Just a thought

Fifteen French intellectuals and 75 Israelis will discuss Jewish philosophy through the night at several locations around Tel Aviv.

Raphael Zagury-Orly: 'I think I brought dialogue, questioning and an enlargement of the artistic work.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
Raphael Zagury-Orly: 'I think I brought dialogue, questioning and an enlargement of the artistic work.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Have you ever lain awake at night, a-tossin’ and a-turnin’, trying desperately to get some shut-eye, but your brain won’t give you a rest? Just in case you encounter that particularly frustrating problem on May 28, you might want to give your mind a night out by popping along to attend any of dozens of events taking place at various spots around Tel Aviv, as part of the local French Institute’s Night of Philosophy and Arts program.
The one-nighter, curated by Raphael Zagury-Orly, offers a plethora of topics and formats to be considered, savored and even enjoyed, as 15 French intellectuals and 75 of their Israeli counterparts share their thoughts on such matters as the meaning of nostalgia, a temporally topical talk by Tel Aviv University lecturer Prof. Eli Friedlander called “Philosophers and Night,” a discussion about “The Figure of the Jew in Philosophy” by a Franco-Israeli quartet panel, and an examination of art and philosophy by five members of the teaching staff at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
The inclusion of the latter institution of higher education is perfectly natural if one considers the fact that just last year Zagury-Orly completed a three-year tenure as director of Bezalel’s MFA program. At the time, the latter appointment raised not a few eyebrows, considering the fact that the new head was not an artist himself. However, Zagury-Orly felt he had some added value to bring to the post and the program, and the same naturally goes for his role in devising the Night of Philosophy and Arts lineup.
“I think I brought dialogue, questioning and an enlargement of the artistic work, and an opening to a more universal type of questioning, interrogation,” says the curator, who was born in Haifa, spent many of his formative years in Canada and now divides his time between Israel, France and Germany.
Zagury-Orly has recruited a partner in arms – albeit a rather senior one – by the name of Nicolas Bourriaud, director of the world-renowned École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, an arts school in Paris. Bourriaud will present a lecture on “Art in the Anthropocene: Humans, Objects and Translations.” Following his talk, curator Noam Segal, London-born French arts writer Mark Alizart and American artist Nicola Trezzi, current head of Bezalel’s MFA program, will respond to Bourriaud’s ideas. All but one of the slots that involve French speakers will be in English.
The spread of topics raised through the night, which runs from 6 p.m. on May 28 through 7 a.m. on the morrow, is eclectic. If you’re still awake and alert at 1 a.m. you might want to make an appearance at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Neveh Tzedek to catch an intriguing discussion between celebrated 71-year-old French film director and lecturer Alain Fleischer and TAU film lecturer Ohad Landesman about “Reinventing and Teaching Film Today.” A couple of hours earlier, the Tola’at Sfarim café-cum-arts-bookstore will bring authors Yossi Sucary and Nir Baram together to discuss the seemingly painful issue of “The Tormented Waltz of the Philosopher and the Writer – Between the Metaphysical and the Lyrical.”
Meanwhile, Zagury-Orly himself will be pressed into active service when he moderates a 1 a.m. English-language discussion titled “Franco-Israeli Encounter: Where Is Philosophy Heading,” taking place at the Cantina restaurant just down the road from the French Institute on Rothschild Boulevard. The curator’s cohorts for the two-hour binational session include acclaimed Belgian philosophy lecturer Nicolas de Warren, French cinema philosopher Adèle Van Reeth, Bar-Ilan University lecturer Dror Yinon and TAU philosophy, psychoanalysis and phenomenology lecturer Eran Dorfman.
Judaism and Jewish writings fit seamlessly into the Night of Philosophy and Arts scheme of things, although they come from the more cerebral meditative side of Hebraic intellectual pursuit over the centuries, rather than the biblical or Talmudic side.
“There will be a discussion about what Jewish philosophy has to say about Israel’s contemporary situation,” details Zagury-Orly. “Jewish philosophers – there’s a tradition that it’s not rabbinical, it’s Jewish philosophy, from Maimonides to [early-20th-century German theologian and philosopher Franz] Rosenzweig and [19th-century German philosopher] Hermann Cohen. What do they have to say about Israel’s actual situation?” That will require a bit of temporal toing-and-froing, but it should be a fascinating session.
“There’s also a discussion about whether we have entered a post-democratic society in Israel,” continues Zagury-Orly. This is clearly a burning issue. “Are we departing from democratic values in Israel? And there’s the matter of state and religion.”
Freedom of speech is also addressed, at a 45-minute English-language panel session entertainingly called “Must We Shut Up,” moderated by Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn and starting at the institute at 10 p.m., followed by a 20-minute address on “BDS, Freedom of Speech, Violence.”
The program slots will take place at all kinds of venues around the center of Tel Aviv, including the Center for Contemporary Art on Tzadok Hacohen Street, the meeting room and auditorium of the Herzl Street branch of Israel Discount Bank, the architecturally pleasing Sommer Gallery on Rothschild Boulevard, and of course, a glut of lectures, discussions, screenings and public readings at the institute itself.
The 6 p.m. program opener, at the institute, goes by the catchy title of “Thinking Violence? Intellectuals in the Face of Violence,” with French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave getting the ball rolling. A distinguished panel comprising internationally renowned author A.B. Yehoshua, former ambassador to France and historian Elie Barnavi and Algerian-born sociology, political science and communications lecturer Denis Charbit will then elucidate the subject matter.
It won’t all be talk, as there are a number of screenings dotted around the 13-hour lineup – including works by Bezalel professors, students and alumni at the Israel Discount Bank branch and Sommer Gallery, a documentary on Vienna-born Hebrew University lecturer and philosopher Martin Buber at the French Institute, and a couple more about Holocaust victim German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin. There is also a varied musical menu on offer, including a classical musical recital at Chelouche Gallery on Mazeh Street, a midnight DJ set by Ariel Wizman at the Rothschild 12 coffeehouse, and jazz and world music vignettes at the French Institute.
Jerusalemites who can’t make the trip down Route 1 that night may want to go along to the French Consulate in the capital for the May 30 French philosopher encounter about Plato’s Symposium. The Jerusalem event is open to members of the general public by advance reservation, by calling (02) 624-3156, ext. 2.
For more information: (03) 796-8000 and institutfrancais-israel.com/