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Where Are We Going?:Night of Ideas 2022 in New York

Ⓒ Argenis Apolinario

By Villa Albertine

On May 21, the 2022 Night of Idea took place in New York and offered a two-part event in Manhattan and in Brooklyn, for an audience of nearly 1,500 people. A video report by Raphaël Bourgois and Romain Thomassin allows to take the measure of the event, of its richness and diversity.

How to think in an uncertain world? With each Night of Ideas we are more and more confronted with this dizzying question. To the climate challenge and the Covid-19 pandemic has thus been added, in 2022, an unprecedented threat to world peace. While this year’s question, “Where are we going?”, had long been thought in the perspective of slowly leaving the health crisis behind, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has completely shifted its meaning. 

There is however one thing that has not changed—the belief that “us” is necessary, not only as the statement of shared destiny and democratic belief, but also as faith in the need to come together and share our thoughts on how to tackle all these challenges at once. This is, moreover, the whole point of this event initiated by France, joined this year by many partners countries, as France holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. 

For the seventh edition of Night of Ideas in New York, Villa Albertine has once again partnered with Brooklyn Public Library to offer a two-part mega-event mobilizing a total of nearly 90 speakers. To celebrate the return of face-to-face events, the Villa Albertine team imagined a mobile and innovative first part of the evening. Sixty speakers were invited to take seats in school buses and to exchange with their neighbors during a forty-minute drive from Villa Albertine’s headquarters in Manhattan to the Brooklyn Public Library.

The second part of the evening began with a performance by Patti Smith, followed by a presentation of the insignia of Officer in the Order of the Legion of Honor by the French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne. The musician and poetess then gave a concert in the BPL auditorium.

About thirty speakers followed in the library’s lobby as well as in the different reading rooms, among them Meta’s AI director Yann LeCun, novelist Leïla Slimani, and lawyer and journalist Kathryn Kolbert, who has been involved for decades in the defense of abortion rights in the United States. Each of them freely interpreted the theme of the night, Where are we going?, thus offering a varied panel of interventions that addressed environmental issues as well as democracy in the modern age and postcolonial reflections.

As Leila Slimani says of literature, ideas and creation can be both absolutely futile, and absolutely necessary. The injunction we are facing is a double bind. We must act fast, and slow down to think. While betting on intelligence to confront points of view, this Night of Ideas also proved that a common path is possible.


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