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“Quid Est Veritas?”: Antonio Monda Posed that Question at NYU Casa Italiana

The 2019 theme of "Le Conversazioni" is prejudice. What is the truth and is it possible to set aside our prejudice in order to find it?

Antonio Monda, artistic director of Le Conversazioni

In his opening speech, Monda mentioned his encounter with Primo Levi. Monda was shooting a documentary on Jewish-American culture and had requested an interview with Levi. Monda asked what advice Levi would give to a non-Jewish person who wanted to tell the story of his people. Levi answered “I would give impossible advice, that of not having any prejudice”. Is Primo Levi right to affirm that it is impossible to overcome prejudice and why? What is the truth behind our prejudice? Does the truth even exist? Quid est veritas?

Le Conversazioni is an international festival created by Antonio Monda and Davide Azzolini. It takes place annually on the Isle of Capri, New York (at the Morgan Library and the New York Historical Society), Rome, and this year for the first time in Naples as well. The festival consists of conversations with leading lights in contemporary English literature and international culture. Some of the greatest writers come together in Capri to discuss the theme for each given year. Past themes include identity, the relationship between the word and the image, memory, deadly sins, human rights, eros, winners and losers, revolution, diversity, lies and happiness.

In his opening speech, Monda mentioned his encounter with Primo Levi. Monda was shooting a documentary on Jewish-American culture and had requested an interview with Levi. Monda asked what advice Levi would give to a non-Jewish person who wanted to tell the story of his people. Levi answered “I would give impossible advice, that of not having any prejudice”. Is Primo Levi right to affirm that it is impossible to overcome prejudice and why? What is the truth behind our prejudice? Does the truth even exist? Quid est veritas? Those are the questions posed in the 2019 Le Conversazioni with Daniel Libeskind, Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig.

David Mamet, Le Conversazioni 2018, Capri

Monda’s introduction was followed by the screening of the documentary Happiness directed by Francesco Zippel. Happiness was the theme of Le Conversazioni 2018 and featured Vendela Vida, Dave Eggers, Helen Oyeyemi, Ian Buruma, David Mamet and Benjamin Taylor. The interviews consisted of funny moments, personal stories about writing and philosophical questions about happiness. Taylor said that searching for happiness makes you unhappy and is what makes us a lunatic nation that is never at equilibrium. Oyeyami posed the question whether happiness is healthy or necessary. Buruma remarked that happiness does not last long, which is good thing, like death. The fact that there is an end makes us enjoy the moments more and makes life more interesting. Just like hell is a more interesting place than heaven, because there is conflict. Happiness cannot exist on its own, but it is the basic function of human nature. As Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

Helen Oyeyame, Le Conversazioni 2018, Capri

Le Conversazioni brings people together to talk about issues that concern all of us, which makes us feel less alone. The festival brings together professionals from different countries, races and genders in the US and Italy. Prejudice is an important subject, especially in the political climate we live in at the moment. It is something that is almost impossible to avoid, whether it is negative or positive prejudice. Our past experiences affect the view of our world and how we go forth. In the 2018 Conversazioni Vendela Vida said that happiness is living in the present moment. It is the same with prejudice. If we are able to live in the present moment as much as possible, we might have a chance of reducing our prejudice. 

Screening of Happiness at Casa Zerilli-Marimò

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