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André Bacard's Conversational Salon F.A.Q.
|(Two of Bacard's books)|
"There are no uninteresting things.
There are only uninterested people."
-- G.K. CHESTERTON (1874-1936)
"The best way to make your dreams come true
is to wake up."
-- Paul VALERY (1871-1945)
Creating An Artistic, Literary Or Intellectual Salon
[The purpose of this FAQ ("Frequently Asked Questions") document
is to provide you with practical steps to attend and/or to start a
successful Conversational Salon. What follows is based upon my first-hand experiences,
both as a founder of Conversational Salons and as a guest at other Conversational
Salons. In this FAQ, we will create a fictional, Conversational Salon (based on a
composite) called the
Tahoe Renaissance Roundtable.
Heroes, Muses & Visionaries
will direct you to Contemporary Conversational Salons and to a History of
Conversational Salons. You may distribute this (unaltered) FAQ for
non-commercial purposes. Thanks for pro-community sites around the world
which link to this FAQ. Copyleft 2012 by André Bacard].
What is a Conversational Salon?
A Conversational Salon is an ongoing gathering of persons who share a passion
for Ideas. These Ideas might focus upon art, music, literature, politics,
science or whatever satisfies the Conversational Salon members' tastes. Conversational
Salons, at their best, are frontiers of social and cultural change. More modestly,
they are a place for members to expand their horizons. Conversational Salons may
or may not translate Ideas into socio-political activism. In modern middle-class
society, the "book group" is probably the Conversational Salon's most common form.
Historically, Conversational Salons attracted the elite few who could read and who
had leisure time. Often, these Conversational Salons challenged authority. Emperor
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) confessed his toughest foes were not jealous generals,
but rather brilliant women, such as Germaine de Stäel (1766-1817), who hosted
Parisian Conversational Salons.
A Conversational Salon is an informal community hosted by one or more persons.
It differs from seminars or colloquia funded by universities or "think tank"
research institutes. Institutional gatherings tend to stifle free-speech.
Graduate students, for example, cannot afford to disagree publicly with those
professors & deans who can sabotage their careers. Conversational Salons can
practice the free flow of Ideas, if and only if the Conversational Salon
members treat each other with respect -- if not as "equals".
What is a brief history of Conversational Salons?
The term "Conversational Salon", as used in this FAQ, was popularized
by Madame de Stäel in her 1807 novel
Conversational Salons, by other names, have existed since the
dawn of recorded history. Humans are social animals. We need to communicate
in order to survive. Also, communication is a prime source of pleasure.
Many books are available about the symposia of Ancient Greece, the
Conversational Salons of Renaissance Italy, the Conversational Salons of the
French Revolution, and the 20th Century Conversational Salons of Gertrude
Stein & others. I refer you, curious reader, to the links page at
Heroes, Muses & Visionaires".
Why would YOU attend a Conversational Salon?
Maybe you'd like to graduate from:
- Endless chit-chat and gossip about topics which waste your valuable time
and leave you feeling empty.
- Friends, acquaintances and relatives who talk AT you, but do not
communicate WITH you.
- Mass media's constant menu of corruption, crime, and disaster;
in other words, fear-mongering.
- Mountains of "data" and "facts" which have no clear meaning or inter-
- Opportunists and "bottom-line" manipulators who treat you as a
commodity and dismiss you unless you can give them money, status or sex.
- Years sitting alone in front of a computer or a television screen.
Carl Honoré, in his book
In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging
the Cult of Speed,
summarizes our cultural challenge with these words:
Instead of thinking deeply, or letting an idea simmer
in the back of the mind, our instinct now is to reach
for the nearest soundbite.... With satellite feeds and
twenty-four hour news channels, the electronic media is
dominated by what one French sociologist dubbed "le fast thinker"
- a person who can, without skipping a beat, summon up a
glib answer to any question.
To speak positively, maybe you'd like to sharpen your mind with face-to-face
conversations which inspire you, because they are relevant and significant.
Perhaps you'd welcome the warmth and community that evolves from sincere
communication. Perchance you'd like to make better sense of the brief time
you're alive. In short, there are many reasons why a bright, curious human
being seeks "kindred spirits".
How can YOU and YOUR friends start a Conversational Salon?
The Tahoe Renaissance Roundtable provides an example. Two persons,
plus myself, gathered to:
- 1. Define a PURPOSE. Three of us met at
a café and debated our alternatives. For example, we outlined the pros
and cons of focusing upon books (fiction or non-fiction?), cultural events
(films or lectures?) and music (jazz or classical?). We decided we had broad
("Renaissance") passions, which were compatible with an egalitarian
("Roundtable") spirit. In the future, we might explore topics as diverse as
"conformity", poet William Blake, or United Nations funding -- depending upon
our members' appetites. This PURPOSE gave us a game-plan and a name: to wit,
"Tahoe Renaissance Roundtable".
- 2. Recruit INITIAL MEMBERS. Experience proved
this step is, by far, the toughest of the three. We sought a "critical mass"
of five persons, in addition to the three of us, before holding our first
meeting. How could we find five appropriate men and women? First, we made
a list of potential candidates. Then, we met each possible member at a
café. We explained our PURPOSE, asked each candidate whether he/she
was interested, and solicited his/her feedback. We were careful to explain
we desired the proper "chemistry" to create a viable, dynamic group. Then,
the three of us voted "yes" or "no" for each candidate. We wanted a "closed"
(invitation only) group, in part, because we wanted to meet in private homes.
