Masha Gessen, the journalist, author and activist, is organizing this fall’s Festival Albertine, an annual event dedicated to fostering French-American intellectual exchange presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine Books. The theme of the 2018 festival is Reimagining Democracy.
“The reason there’s an emphasis on the word ‘imagination’ is that I think that usually when we say the word ‘democracy,’ we’re referring to a known set of electoral mechanisms or constitutional institutions, etc.,” Gessen said by phone on Thursday. “And I wanted to underscore that that’s not actually what we’re talking about.”
“We’re not talking about how to salvage free and clear elections,” Gessen added. “I would much rather talk about whether elections are, in fact, a necessary and sufficient component of democracy.”
Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of several books, including “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Greil Marcus, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan are among the festival’s previous organizers.
The concept behind this year’s festival came from the Cultural Services arm of the embassy as a response to the world’s political landscape. But the specific theme was devised by Gessen. Hervé Ferrage, the deputy cultural counselor of the French Embassy, said in an interview, “It is very clear, for everybody, that in a way democracy is under threat in many areas of the world.”
Writers, artists, activists and professors including Siri Hustvedt, Ingrid LaFleur, James S. Fishkin and members of L’Oiseau Mouche Theater Company will take part in the festival, a series of six panels from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 at Albertine Books on Fifth Avenue at East 79th Street. The panels will each explore one of six topics: work, borders, politics, gender, education and mental health.
The festival’s events are free and will be streamed at livestream.com/frenchembassy.
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