The French are hosting “intellectual rave parties” in 30 cities around the world

Image: Reuters/Philippe Wojaze
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Could it be more French?

Between Jan. 26 and Jan. 29, French consulates in 30 cities around the world will be hosting free, all-night “intellectual rave parties” to wrestle with today’s most pressing matters. The Night of Philosophy and Ideas (La Nuit des idées) is a festival of philosophical debate, film screenings, readings, and musical performances. From Dakar to Kiev to Brooklyn, attendees will dialogue with thinkers and artists on topics from language, politics, robots, and love.

Mériam Korichi, a philosopher who studied at the Sorbonne and Harvard University, started Night of Philosophy in Paris in 2012. Korichi explained during a 2015 interview that the nocturnal “happening” is founded on the premise that our best thinking often happens at night. “It induces a slowing down where you enter a different temporality—that moment in the evening when you just let go,” she said. “Perhaps then you have a better quality of thinking because you feel free from exterior pressure. This event is about creating this kind of parentheses, where good thinking can happen.”

If the large crowds from previous Night of Philosophy events in Paris, London, and New York are any indication, the age of social media is hungry for a respite from fast clicks, swipes and speedy transactions. The theme for the Brooklyn edition is “slow down.” “This is an occasion to think deeply,” says Bénédicte de Montlaur, cultural counselor of the French Embassy in New York City. The study of philosophy is an essential part of French life that Americans—particularly those in New York City who voted against the current US president—may might find it particularly useful amid the political upheavals of late, Montlaur said. ”I think it comes at a moment when everyone’s a bit puzzled with what’s going on. It’s a good opportunity to come and take the time to think,” she explains.

You don’t have to be a student of philosophy or particularly well-read in it to attend, Montlaur said. People can schedule a one-on-one session with a philosopher to toss around ideas or simply have a person-to-person intellectual conversation.

Laurie Anderson.
Laurie Anderson.
Image: EPA-PHOTO/DPA/Bastian Parschau

Night of Philosophy will take over the expansive Brooklyn Public Library adjacent to Prospect Park. László Jakab Orsós, the library’s vice president of arts and culture, said the larger venue will accommodate a greater variety of lectures and performances. Among the program’s highlights is a talk by Cameroonian political theorist Achille Mbembe, rumination by avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson about her exploration into the Tibetan book of the dead via her relationship with her dog, and a talk by philosopher Frédéric Lordon about the French version of Occupy Wall Street. There will also be virtual reality stations, dance performances by the Trisha Brown Company, and a mini-concert organized by the popular Williamsburg concert venue National Sawdust.

In the library’s grand lobby a handwriting station with calligraphy teachers will lead attendees to rediscover that so-called “anachronistic” art of penmanship. “When you write shorthand, you write differently—not just in the way it looks but how you formulate sentences,” said Orsós, who is the former curator of the literary festival, PEN World Voices. ”We can’t lose that.”

A list of Night of Philosophy events convening around the world this weekend is available here.