Great Books

Sunday 20 October, 6.30pm until 7.30pm, Barbican Theatre Plenary

Today, amid the explosion of writing and publishing on and offline, prioritising what texts are important to read is, at the very least, daunting.  Moreover, works central to our literary heritage, are often portrayed as arcane and irrelevant.  This estrangement from the intellectual legacy of the past and disdain for the canon of literature has allowed instrumentalism to hold sway: novels are charged with telling the correct stories; the classics are interpreted in light of contemporary policy priorities. But is King Lear really a guide to homeless and mental-health issues?  Are the poems of Wordsworth and Keats best read as environmentalist tracts? Might we kill a love of reading if we treat literature as merely a means to non-literary ends?  Why should we read, what should we read, and why does literature matter?

To end this year’s Battle of Idea we have asked three festival speakers to talk about literary classics that have inspired them and why reading Great Books from the literary canon is still important in 2013.

This session is followed by a End of Festival complimentary drinks reception at which SABMiller, the festival’s International Champion, present: Beers of the World.

John Fitzpatrick
professor of law and director, Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent, Canterbury

Allan Massie
author, nearly 30 books, including 20 historical novels, including A Question of Loyalties and Dark Summer in Bordeaux; columnist, Spectator

Christine Rosen
fellow, New America Foundation; senior editor, New Atlantis

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive


"The rules of the game at The Battle of Ideas makes beating about the bush impossible. When you are given 5 minutes to make your point, you either say something essential, or you reveal that you have nothing really to say. This eliminates 'the unbearable lightness' of speculation that haunts public debate."
Albena Azmanova, social philosopher, political commentator and activist

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