Golden Days festival tackles the meaning of life, Monty Python style

Copenhagen’s classiest culture event of the year? Its brainiest, most flamboyant party? The only definitely unmissable celebration of culture and history around? Probably so. The dog days are behind us, another September has rolled in, and Golden Days is, true to form, ready to expand our lives with a dash of festivity and a generous dose of cultural capital.

It is no small theme that this year’s festival is setting out to tackle and unfold. Following last year’s impressively diverse and enjoyable festival on the crucial decade of the 1950s, here comes a theme so apparently highbrow and august that it takes four syllables in Latin just to hint at it. But that’s exactly the point! Philosophy is much more ubiquitous in our world than we tend to credit. A very real dimension in our daily interactions, we tend to act first and philosophise later. And you can be an acclaimed scientist, historian or anthropologist without realising that virtually every aspect of human life contains the applied version of some philosophical issue.

But philosophy is there all the same and won’t be barred. Take the self-help literature so voraciously consumed by modern readers. The question of how to be happy is arguably the oldest in philosophy – but we keep writing recipes and comparing methodologies. Should you practice mindfulness and cultivate your garden like Candide? Or should you go serious on the jargon-front and adopt a world-view informed by stoicism, hedonism, materialism or spirituality? Or – assuming you have free will – become a nihilist, anarchist, philanthropist or a solipsistic hermit in a cave?

This year’s organisers have in part been inspired by Monty Python’s wonderful film The Meaning of Life, in which the comedy troupe left few stones unturned in their surreal set-pieces on culture and society. Like Socrates who famously questioned everything, the film fired away at God, war, life, death, sex and the economy with wit and whimsical wisdom. It had the courage to confront these basic issues with all preconceived notions stripped away, and that approach re-emerges in Philosophy Now! For the next couple of weeks, the most trivial everyday absurdity and momentous world issue will be re-evaluated in a spirit swapping our most conservative modes of thinking with our most imaginative.

The festival is organising just under 200 exciting events, several of which are in English, so do locate a programme (available online). There’ll be debates, lectures, exhibitions, theatrical productions, ‘cliff note’ sessions on the great philosophers, concerts and more.

By staging all these events, Philosophy Now! pertinently and commendably acknowledges the dictum put forward by the philosopher Emmanuel Kant that reflection without life is empty, and life without reflection is blind.


Opening Party: ‘Toga Live’

The opening party is usually a tremendous success, always set against a formidable backdrop and featuring the cream of the crop of performing artists, sound technicians, bartenders and theme-relevant go-to guys. On Saturday, the largest collection of ancient art in Scandinavia will bear witness to an unusual sight as gladiators and goddesses will be sipping cocktails while philosophers go peripatetic on the dancefloor or speak the truth from barstools. Too many highlights to enumerate here, one of them being the post-punk group Synd og Skam, another the Norwegian singer Jenny Hval. Wear a toga or don’t, but do join the Romano-Greek extravaganza between 20:00 and 02:00.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, 7 Dantes Plads, CphV; Sat 20:00; tickets 200kr, concessions 170kr,


Triumph of Conversation

Is the democratic society the pinnacle of human civilisation? Is democracy the right form of government? Does it guarantee moral choices? These are tough questions and tackling them takes real insight – if not philosophical genius. For that reason, the incomparable French philosopher Jacques Rancière joins Jan-Werner Müller, a professor of politics at Princeton, for a pros-and-cons analysis of the democracy that shapes our lives. After the main event, the headliners will stick around offering intellectual newcomers a chance to put their views across.

The Black Diamond, The Royal Library, 1 Søren Kierkegaards Plads, Cph K; 13 Sep, 14:00-22:00; tickets 120kr, students: free adm;


Also recommended:

Michael Sheridan on Danish design
Acclaimed New York-based architect Michael Sheridan discusses philosophy in Danish design.

Designmuseum Danmark, Bredgade 68, Cph K; Wed 17:00; tickets 70kr


Freedom of Speech events
The first night, ‘Focus on America’, includes Obscene: A portrait of Barney Rosset & Grove Press at 19:30 and Porn King: The trials of Al Goldstein at 21:30. The second night, ‘The Information Wars’, includes 1968 short film Report from Vietnam at 19:00. And the third night plays host to the Sex Workers Film Festival.

Husets Biograf, Rådhusstræde 13, Cph K; Sep 16-18 at 19:00; tickets 70kr, 2029 7013



Golden Days Festival:Philosophy Now!
Various venues across Greater Copenhagen; starts Fri, ends Sep 22; central information desk at Cph Main Library, 15 Krystalgade, Cph K; ticket reservation recommended; 3542 1432,;