HowTheLightGetsIn: The festival of big ideas seeking to circumvent literary festival cliches

HowTheLightGetsIn Festival (HowTheLightGetsIn)
HowTheLightGetsIn Festival (HowTheLightGetsIn)

“There is an enormous amount of division within society,” Hilary Lawson, the founder of HowTheLightGetsIn festival, tells The Independent. “We need to talk about the ideas that underly those divisions rather than retreating to our different tribal identities.”

Lawson’s brainchild, which is the biggest philosophy and music festival in the world, is something of a panacea to the average literary festival. This is because first off, the festival has music, and secondly, the festival is centred around panel debates and discussions.

“We are fundamentally different to literary festivals in many ways, and that is centrally because we are about ideas and the edge of ideas,” Lawson, whose festival is due to take place at Kenwood House in north London this weekend, explains.

“It is very much about seeking to provide a framework outside of the literary celebrity game of providing authors with vehicles for promoting their book and selling them.”

Lawson, director of the Institute of Art and Ideas, notes the festival is dedicated to having “genuine conversations about where we are going as a culture and a society”, arguing this is a different remit to many literary festivals and the culture which pervades them. He notes while, yes, you can purchase speaker’s books, this is by no means the driving force of the festival.

But HowTheLightGetsIn has had its fair share of big-name attendees over the years - with previous speakers at the festival spanning from Noam Chomsky, renowned academic, to Brian Eno, the English musician, Ed Milliband, former Labour Party leader, Philip Pullman, best-selling author, to two authors both famed for whipping up controversy, Richard Dawkins and Slavoj Zizek.

While the festival held on 1-2 October will be headlined by novelist, Esther Freud, Peter Singer, the “godfather of altruism”, as well as reality theorist Donald Hoffman, among others.

HowTheLightGetsIn Festival (HowTheLightGetsIn Festival)
HowTheLightGetsIn Festival (HowTheLightGetsIn Festival)

Lawson, a philosopher himself, notes festival-goers might find themselves standing next to a “Nobel prize winner in the coffee queue” due to the event not having a VIP area - adding that this alters the atmosphere of the festival.

“The festival is full of people talking about what they have just heard,” Lawson, who is famed for his theory of closure, reflects. “Discussing every topic from consciousness and reality to equality and political issues about where we are going as a country. Everyone is really engaged.”

HowThe LightGetsIn festival is ultimately committed to liberating philosophy from the far-flung elitist ivory tower of academia and making life’s big ideas and perennial questions more accessible and exciting.

“Breaking the notion we can’t talk about big ideas and we will be leaving talking about philosophy to Parisian taxi drivers,” Lawson adds. “I think the music is an important element as it stops it being too status-driven.”

This year will see music from 2022 Mercury nominee Gwenno, and Django Django, the 2012 Mercury Nominee. While myself, The Independent’s Women’s Correspondent, will be talking in a debate, alongside others, titled No Forbidden Fruit, centred around how attitudes to sex have changed in recent years.

“We are more open about sex than ever before,” reads the festival blurb. “No topic too outrageous to discuss. No concern too personal to share. But are we making a mistake? Surveys show across all adults a marked decrease in the frequency we have sex with a partner. And a 40 per cent decrease in having regular sex amongst young people. Is our very openness about sex making it less exciting, less transgressive, and less desirable?”

More details on HowTheLightGetsIn can be found here. As a festival partner, The Independent is offering a 20 per cent discount on tickets with the code INDY22. Don’t miss out on tickets here.

But for those of you who are unable to make it to the festival, fortunately, all the debates and talks will bit by bit be released online in the coming months via the Institute of Art and Ideas online platform, IAI.TV.

“We are wanting to address the underlying differences in the way that we think and hold the world,” Lawson says of the festival. “Those differences have generated in recent times really deep divisions in society. Most of the time the communication around those is simply based on people slagging off the counterview and promoting their own. So there is not much listening going on.”