“To be a democracy,” writes courageous and prodigious journalist, Masha Gessen, “a country has to be engaged in the pursuit of imagining a democracy. In times of crisis of democracy . . . we need to be doing the work of imagining.
“The insistence that ‘it can’t happen here,’ betrays a failure of the imagination,” counters Russian-American Gessen. “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… [T]ragically.” As we see – daily.
“. . . Can we come back from tragic failure?” At the behest of the French Embassy Cultural Services and their Albertine bookstore, Gessen imagined six Festival programs to inspire our vital effort.
No charge to participants for the five-day carburetion of brain and esprit — and the alluring venue may lighten not our work but the landmark Payne Whitney mansion that houses the Embassy and the Festival is a brilliant draw. As is Albertine bookstore, Festival namesake and perennial tax-free source of important French and English titles.
“Democracy is a set of ideas and ideals that can never be fully settled,” contends Masha Gessen,“and certainly cannot be fully accomplished. It is always, as [master of deconstruction] 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 . . . we need to be doing the work of imagining.”
A Call to Re-imagine Democracy — Festival Albertine 2018
“. . . How do we widen the lens, how do we drop the assumptions we don’t even realize we hold?” Gessen proposes that participants “engage their imagination in six distinct areas: work; politics; borders; mental health; gender; and education.” A panelist cast of thinkers, authors, and artists from both sides of the Atlantic will consider how we may —
Imagine a post-work world, a world in which humans are valued not for what they produce but for being human.
Re-conceive political parties and the mechanics of democracy.
Think beyond states and borders.
Understand mental health outside a framework of normality and disease.
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,” suggests Festival Albertine curator Masha Gessen. “Most of all, it asks all participants to imagine – actively, rigorously, and, for five days in November, collectively.”
Masha Gessen, briefly…
A brief bio cannot do justice to Gessen Born in Moscow, she moved as a teenager with her family to the United States, but returned to her birthplace as an adult to work as a journalist. A citizen of both countries, she’s a prolific journalist, author (writing primarily in English) and activist, working, notably, for LGBT rights. She has more than once personally confronted Vladimir Putin. In 2012, Everpedia
recounts: “Gessen was dismissed from her position as chief editor of Russia’s oldest magazine, Vokrug sveta, a popular-science journal, after she refused to send a reporter to cover a Russian Geographical Society event about nature conservation, featuring President Putin, because she considered it political exploitation of environmental concerns. After she tweeted about her firing, Putin phoned her and claimed he was serious about his ‘nature conservation efforts.’ At his invitation, she met him and her former publisher at the Kremlin, and was offered her job back. She rejected the offer.” The time came when, in the anti-LGBT climate prevalent in Russia, prudence dictated Gessen’s abrupt return to the U.S. with her wife and children.