HowTheLightGetsIn, the leading festival of music and philosophy, will return to London this September for a celebration of big ideas. Kenwood House, on Hampstead Heath, will be the picturesque setting for debates on topics as diverse as the Western worldview and the nature of happiness.
“This year’s theme is ‘error and renaissance’,” said philosopher and festival founder Hilary Lawson. “The likes of Peter Singer, Esther Freud, Grace Blakeley, Donald Hoffman, Paul Mason and David Hare will come together to try and identify the fundamental errors that we have made in our theories, the organisation of society and in world affairs – all while looking to new forms of thought and action to rebuild afresh.”
Hosted by the Institute of Art and Ideas, the festival will leaven the philosophical debate with music from the Mercury nominees Django Django and Gwenno, comedy from Ahir Shah and Alexandra Haddow, and cabaret from “sequin-clad satirical weirdos” Bourgeois Maurice.
According to Lawson, the entertainment is an integral part of the philosophical mission. “Music is about being fully present and experiencing being alive,” he said. “Thinking is only one part of the philosophical story. Being is the other. And we are frequently closer to that on the dance floor than in the lecture hall.
“There is a risk with public debates and lectures that status gets in the way of genuine conversation. In a hushed lecture hall, the form of the event gives status and authority to the lecturer. But to get real debate where people are genuinely talking to each other it is important to soften the atmosphere.”
The festival takes its name from a Leonard Cohen lyric which conveys a similar sentiment: that what might at first look like imperfections are in fact indispensable. “There is a crack in everything,” the Canadian songwriter sang in Anthem. “That’s how the light gets in.”
Since its inception, the festival has been seeking “to return philosophy to big ideas, and to put these ideas at the heart of our culture”, Lawson said. The goal is not to present “a single definitive truth” but to seek out “new frames to be uncovered, new lands to explore that might help to address the troubles of our time”.
For those who can’t attend in person, some of the festival will be streamed online and all the debates and talks will be gradually released in the months following the festival on the Institute of Art and Ideas website, IAI.TV. Read more about HowTheLightGetsIn, including a QA with Hilary Lawson