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Brooklyn's 3rd Annual "A Night of Philosophy & Ideas"

Ellen Levitt

Posted on February 3, 2019 12:38

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The first weekend of February was the third annual "A Night of Philosophy & Ideas," a 12-hour program of lectures, musical and dance performances that touched upon a variety of intriguing topics. Once again it was held at the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library.

The first weekend of February, from Saturday at 7PM until Sunday at 7AM, was the third annual staging of an amazing, eye-opening event called "A Night Of Philosophy & Ideas." As with the previous two installments, this one was held at the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library, across the street from the legendary Prospect Park and down the street from the august Brooklyn Museum of Art. People of all different ages, ethnic groups, socio-economic levels and other categories thronged to the Main Library to hear lectures, see dances and musical performances, watch films and participate in interactive segments.

I had attended this event in 2017 and 2018 and enjoyed it greatly, but this year, due to a bad cold, I stayed home and was able to watch various segments on a live simulcast provided online. It was not nearly as fun as walking around the library at night, sampling various events, but it was a worthy opportunity. 

To some people this may seem like an event for the nerd, for the obscure academic, and not for the general public. But no, it has been an open-house, open-forum kind of indoor street-fair for cerebral celebration and education. With a full schedule of options featuring various professors, journalists, writers and other thinkers (many American but not all) and no admission charge (only for food and swag such as T-shirts and books), this is a yearly event that nearly any open-minded person could appreciate.

I watched online and texted with my friend Jacqui, who told me about what she was checking out. An emcee introduced certain speakers and multiple choice trivia questions were posted. I was able to watch a dance performance by the group Flexin; a cello piece by Gabriel Royal, part of puppet show staged on the library's second floor balcony, and people interacting with a communication apparatus. Among the speakers I heard were the keynote talk "Defeating Tribalism" by Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Community Building As A Social, Political & Spiritual Practice" by Rebecca Li and "Facing the Present as the World Spins Out of Control" by Frances Fox Piven.

Professor Piven's talk was particularly vigorous, a frank look at protest in contemporary America and how it could have a greater impact. "Movements shut things down, are disruptive, and allow people to identify a power-playing role," she said with conviction. She spoke of going beyond "marching, singing and banners" and suggested we also consider more strikes, such as the teachers' union strikes that have occurred during the past year-plus. 

There is something deeply important about a society providing forums and events such as these. Free and full of choices, they could appear to be hodge-podge gatherings but they are not. They are opportunities for learning, interacting, being exposed to ideas in an atypical fashion. People expect these things at college but having them open to anyone, whatever their educational status, is wonderful. And holding this in a library is especially noble.  

Ellen Levitt

Posted on February 3, 2019 12:38

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