November 9, 2009

Back in 1991, when the Utne Reader proposed that people start holding salons...

Did you want to do it? Did you try? If not, why not? I was just too timid, but I dearly wanted to have a salon here in Madison. Really, in many ways, this blog, with its comments section, is a variation on what I hoped to have back in the 1990s.

You can read the original Salon-Keepers handbook here.
Ideally the gathering will take place in someone's home, in a space just large enough to seat the entire group in a circle....

Feel free to invite anyone you think would enjoy the conversation and contribute to the group. Salons can be as small as 5 or 6 people or as large as 20 to 30. A salon in San Francisco called A New American Place has grown to 80 participants....

The convenor invites the guests, provides the location, arranges the refreshments, etc. The facilitator, who could be the same person, initiates the conversation, modulates its tone, guides its direction and focus, remains aware of the time, draws out the meek, and gently but firmly quiets the boor, while witnessing and participating in the process....
Reading further into these suggestions, I can see why I didn't want to do it — at least not this way. It sounds too much like a therapy group or a political meeting. I don't like the way there is a leader. It's not subtle enough, not social enough, not... oh, everything seems wrong. And yet, I longed for something.
The facilitator should check for the group's readiness to formulate a vision and mission. This could take several meetings, especially if the group is large and the objectives of its members are diverse. Members could be invited to write their suggestions for a vision and mission statement to be distributed and discussed at the next meeting.
Ugh! Terrible! Even the word "meeting" irritates me.

DSC05285

No, no... I pictured something else, something fluid and aimless, existing in the present, rich and amusing in itself.

39 comments:

traditionalguy said...

A salon sounds a lot like an adult Sunday School Class at a PCUSA church, or like a Sabath Day meeting at a Jewish Synagog. A group that keeps up with you during your good days and your bad days and prays for you is a blessing not to be missed when it is available. Althouse has also blessed all of us that have interracted here under her fascinating teaching posts.

former law student said...

Try as I might, I could never get into the Utne Reader. Nothing that it represented appealed to me.

Instead of a salon, I would have a party, and invite a cross-section of my friends.

Paco Wové said...

A salon needs a "mission statement"? Ugh.

BTW, I knew someone (slightly) who was apparently involved in one of these. A terribly smug, sanctimonious windbag, for what it's worth.

arf said...

A bunch of my college friends would get together once a month for brunch at my best friend's house. We'd wind up talking about politics and stuff in the ebb and flow of conversation around the food. Sometimes the group was 5 or 6 people, sometimes we'd have 20. Sometimes there'd be two or three competing conversations, but we never had a moderator or pre-defined topic.

Greybeard said...

I think you're about to see more and more "salons".
With the economy falling apart around us, I have had initial talks with neighbors about forming a "super-neighborhood watch" to protect ourselves and our property if necessary. I was surprised and gratified to find my neighbors sharing my fears and interested in coordinating our efforts.
Salon. Militia. Neighborhood Watch.
Tea party.
Call it what you want, they're popping up all across the nation.
Obama truly has brought us together.

JAL said...

PW A terribly smug, sanctimonious windbag, for what it's worth.

Well yeah, that certainly descibes some us here ;-)

wv impun
I thought I would impun some of the commenters.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

I pictured something else, something fluid and aimless, existing in the present, rich and amusing in itself.

Well, you've got it. Right here. Much more organic and far less recherché.

Andrea said...

The Utne Reader? Seriously? Even back before I had a blog I used to make fun of the Utne Reader and its hippy-dippy anachronisms. (This was on my Geocities site, which is now defunct, and the files all on my hard drive).

And what is it with "progressives" (or whatever they are) and their everlasting circles? All that "it makes everyone equal and primitive tribes used to do it around the fire for their sacred rituals!" bs. Well primitive tribes sat on the ground in a circle around the fire because 1) they didn't have any furniture, and 2) there was only one fire, and they were cold! Criminy.

JAL said...

Actually, Professor, a "salon" is how I see Althouse.

It definitely has a different flavor than most of the other places I drop by.

A bit renaissancey.

wv mangl
What is done to the English language. Not so much here.

Pogo said...

The use of a "Facilitator" always always always indicates that the meeting you're about to have is simultaneously useless and painful.

Useless because inevitably some decision has already been made and your job is to pointlessly 'ratify' it ("me too!") in order to give the appearance of consensus.

Painful because it showcases how worthless, powerless, and out of the loop you are, and because for the next 90 minutes you will want to carve out your own eyes with a spoon.

Henry said...

A Salon needs a Diva, not a facilitator.

Andrea said...

A salon is an informal gathering of adults to talk about culture, politics, and other mature topics. If it needs a "facilitator" it isn't a salon -- or adults aren't present.

Old RPM Daddy said...

Would their be any self-criticism involved? Or at least some good old-fashioned denouncing?

Synova said...

My idea of salons is taken directly from the Historical Romance genre.

What I imagine is idle rich women competing to have the most fashionable salon that attracts the most prestigious women, or else the unfashionable but interesting, who issue invitations to which the invited may drop by between certain times for as long as they are amused or else leave a calling card if they can't or don't want to stay but don't want the issuer of the invitation to feel snubbed. Very often young ladies and young men are roped into these morning visits in an effort to marry them off.

It makes a whole lot of sense when there isn't television and computers to entertain and someone who held amusing salons would be very popular.

I think it sounds interesting in the same way that dinner parties sound interesting. I also think that it's the social and cultural equivalent of back yard BBQ.

ricpic said...

From a site called salons.com:

Fun, a special, serious kind of fun, is what Salons are finally all about -- which is why it is so hard to capture their spirit. For unlike literature, fun leaves no traces. There is no archaeology of camaraderie. No detective can exhume the great line, delivered off hand over the remains of a meal, that suddenly unites a group of men and women in laughter. Laughter at once self-conscious and free, laughter that contains something of the profound. The traces of successful conversation are fragile; they do not outlive the shining moment when thought finds its perfect expression in language.

