Brooklyn Public Library, Cultural Services of the French Embassy Host 'A Night of Philosophy & Ideas'

January 29, 2017

More than 50 Philosophers, Artists & Thinkers Stationed throughout BPL’s Central Library Engage New Yorkers in All-Night Marathon of Discussion, Debate

Marquee Lectures Delivered by Simon Critchley, Achille Mbembe, Gayatri Spivak, with Performances by Trisha Brown Dance Company, National Sawdust-Affiliated Musicians; Community Participates in Marathon Readings of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Alain Badiou’s Plato’s Republic

Brooklyn, NY—Bleary-eyed Brooklynites poured out of Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library on Sunday morning after A Night of Philosophy and Ideas, an all-night marathon of philosophical debate, performances, screenings, readings and music hosted by BPL and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

After attending a community bonfire co-hosted by the Prospect Park Alliance at the historic Lefferts House, attendees of A Night of Philosophy and Ideas roamed freely all night through Central Library, taking in lectures on democracy, love, sex, ethics and science by Simon Critchley, Achille Mbembe, Gayatri Spivak and dozens more; dance performances by the Trisha Brown Dance Company; and screenings of slow-cinema landmark Tokyo in Reverse and Laurie Anderson’s Heart of A Dog, which was followed by a Q&A with the artist. Participants took part in handwriting studies and a virtual reality experience, Notes on Blindness, which simulated what it’s like to live without sight. Members of the community lined up for marathon readings of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Alain Badiou’s Plato’s Republic.

“After hosting New York City's first ever Night of Philosophy in 2015, we are thrilled to be co-presenting this year’s edition with the Brooklyn Public Library,” said Benedicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the US. “This event was created to bring communities together to think about and debate those issues that most impact our lives and society. And what better location for an event of this nature than a public library in one of the City's most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods.”

“The library is a physical and emotional shelter, a space where people can ask themselves and each other the most difficult, if not disturbing, questions—and seek answers together,” said Jakab Orsos, Brooklyn Public Library’s Vice President of Arts and Culture. “New Yorkers, and all Americans—and truthfully, the whole world—are wrestling with tough, troubling questions about the future of democracy, freedom and dignity, even thought itself, in a changing world. The purpose of the Night of Philosophy and Ideas was to provide everyone the space to do their best thinking in the company of some of the world’s best thinkers.”

A Night of Philosophy and Ideas was produced in connection with La Nuit des idées, a worldwide event organized by the Institut français which took place in over 30 cities on January 26. Since 2010, Night of Philosophy ‘happenings’ have taken place in cities around the world, including Paris, Helsinki, London, Tokyo, Berlin and Tel Aviv. In New York City, a Night of Philosophy was produced by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in April 2015. The event drew over 5,000 attendees. In addition to Night of Philosophy and Ideas, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and its bookstore Albertine, host events year round that bring together artists and thinkers from both sides of the Atlantic to explore issues that impact both the US and France. In November 2016, the Festival Albertine curated by Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed questions of identity and diversity. Albertine also hosts free weekly discussions on topics as varied as politics, new technologies, religion, and culture.

This year, A Night of Philosophy & Ideas traveled to Brooklyn Public Library, the institution that provides New Yorkers, whatever their backgrounds, with access to virtually all of humanity’s accumulated wisdom. With Jakab Orsos, former head of the PEN World Voices Festival, at the helm of BPL’s cultural programming, the Library is bringing rich, innovative arts and culture experiences like Night of Philosophy to diverse communities in Brooklyn, free of charge. This year’s highlights have included a Theatre of War performance of The Madness of Hercules at Central Library by Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright and Ashanti, as well as visits from Patti Smith, Jonathan Safran-Foer and Oliver Stone. The season signals a new direction for the arts in one of the borough’s most far-reaching institutions.

2017 Night of Philosophy & Ideas is co-presented by Brooklyn Public Library and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. The program is made possible with support from the Florence Gould Foundation, the Institut français, Air France, FACE Foundation, Holiday Inn Express and Red Lion Inn & Suites and D'Artagnan, Alliance Program, and event partners National Sawdust, Trisha Brown Dance Company, BAM, and Prospect Park Alliance. WNYC is a media partner of the 2016-2017 BPL Presents Season. Additional support is provided by La Rêveuse, Sixpoint Brewery, Red Hook Winery, Colson Patisserie, Lion in the Sun, Coperaco, Pommery, Albertine, Cornell University, Sciences Po, Paris and Bogota Latin Bistro. The VR Theater is powered by Samsung. Gothamist is a 2017 Night of Philosophy & Ideas Media Partner. In March, BPL and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy will host family-friendly “Philosophy for Kids” workshops moderated by Simon Critchley as part of the Tilt Kids Festival, co-presented by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).

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About Brooklyn Public Library

Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is an independent library system for the 2.5 million residents of Brooklyn. It is the fifth largest library system in the United States with 60 neighborhood libraries located throughout the borough. BPL offers free programs and services for all ages and stages of life, including a large selection of books in more than 30 languages, author talks, literacy programs and public computers. BPL’s eResources, such as eBooks and eVideos, catalog information and free homework help, are available to customers of all ages 24 hours a day at our website:

About the Cultural Services of the French Embassy

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy promotes the best of French arts, literature, cinema, language, and higher education across the US. Based in New York City, Washington D.C., and eight other cities across the country, the Cultural Services brings artists, authors, educational and university programs to cities nationwide. It also builds partnerships between French and American artists, institutions and universities on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, through its bookshop Albertine, it fosters French-American exchange around literature and the arts. Website:

About the Institut français-Paris

Institut français is the agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and international Development for cultural action outside of France. As an agent of cultural diplomacy, the Institut français is a unique brand throughout 96 countries and in France. It is responsible for the promotion of artists, ideas, works and industries that contribute to presenting an innovative and dynamic picture of artistic creation in France. It encourages dialogue between cultures and gives life to professional communities in each sector it is involved in, while supporting the French cultural network abroad. Website:

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