i've been told there's a salon revival taking place...

My Brooklyn based buddy Pam tells me that salons are making a
revival in the US so I've been letting that truth percolate within for a few weeks. Four broad but interrelated ideas seem to be bubbling up now, taking a measure of shape and form during this time of gestation - and I wonder what you think? You see, I am very serious about abiding in the wisdom Gertrud Mueller-Nelson celebrates in her description of Advent spirituality (the four week liturgical seasons Christians observe prior to Christmas.) As a Jungian Christian Educator I find her work simultaneously stimulating and practical. And since coming upon her guidebook to "Family Ritual and Community Celebrations" back in my Cleveland days, I have tried to integrate her ideas into my own spiritual disciplines. "Waiting," she writes, "Can be made into a work of art.

And the season of Advent invites us to underscore and understand with a new patience the very feminine state of being: waiting. Our masculine world wants to blast away waiting from our lives. Instant gratification has become our constitutional right and delay an aberration. We equate waiting with wasting. So we build Concorde airplanes, drink instant coffee, roll out green plastic and call it turf, and reach for the phone before we reach for the pen. The more life asks us to wait, the more we anxiously hurry. The tempo of haste in which we live has less to do with being on time or the efficiency of a busy life - it has more to do with our being unable to wait.

But waiting is unpractical time, good for nothing, but mysteriously necessary to all that is becoming. As in pregnancy, nothing of value comes into being without a period of quiet incubation: not a healthy baby, not a loving relationship, not a reconciliation, a new 
understanding, a work of art, never a transformation. Rather, a shortened period of incubation brings forth what is not whole or strong or even alive. Brewing, baking, simmering, fermenting, ripening, germinating, gestating are the feminine processes of becoming and they are the symbolic states of being which belong in a live of value, necessary to transformation.
To Dance with God, p. 62
First, I am fascinated with the history and form of previous salons. They have been described thusly:

A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" ("aut delectare aut prodesse"). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, were carried on until as recently as the 1940s in urban settings.

Originally the provenance of affluent, beautiful and entertaining women in Italy, a salon would bring create a small community together for the explicit purpose of sharing thoughtful conversation in the midst of art and excellent food and drink. What's NOT to love about this idea?!? I feel like my semi-retirement was a part of destiny's invitation to join this revival. Think of it: art, carefully chosen words, listening, food, music and libation. It's got my name all over it!  And, it was born within the feminine charisms of culture. Not that I'll be greeting guests lounging on a day bed, but a careful, civilized conversation about matters of the heart in this dark and
testosterone driven era makes a world of sense to me.

Second, given the pedagogy of Parker Palmer, Richard Rohr, Carrie Newcomer, Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier and Gertrud Mueller-Nelson, the salon's focus on "small is beautiful" speaks to how we might engage in meaningful cultural renewal in the midst of our resistance.It is prefigurative,right? It is sized for community and clarity, too. Bringing 20-30 people together in a tender way is something I can get my head around. It is both part of the "10 foot rule" (focus on what you can touch as the core of social change) and a style of spiritual formation born of beauty and relationship. I value the place of mass rallies. I am committed to civil disobedience in the face of evil, as well. And I know that I have learned and been transformed more often than not in small groups where trust and safety were clearly enforced.

Third, I have a small group of musical colleagues I would like to pitch
this idea to that would give us a chance to play together and share creativity on our own terms. This is not open mic night at the coffee house or hawking ourselves at a bar. And I like doing that, too. But this gives us deep artistic control and permission to explore the Spirit without trolls, drunks or oddballs looking for a fight. It also creates a forum for sharing music outside the mainstream while empowering local musicians to live into their deepest creative blessings.

And fourth, the revival of the salon creates a place to practice the "Living Room Conversations" (http://www.livingroomconversations.org/) that I have long wanted to explore. As the group's founders proclaim: the art of civil discourse means no soapboxes are allowed. "Ever sit on a couch in someone’s living room, trying to make conversation? Or listen to someone get on a soapbox and dominate the conversation by expressing their opinion with such fervor that no one else dares speak, let alone contradict? When we have authentic, respectful conversations we strengthen our relationships and advance our understanding of the challenges, opportunities and solutions before us."

I have much more to read about salons - and more thought and prayer to explore, too - but the notion that as late as 1940 Gertrude Stein was hosting salons that included Picasso blows my mind. Wikipedia puts it like this:

Contemporary literature about the salons is dominated by idealistic notions of politesse, civilité and honnêteté... Today, however, this view is rarely considered an adequate analysis of the salon. Dena Goodman claims that rather than being leisure based or 'schools of civilité' salons were instead at 'the very heart of the philosophic community' and thus integral to the process of Enlightenment. In short, Goodman argues, the 17th and 18th century saw the emergence of the academic, Enlightenment salons, which came out of the aristocratic 'schools of civilité'. Politeness, argues Goodman, took second-place to academic discussion
Dena Goodman, 'Enlightenment Salons: The Convergence of Female and Philosophic Ambitions' Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, Special Issue: The French Revolution in Culture(Spring, 1989), pp. 330

Let me know what strikes you about this idea, please? And if you are in the area, know that very likely I will be in touch with an invitation to such a soirée si cela fait sens!


This is part of the attraction of the Monday Evening Club, it seems to me. In the case of the Club, the conversation is perhaps overly structured with the host calling sequentially on all members in turn. This might be a little archaic, but on the other hand, the conversation (verbal or musical) in a salon should not turn simply into a bull session. There needs to be some order and purpose to it.
RJ said…
I agree - no BS - for sure. I am thinking that in addition to music, art, poetry and shared goodies, we may follow some of the guidelines of the Living Room Conversations. I do not disagree re: the Monday Evening Club and wish the gentlemen blessings. At this moment in my journey, however, I am meant for a slightly different path. Thanks, Martin, for your insights.

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