I would add this question: can a salon - which replicates a successful dinner party, not once but regularly - work without a light handed but persistent manager?
I doubt it.

Scott said...

A few years ago I went to a musical salon of sorts in Athens, GA. My older brother, a guitarist, was reunited with a vocalist he had accompanied regularly when she lived in Minneapolis. The event was magical!

Holding a salon requires that you have access to a space that's big enough for its participants. That counts me out, since me and my partner live in a one-bedroom apartment. For people like us, how do we do the salon thing? Rent a hotel meeting room? I don't know.

A.A. meetings are salons of sorts -- or can be. :)

Aaron John said...

I was just too timid

Another Althouse lie.

You were unwilling to put yourself into a situation where others would be on your level.

You need to be the primary soruce of attention. You need to be in charge. You need to be able to delete comments you don't like.

You couldn't handle a real salon. Your skin is too thin; your ego is too big.

k*thy said...

A.A. meetings are salons of sorts -- or can be. :)

No hierarchy - group conscious instead of a facilitator and no cross talk. I was thinking the same thing.

Daniel Fielding said...

Aaron John is the prime example of a smug, self-righteous "progressive" windbag of the kind that reads the Utne Reader,and then "facilitates" Salons!!!
Hey, you can also get psychoanalysed by him for free.

edutcher said...

Henry said...

A Salon needs a Diva, not a facilitator.

That, of course, we have, and a very charming one.

Ann, why that picture? It looks like something Druids would use for human sacrifice.

Aaron John said...

I was just too timid

Another Althouse lie.

You were unwilling to put yourself into a situation where others would be on your level.


If you don't like it here, leave.

Please.

WV "vation" Something waiting for the big O.

JAL said...

Jeremy's up at this time in the morning?

wv thack
with the appropriate "w" -- what has to be done regularly to the jerks who do *not* come here for the party or the conversation

Henry said...

You couldn't handle a real salon.

Jessep: You want conversation?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to conversation.
Jessep: You want conversation?
Kaffee: I want a salon!
Jessep: You can't handle a real salon! Son, we live in a world that has guests. And those guests have to be guarded by facilitators. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Refreshments? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom...

Joan said...

Henry: LOL!

Pogo, I have to take issue: The use of a "Facilitator" always always always indicates that the meeting you're about to have is simultaneously useless and painful.


I'm a facilitator, and I promise no one at my meetings wants to gouge their eyes out with a spoon or any other instrument. Then again, talking about cancer once a month does not lend itself to pretentious windbaggery.

I love the Althouse salon -- I've used the term here before at least once, I think it fits perfectly. The biggest problem here is that it's way too accessible.

kentuckyliz said...

Um, have a dinner party with an interesting group of people.

No magazine, no facilitator, no pretension needed.

Duh.

LordSomber said...

Where is the "Once-ler" in that photo?

Scott said...

@k*thy: By the same token, Quaker meetings could be considered salons also.

John said...

Ann:

This here thing we are all on, your blog?

Salon.

Multiple ongoing discussions, many of them revisited as more facts are known. Clash of opinions, some timid, some vitriolic, some aberrant or off topic.

Bonus: no need for refreshments or cleanup afterwards. And as for the lack of physical togetherness, well, you've certainly proven of late that you are capable of establishing lasting and happy intimacy with an erstwhile cybervisitor.

Ann, regret no more--you are a salonist, and have arguably improved the model greatly. To our benefit.

Okay, enough pissing down your neck. I want more posts divorced from current events, which are making me increasingly sick. let's have some purely philosophical stuff, with a rule that the first person in the comments who mentions Obama be boiled in waffle syrup.

Paco Wové said...

Help me out here, AJD... err, "Aaron John". You've been spitting up your petty bile here for what... 3, 4 years? What drives someone to that degree of small-minded bitchiness? Failed ex-student? Jilted lover?

Christy said...

The U.S. abounds with salons. We call them book clubs. The 9/11 Report was a big book club selection when it came out. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson is the current big hit in reading groups. If the monthly selection isn't about big ideas, the conversation gets to them eventually. Perhaps I was lucky in that both the book clubs I was invited to join were special, but I don't think so.

Christy said...

Althouse, I've always thought of you as our own Mme de Staël.

Andrea said...

Aaron John: *sniff* "You deleted my comment back in 2007!" *sniff* "And I'm too lame to get my own blog and complain about it there, even though Blogspot gives them away for free!"

And here's another one who won't even make his blogger profile public, so he could taunt us with all the erudite books he reads and the fact that he only watches French movies. Without the subtitles!

Pogo said...

My apologies joan.

I'm still suffering from PTFD*.




*(F = facilitator)

Bruce Hayden said...

A salon is an informal gathering of adults to talk about culture, politics, and other mature topics. If it needs a "facilitator" it isn't a salon -- or adults aren't present.

Any one else here originally think that they had inadvertently left out one of the two "o"s? I would suggest that the discussion makes more sense if you add the second "o" back in. Try it.

Pogo said...

Bruce
Ha! Absolutely right.

And make the facilitator a bartender instead.

blake said...

Nobody facilitates like a bartender.

Scott said...

Facilitates, or enables?

A virtual salon is like virtual sex. It just ain't the same without another human in the room.

Here, we're all just dancing photons.

Old RPM Daddy said...

"A virtual salon is like virtual sex. It just ain't the same without another human in the room."

Same deal with a virtual saloon.

Jeff with one 'f' said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Old RPM Daddy said...

Would their be any self-criticism involved? Or at least some good old-fashioned denouncing?"

Old RPM Daddy FTW!