Festival Albertine 2018: Reimagining Democracy

Curated by renowned Russian-American journalist and author Masha Gessen, the fifth annual Festival Albertine will bring together thinkers, authors, and artists from both sides of the Atlantic to ask not what a democracy is but what it could be. How do we widen our lens and drop assumptions we don’t even realize we hold?

Democracy lives in the imagination. These days we are repeatedly reminded that democracy is not a set of rules, laws, or institutions – all of these can be hollowed out to give us oxymoronic formations like “illiberal democracy.” Democracy is a set of ideas and ideals that can never be fully settled and certainly cannot be fully accomplished. It is always, as Jacques Derrida put it, a “democracy to come.” To be a democracy, a country has to be engaged in the pursuit of imagining a democracy. In times of crisis of democracy –and we are undoubtedly living through such a crisis now – we need to be doing the work of imagining.

The insistence that “it can’t happen here” betrays a failure of the imagination. The experience of seeing a country turn away from democracy trains the imagination to know that “it” can happen anywhere. But the demagogue dangles a carrot for the imagination: he traffics in what the social psychologist Erich Fromm called “the imaginary past.” The antidote for the appeal of the imaginary past is a vision of a glorious future, and this is where we fail most tragically.

The call to re-imagine may be the hardest call to heed. How do we widen the lens, how do we drop the assumptions we don’t even realize we hold? This festival will attempt to do just this.

The festival will ask participants to engage their imagination in six distinct areas: work; politics; borders; mental health; gender; and education:

-To imagine a post-work world, a world in which humans are valued not for what they produce but for being human.
-To re-conceive political parties and the mechanics of democracy.
-To think beyond states and borders.
-To understand mental health outside a framework of normality and disease.
-To imagine a way of learning that is a fundamentally different path to education.

This will be a festival that asks more questions than it proposes answers. Most of all, it asks all participants to imagine – actively, rigorously, and, for five days in November, collectively.

—Masha Gessen

Tues, Oct 30, 7PM
Beyond States and Borders
As millions of refugees face increasing scrutiny and are turned away at borders across the world, we will ask basic questions about borders: What are they for? By what right are they created and policed? And how do we live now? Sophia Azeb, Gauz, Aleksandar Hemon, and Guillaume le Blanc. Moderated by Masha Gessen.

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Wed, Oct 31, 7PM
A Post-Work World
Yann LeCun, Joseph Stiglitz, and Daniel Cohen will consider the future of work, or, rather, the world after work. Can we imagine a time when we value people not for what they produce but for who they are, and what will this future look like?

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Thurs, Nov 1, 7PM
Rethinking Gender
Some political movements around the world promise a return to an imaginary past in which clear and stable gender divisions maintained order and comfort for all. But what is the glorious gender future that is the opposite of the dark gender past? Phia Ménard, Eric Fassin, and Sasha Velour, moderated by Jack Halberstam.

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Fri, Nov 2, 7PM
The Mechanics of Democracy
We often talk as though free and fair elections were the definition of democracy. This assumption begs to be demolished. Cynthia Fleury, Ingrid LaFleur, James Fishkin, and  Andreas Kalyvas dare to imagine a better way of doing politics with informed and motivated citizens. Moderated by Masha Gessen.

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Sat, Nov 3, 1:30PM
A Different Path to Education
Akilah Richards, Antoine Fromental, and Emmanuel Davidenkoff will talk about education, school as an institution, and how alternative learning environments could produce better educated students, and subsequently, a healthier society. Moderated by Kenneth Danford. 

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Sat, Nov 3, 4:30PM
Redefining Normality and Disease
Writers Siri Hustvedt and Laure Murat, and artist Johanna Hedva will join two representatives of L’Oiseau Mouche Theater Company to discuss how the understanding of mental illness can move beyond a dichotomous perception of normality and disease.

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Events will be held in English at Albertine Books (972 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY), and all are free and open to the public.

Albertine is committed to making its bookstore and events accessible to all visitors. For information about wheelchair accessibility, elevators, restrooms, and accommodation for those who have hearing impairments, please refer to albertine.com/about-us or write to us at info@albertine.com.

Festival Albertine is presented in partnership with The Recanati-Kaplan Foundation, Susannah Hunnewell, Van Cleef & Arpels, Air France, Institut français, Onassis Foundation USA, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Emily and James Hamilton. Generous support is provided by Champagne Pommery and Intercontinental New York Barclay. Media Partner: The New York Review of Books.