Philosophy Will Be Brought Down to Earth at the Globe during Hay Festival; Staging a Music and Philosophy Festival in Hay-on-Wye at the Same Time as the World Famous Literary Gathering Sounds like a Confrontational Move. but the Man Behind How the Light Gets in Tells Matt Thomas That the Reality Is Rather Different
Byline: Matt Thomas
WHILE the Hay Festival has long made its home in a sprawl of white tents just outside the market town, the newest show to arrive on the scene can be found in a rather more bijou gallery cum live music space called The Globe.
Now in its second year, How The Light Gets In, named after a Leonard Cohen lyric, seeks to blend music, comedy and philosophy in a new and possibly unique way.
It's the idea of Hilary Lawson, the Bristol-born filmmaker and thinker whose most famous work is probably the post-modern tract Closure: A Story of Everything.
He's also the chief executive of TVF Productions, the TV company behind documentaries like The Secrets of The Cocaine Mummies, and head of the non-profit Institute of Arts and Ideas.
Lawson, a disciple of deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida, says that the festival, which this year welcomes Robert Winston and Philip Pullman alongside Cardiff singer/songwriter Cate Le Bon, is the latest manifestation of a long-standing preoccupation.
"I think because I have a career in philosophy and also in the real world as it were, I've always been interested in the possibility of bringing philosophy out of the academy and into the home," he says. "If you look at the position philosophers and philosophy in France, for example, they are much more accepted and regarded as part of everyday discourse rather than something abstruse and inaccessible."
But he claims his desire to rehabilitate philosophy isn't driven by a desire to attain the sort of international celebrity enjoyed by his favourite thinker.
"Well, I think in this country we're a long way from seeing the philosopher reach the status of a kind of academic rock star that perhaps some of the bigger names achieved in the '70s, but anyway that kind of celebrity isn't really what I'm talking about," he says.
"The motivating impulse of this festival is to encourage people to engage with ideas and understand that philosophical concepts can be applied to their lives, to the way they understand the world."
It's an approach that informs every aspect of the festival, from the booking to the layout of the venues in which the lectures and symposia take place - and, what's more, Hay-on-Wye itself plays a key role.
"I think it's very important to get things like this out of London," he says. "People are incapable of being sincere in London, I think. Furthermore, here in Hay you have a long tradition of people being open to this sort of thing. That's why I don't think of this as competing in any way with the Hay Festival, it's more of a complementary situation.
"Within the venue itself, we've set things up so that there are sofas and cushions and rugs as well as more formal seats hopefully to encourage a different kind of interaction between the speakers and the audience.
"I've spent years attending conferences and gatherings and too often people arrive at these things very aware of their roles, of their position as an audience member, to be lectured at, and their reception of the event is coloured by that. …