New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Greece is not only a fabulous tourist destination; it is climbing quickly as a destination for congresses and conventions. Another take on this is to expand Greece’s potential as a destination for mass cultural events, and there is one that suits the place perfectly, which returns philosophy and theater to Greece, where they were born, in a new, interactive way, at a time when old truths and questions could help shed light on today’s problems.
“It would be fantastic to do ‘A Night of Philosophy’ in Greece. I think it’s exactly the right time, the right era,“ philosopher and theater stage director Mériam Korichi, told the GN from Paris after staging her all-night philosophy happening, “A Night of Philosophy”, in New York on Friday, April 24, an event involving 5,000 guests and participants. An interactive experience with the state of philosophy today. Korichi’s event is an emerging international phenomenon.
“It is very important to present art and philosophy at the same level. It’s like a mirror: it’s the same thing, but each time you put it in front of something different it reflects the difference. So the idea is to reflect the specificity of the place where we do it. I would love to do that in Greece. And entirely in Greek,” she said of the idea of holding the event out of doors in Greece appeals to Korichi. “It would be Plato’s Symposium…. in the ruins… it would be fabulous. I have been thinking about it for a long time. I am starting now to prepare the 7th edition of Night of Philosophy on November 13, at UNESCO for the 70th anniversary of the institution. I am going to get in contact with the Onassis Foundation to present the new project.”
For the New York premiere of “A Night of Philosophy”, the lights were on all night at the French Embassy and the Ukrainian Institute of America, historic side-by-side buildings on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York for more than 5,000 enthusiastic guests and participants. Eighty-five philosophers gave thirty-minute talks on a vast range of subjects such as morality and happiness, suicide, freedom of speech, and scandal, and more, and mingled with guests for discussions as did artists whose performances ranged from a balancing act by one artist as she walked across a beam eight feet off the ground, and another’s reading of the entire work by the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir.
Korichi developed the concept for “A Night of Philosophy” “to challenge the frontiers of philosophy and the theater”, and conceived their format after the idea of the “happenings” of the late 1960‘s. She first created “A Night of Philosophy” at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris on June 4, 2010, programming the readings to take place out of doors. “It was fantastic because it was a beautiful night. I had a program of six or seven readings, ending with Plato’s Phaedo, and I remember trying to stop my actor from breathing at all,” said Korichi, who has many anecdotes to relate, “He didn’t breathe for three hours in a row… he couldn’t stop, because there was a mass of people there for this reading to go on, and on… and on. At 4:00 in the morning–that’s the difficult hour–I remember one philosopher who was waiting for his turn to give his talk, telling me that it was a fantastic event, and packed with people, but he was used to seeing an empty theater, and this provided him with a great feeling of perplexity. He spoke about the Greek symposia, going back to the core reasons of why we are doing philosophy.”
“A Night of Philosophy” was co-presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, The Ukrainian Institute of America, FACE Foundation, and the Onassis Cultural Center of New York. It was the international event’s 5th edition. It was staged in London as “My Night with Philosophers”, in 2012 and 2013, and in Berlin “Die Nacht der Philosophie” in 2014.
“Behind these nights of philosophy there’s a whole new field of research for me,” said Korichi, who is currently writing a book titled “Philosophy After Art”, which relates to a 1969 essay titled “Art After Philosophy” by the American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, “The essay was written just at the time philosophy was diving into linguistics. Kosuth was very concerned with the general questions of meanings, the meaning of life, etc. This being so, he said that philosophy had just given up taking the lead and enlightening us, so art was the only thing left to enlighten our life. This was almost fifty years ago. I think now things have changed; philosophy is back.” Asked why this would be the case, Korichi replied, “Maybe the development of history. Maybe the fall of the Berlin Wall for instance. Maybe since the late 80’s, things got back to complications. We see that today things are a hell of a lot more complicated, so everything needs more careful examination and analysis and programmatization. That’s the job of philosophy, I would say.”
This spring semester Mériam Korichi was a Visiting Fellow at the NYU Philosophy Department doing research for her book in progress, “Philosophy after Art”. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris, and was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard. An author of several books, she has been dramaturge and stage director collaborator on the staging of three opera and theater productions.