“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” — Anaïs Nin
“We still by no means think decisively enough about the essence of action.” — Martin Heidegger
“And so these men of Indostan / Disputed loud and long, / Each in his own opinion / Exceeding stiff and strong, / Though each was partly in the right, / And all were in the wrong!” — John Godfrey Saxe, from Blind Men and the Elephant
Most of us, at one point or another in time, think of our own choices as how they define our lives. Choice is often tied to how we’re taught to reflect and how we choose according to that basis—how we may decide to do one thing rather than another—counts as our choice. The few rare occasions we pause to reflect are often initiated by forces that lie outside us, for example, being fired from a job, being sick from a sudden illness, being in the process of dying. Even if not personally experienced, we’ve at least witnessed a few friends or family members go through the final stage of life: he or she may have lived a full life doing what they loved despite tremendous difficulty, societal catastrophe, or family disapproval, and in their final hours seem ready to depart the loved ones by their sides. Or perhaps they led a life dictated by their inner, mental construct, partly colored by family expectation, hence upon death they become anguished, despondent, even mournful of the things they didn’t do. In other words, living life with regrets isn’t our idea of fulfillment. This is not to say the prospect of the unknown is not in itself fearful. In all truth, the choices we make are often the products or results of need and want rather than desire itself. We need a job to pay rent and keep afloat; we want to get married, raise a family, perhaps with substantive resources and social influences. Both in fact are obtainable even without optimal ambition. However, the amplitude of desire is far more complex, partly because there is no guarantee for the end result—for example, I desire to be a poet or I desire to be an artist.
In either case, the three distinctions of “to need,” “to want,” and “to desire” yield one way or another to the condition of being in the world, as the late Hubert Dreyfus once described, “human beings, Heidegger says, are the beings whose being is an issue for them or something like they have to take a stand on what it is to be, and what it is to be human, and what it is to be [themselves].” Take a stand is inseparable from what we do in the world, and hopefully what we do is based on what we love doing. Similar to Aristotle’s principle of teleology, which identifies the nature of things with their ends or final causes. In brief, if everything has its own appropriate end then we may say our ultimate realization is the attainment of certain specific ends, which fulfills our happiness. The question is then why are some of us unfulfilled? Is it because we don’t understand our natural ends or we try to adapt to a vocation we’re not capable of doing (say I was born to be a writer but the pressure of my mental construct forces me to be a banker)?
In an ideal world, if all of us attain our purposes, we’re in harmony with each other. Disharmony occurs when we understate (or overstate) the power of our purposes. Yet, natural or appropriate ends are things we conceive and can easily disregard, or even worse, feign indifference to. Here we’re reminded of the famous Indian parable of the blind men and an elephant, a story of six blind sojourners who come across different parts of an elephant, which lead them to each conclude their own limited version of reality. While each blind man is not at all aware of the elephant in its entirety, the small part he has touched leads him to claim his experience, however narrow, to be his objective truth. In other words, just because we have limited access to truth doesn’t mean any or all versions of truth are equally valid, since none of the six blind men have grasped the big picture of the elephant. Many of us feel this is currently happening with our country internally as well as in international relations. Where is the mediator when we need them most who can be sympathetic to the party’s limited perspective, yet able to share the bigger picture for the betterment of our future?
As we look forward to this fall with our cultural relay, we’re grateful to our Artseen section’s wondrous three: Senior Editor Thyrza Nichols Goodeve and Associate Editors Will Fenstermaker and Hannah Stamler, who diligently built an ideal roster of writers and brilliantly created a criterion of excellence in writing that the Rail has never seen. We welcome their four successors: Benjamin Clifford, Amanda Gluibizzi, Sara Roffino, and Anna Tome as our Associate Editors. We deeply appreciate Diane Pontius and Alec Niedenthal for their remarkable contributions as our Development Associate and our Associate Fiction Editor, and wish them exciting new journeys. Our big salutations to Sophia Pedlow and Catherine Olson as Managing Director and Advertising Associate, and we welcome back Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones as Associate Fiction Editor, after having finished grad school. We also send our monumental gratitude to the Production Assistants that have worked with us at our Collateral Event at this year’s Venice Biennale: Arianna Anda, Ivan Pagliaro, and Orsola Zane. Thank you. One last huge thanks to Laszlo Horvath for his hard work and camaraderie at the Rail over the past months and wish him our best as he finishes his last year at Cooper Union.
With great anticipation leading to 2020, we’re thrilled to announce the Willem de Kooning Foundation has recommitted their generous support of our Artseen Section with 40 plus monthly reviews (half in print, the other half online while the exhibits are still on view), and welcome our new friends Bernard Picasso and Almine Rech of FABA (Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz–Picasso para El Arte) who are joining the Rail’s Comrades circle of supporters to help fund general operations and special projects.
As ever, in solidarity,
P.S. This issue is dedicated to our beloved landlord Marty Kennedy, whose benevolent and charming Irish smile resembled that of Sean Connery’s, and whose kindness and love of art and culture gave the Rail its home for more than 12 years. Without Marty’s blessing and belief in the early years of what we stand for and why our journal must stay free, the Rail wouldn’t have survived economically whatsoever. On behalf of the Rail, I’d like to extend our deep condolences to Marty’s most beloved wife Barbara and his two wonderful sons, Brian and Kevin, and their extended families, friends, and admirers. We’ll miss him terribly.