Do you want strangers off the street walking into your home? Some persons do
NOT care. We decided to take the safe route. It took roughly two months to
achieve "critical mass", a group of socially & intellectual diverse persons.
- 3. Find a MEETING LOCATION. Because we selected
members carefully, we gained immediate trust from our initial members. One women
volunteered to host our first pot-luck event in her home. Shortly thereafter,
two other hostesses stepped forward. We alternated monthly amongst their homes.
Describe a Tahoe Renaissance Roundtable event.
We'd met at 7PM for a pot-luck dinner. At around 8PM, we'd start
discussing the topic in a roundtable fashion. Sometimes we had guest
speakers. In any case, we'd go around in a circle. Each person would
summarize for, say, two minutes his/her reactions to the topic. This
introduction allowed everyone, including the relatively shy members,
to play an active role. We continued until around 10 PM. People left
feeling re-charged and optimistic about life.
What are sample Conversational Salon FORMATS?
- Book Group Conversational Salons are probably
the most popular format. They have an enormous appeal because an author has
taken months, if not years, to organize themes for the Conversational Salon
members to digest.
- Field Trip Conversational Salons have much to
offer. For instance, I attended one foreign film Conversational Salon. Every
two weeks people met at a designated movie theater and sat together. After the
show, we walked to a nearby café, or restaurant and discussed the movie
over food. Other Conversational Salons visit museums, attend lectures, etc.
- Mixed Media Conversational Salons use CDs, Videos
and other media effectively. For example, I attended a music oriented
Conversational Salon. At a typical meeting, each member would play one of
her/his favorite music tracks from a CD and talk about why, say, Jimi Hendrix
impacted her/his life. Other Conversational Salons are travel oriented and play
- Political Activist Conversational Salons might
focus, say, on how members can make a difference in their community's policy
towards animal rights, zoning laws, health care, etc.
Who are IDEAL Conversational Salon members?
Of course, this depends on the PURPOSE of your group. If your passion is
music, you might limit your membership to musicians. For the Tahoe
Renaissance Roundtable, we sought persons who were:
- Articulate enough to appreciate the nuances
involved in Ideas. These persons have the clarity of mind necessary to go beyond
sensationalism, propaganda and rumor.
- Curious about the world, other people and
their inner lives. These people genuinely enjoy expanding their horizons.
- Good-humored in the presence of persons with
opposing view points. These persons have enough self-confidence to laugh at
- Original in the sense of a "fresh thinker".
These persons base their thoughts on direct experiences and self-reflection,
rather than upon a list of cliches, euphemisms, or slogans.
- Reliable enough to read books, if required,
and to think, in advance, about the topic at hand. These persons show up on
time and respect the host's property.
- Sincere so that people feel free to open-up
Who are TROUBLESOME Conversational Salon members?
Again, the definition of "troublesome" depends on the PURPOSE of your Conversational
Salon. If your life dream is to start the "Anarchists Club", you may well ridicule what
- Dropouts from anger management groups, who see
Conversational Salons as a place to vent hostility.
- Gossips who blab everything they hear at the
Conversational Salon to the outside world.
- Ideologues who attend meetings in order to recruit
people to their political or religious camps. These close-minded persons usually
"fake" their way into groups.
- Monologists who love to hear themselves TALK but
have no desire or ability to LISTEN.
- Naysayers who are a fountain of negative
comments. I attended one book club, where a woman started the meeting with
these words: "I thought the book was worthless, and the characters were dumb."
The energy in the room visibly sank. It turns out, she was negative about every
book, and the hostess was afraid to remove her from the group.
- Schemers who join the group under false pretenses.
They have ulterior motives, like trying to seduce members or get free wine and food.
What are the advantages of PRIVATE Conversational Salons?
Journalists Molly Ivins and Arianna Huffington hosted "private" (by invitation
only) Conversational Salons, along with other persons whom you'll find at the links page
Heroes, Muses & Visionaries.
- Closer Bonding of members. Most persons bond
more intimately with peers -- individuals with shared educational and socio-economic
backgrounds -- than with persons from the "other side of the tracks". Private Conversational
Salons can screen persons accordingly.
- Discretion is important to many persons, notably to
public figures. Few high-profile persons will "open up", if they feel their candid remarks
will appear in tomorrow's newspaper or tabloid.
- Organizational Ease. It's easy to notify a group of
select persons When & Where the next Conversational Salon will wrestle with What issue.
It's also easy to bring videos, music, food, etc. to someone's private residence.
- Safety. A private group avoids disruptive, boorish,
or violent persons from "crashing" your event.
What are the advantages of PUBLIC Conversational Salons?
Benet Davetian hosts the public "Charlottetown Conversation Salon" in
Prince Edward Island, Canada. Jim Haynes has hosted more than 100,000
persons at his "Sunday Dinner Party" in Paris!! You'll find details about these
and other public Conversational Salons at
Heroes, Muses & Visionaires.
- Fresh Blood. At public Conversational Salons
(often advertised by a newspaper, the Internet or word of mouth) new people come and
go. This turn-over can add vitality at the expense of stale cliques.
- Reality Venues. Meeting at cafés,
libraries, museums, theaters, etc. lets members see each other in the "real world"
rather than in the comfort zone of private homes.
- Socio-Political Diversity. Public Conversational
Salons may attract a broader spectrum of persons than private Conversational Salons.
Ideally, this diversity lends itself to a wider discourse.
When will YOU implement these Conversational Salon options?
The proverbial ball, my thinking friends, is in your court. This is your
one and only life. If you don't take the first step, nobody will do it for
you. Potential "kindred spirits" want to find you. Make it easy for them.
Good luck and have fun.