How the Light Gets In Illuminates the Dark Recesses of My Brain

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Sometimes it’s easier to define something by what it is not: How The Light Gets In is not Boomtown. In fact it’s just about as diametrically opposite to Boomtown as it’s possible to be. I found no evidence of naked drug-fuelled hedonism whatsoever within its rarefied Hampstead Heath confines, and believe me I searched exhaustively for it. I did though earwig an overflowing hatful of highbrow over-coffee discussions, including a heated debate about gender bias in nineteenth century German philosophy (apparently there’s loads) and a sedate exploration of the precise meaning of salience.

Which is to say that HTLGI’s billing as ‘the world’s largest philosophy festival’ hits the nail squarely on the head. While the crowd is pretty diverse in terms of age – albeit there are very few children (and the ethnic mix isn’t impressive) – there’s one thing that everyone appears to have in common, and that’s a considerably larger brain than me. I’ve no idea if it’s true or not, but my suspicion is that there are more PhDs per capita at this festival than any other on the calendar. I felt like a redbrick imposter at an Oxbridge reunion. I should have worn corduroy.

It’s a niche event of course, but HTLGI is a very good mid sized festival. Its primary niche is in-depth talks and discussions covering all manner of important and – dare I say it? – salient subjects. In this instance these included: Secrets of the Universe, New Politics and Old Threats, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (it’s definitely not Boomtown!), The Fantasy of Fame, Rescuing the Economy of the Sea, The Happiness Delusion, Fantasies of the West, and Truth, Delusion and Psychedelic Reality. The list goes on, and on. Many of these talks and debates are fascinating, and the speakers are often extraordinary and eminent (it’s a treat to listen to them live), but I’d say if you’re not at least moderately bright you’d soon be lost.

You might well re-find yourself though at the more accessible music, cabaret and comedy events, which are many and varied and often very good. Unfortunately I didn’t make any of these events this year as in previous years I’ve enjoyed many of them. It’s not that I didn’t try; it’s just that the ones I earmarked were either cancelled or moved to another time. Bah!

These changes and cancellations were an unfortunate theme of this year’s festival as it’d been postponed for a few weeks due to the Queen’s death. I was quietly cursing the organisers for such a chinless decision – I could really have done with a bit of non-Queen stimulus during that tsunami of wall-to-wall media mawkishness (apologies to those who felt the grief) – until I heard it was the venue that had made the decision to postpone and not the festival. I finished up feeling sorry for the organisers instead as it definitely impacted on the smooth running of the weekend.  

What else to mention? Well the site itself is surprisingly (seeing as it’s London)

green and lovely, directly in front of Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath. It’s not all that easy to get too mind you, although there are some buses, but hey, it’s a lovely country-esque walk from the tube. The loos were fine (no showers – it’s a non-camping weekend), the food and drink choices were also fine if a little expensive, and there was a modest smattering of stalls selling clothes and such like. The weekend included a programme for children and young adults, but for me it’s not a festival that is geared for younger ages, unless they are super bright perhaps.

I came away on the Sunday evening with my brain all lit up with new and stimulating information. I’d enjoyed myself and learned a lot as well, illuminated with new insights into subjects that normally I give little thought to. As a fellow attendee said to me over a coffee: ‘you could find most of this stuff online if you searched hard enough for it, but you don’t, do you?’

Published on 07 October 2022 by Neil del Strother

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