth, if there is no suffering, there is no happiness. If there is no good, there is no evil. If there is no above, there is no below. If there is no left, there is no right. If there is no them, there is no us, and so on. For most of us would agree that life comprises both suffering and happiness, good and evil, above and below, left and right, us and them, and so on. For many of us at this balancing point, we cautiously rethink what was once essential to the heart of classical liberalism, or say the center-left politics, as Alexis de Tocqueville advocated for in his timeless Democracy in America, namely social equality that can only be achieved by endless advocacy for equal opportunity. This does not imply the aggressive deployment of liberal hegemony—be it countless inventions of hideous labels, terminologies, or made-popular acronyms to reduce and conform its citizens to being pigeonholed—that everyone should follow accordingly. At the least, we should remind ourselves that the achievement of equality means it requires as much of personal responsibility in all aspects of each individual citizen through their unique talents and abilities as of social responsibility in all matters that lie beyond them. In other words, what was once generally embraced as “self-interest well-understood”: the right to pursue their own interest, be it their careers, family, or wealth, including a compulsion for self-seclusion.

With the steady rise of extreme politicization across economic, political, and social magnitudes, this habitual individualization has given way to a growing enmity against those who are not like us. This was once valued as “the art of joining,” the social cohesion that for the longest time united the private individuals and their respective communities, especially when its citizens were mindful of collective responsibility along with civic duty.. This is to say, there is an ongoing understanding that under any measure of democratic conditions, civil society should never stand still. It is a sphere of restlessness, charged with cosmic energy that in turn injects the space in the middle of these unending frictions, between these extreme interminables that belong to both the tyranny of minority and the tyranny of the Tocqueville predicted that American democracy would have to confront the fundamental dilemma at the core of our democratic mechanism: that the passion for social and political equality has always been the driving force that keeps America to her need to reinvent herself, despite the displeasure of knowing such a pragmatic and earthly struggle is never fully attainable. We should forever aspire to the imperfection of democracy, for democracy, as a concept, lives forever in the future. This requires accepting there is no such thing as pure democracy and there never will be a pure democracy, as democracy means it is always to come. We should therefore explore our agility as a means to counter the fragility of the present of our social and political conditions. Thinking on our feet without the need to rest our arms on the banister, without surrendering to any form or shape of bureaucratic apparatus, will surely enable us to expand the geography of our imagination, which in turn would bring boundless constructive intention along with great warmth to computer technology.

I must admit prior to the Trump presidency I did not possess an iPhone, nor was I ever speedy in response to endless types of inquiry, be it phone calls, texts, or even the endless emails I receive on a daily basis. But soon I realized that what digital technology means to our time, in today’s world, is exactly what the Gutenberg press meant for the printing revolution in Europe, ushering in the beginning of a modern period of human history. Which in essence implies endless means from which a knowledge-based economy, along with other desires to spread knowledge to the masses, was naturally inclined in every aspect. As the technology of communication changes its form and content, so must we in our willingness and ability to spread earned knowledge, not just information or misinformation, as an essential counter-friction against speed, which has been one of the favored tools for demagogues, tyrants, and dictators alike. What we need at the moment is to subvert speed by being constantly mindful of our agility, for democracy means an eternal flight, poised with the willingness to mediate all kinds of paradoxes while juggling whatever those paradoxes may bring forth our way. Yet knowing along the way, by harnessing the uncounted trimmings and trappings of democracy, a self-correcting democracy is what we must hold ourselves to on a daily basis from here onwards.

In solidarity, with love and courage, as ever,

P.S. This issue is dedicated to our three friends, the great artists Stefan Gierowski (1925–2022) and Pierre Soulages (1919–2022), and legendary critic Peter Schjeldahl (1942–2022) whose remarkable lives and work have brought substance and invention to their respective fields of abstraction and art criticism. We’d like to express our deep gratitude to Sara Roffino and Anna Tome, whose labor of love and personal dedication brought great depth and intelligence to our Artseen Section. As they begin the next stages of their journey, they’ve graciously passed the baton to their longtime colleagues Jessica Holmes and Lee Ann Norman. We send our best wishes to Sara and Anna, and we're thrilled to welcome Jessica and Lee Ann to our family of mind with terrific pleasure. We’d also like to send luminous warmth and thanks to Raevan Aliyah Senior, Programs Associate extraordinaire, as she embarks on her next radical creative pursuit. We’d send our monumental thanks once more to all the participating artists, gallerists, collectors, friends, and colleagues for having trusted, and supported our ever-growing and immensely popular series of exhibitions, Singing in Unison. Lastly, we’re standing in complete solidarity with all of our sisters in Iran in their monumental struggle for freedom from political and religious oppressions.


Phong Bui

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


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2022

All Issues