A Week In Books

At the Edinburgh Festival

David Hume famously scoffed at the notion of post-mortem consciousness, but even the arch-sceptic may be spinning in his grave. Tomorrow, the book festival in his native Edinburgh will host a day of talks devoted to the value of feng shui in its "Lifestyle Tent". This touchy-feely teepee shelters a fortnight of New Age-accented shindigs as a sideshow to the more orthodox events. Adding insult to injury, the canvas Temple of Unreason stands with the other Festival marquees at the heart of Robert Adam's Charlotte Square in the New Town - a pure Enlightenment sermon in stone. It faces the tent in which BT showcases the hi-tech glories of electronic publishing. Someone is hedging their bets. But business looked brisk earlier this week as visitors checked out sessions on acupuncture, aromatherapy, Thai massage and all points east.

However much the Edinburgh organisers try to gloss feng shui as a sort of turbocharged interior design, it remains a form of ancient earth magic, or geomancy. As a long-lived superstition, it ranks with (say) Tarot-reading and astrology, neither of which yet has a niche in Charlotte Square. It was Hume's own landmark essay "On Miracles" - itself one of Edinburgh's greatest gifts to European thought - that found the last word on the New Age, back in 1748. Hume shakes a wry head at "the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous" before accepting that this urge "can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature".

Acceptance is one thing; encouragement quite another. Yet Dr Jan Fairley, the Book Festival's new director, has arguably struck a useful blow for cultural glasnost by spotlighting "personal issues of belief and lifestyle" in her first programme. What the trade calls "mind, body and spirit" publishing still flourishes mightily. To the huge public that treats Hume's Enlightenment - especially in its scientific guise - as just another outworn creed, these works manage to refresh the parts other ideas cannot reach.

They fill acres of bookshop space (you can always find more books on astrology than on astronomy, Richard Dawkins often complains). They crowd the best-seller lists, propelled high into the charts by money-spinning serial deals with shameless middle-market newspapers. And they keep almost every intellectual charlatan known to European history solidly in print. No one save students and scholars now reads Hume's great forerunner, Michel de Montaigne - the only modern writer Shakespeare ever copied almost word for word (in The Tempest). Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands still pore over the gibberish rhymes of Montaigne's French contemporary, Nostradamus.

This vast bookish underworld - which keeps scores of publishers in funds, and armies of readers content - has almost no diplomatic relations with mainstream literary life. And that should bother mainstream literary folk more than it evidently does.

The Edinburgh "lifestyle" strand makes a gesture towards contact by welcoming the softer, therapeutic end of New Age thought (literally) into its camp. It nonetheless stays safely in a little ghetto. Punters who turn up for Roy Hattersley or Pat Barker, Kate Atkinson or Mario Vargas Llosa, need not know about the reflexology or "herbs for pets" advice going on across the square. Only Lynne Franks (unblushingly labelled by the brochure as "the inspiration for Edina" in AbFab) can be relied upon to straddle the gap.

Next year, perhaps, the Festival should bite the bullet and stage a full- scale debate between the deep-dyed mystics and the hard-core rationalists. If David Hume really had a ghost, it would surely float along to that.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor