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Mar 19, 2006



That's really interesting, regarding salons and their role in feeding our muses. About a year ago I started a group that I'm realizing just might be a salon. It started as a group of "new media practioners", and I structured the call to action as distinctly NOT being a business networking group. What happened was that the group quickly evolved into something much more than just another tech group; we all would come away from it being inspired in ways we hadn't considered. I attribute the modicum of success we've had to the face-to-face aspect, low threshold of participation, and the sense that there is a host that helps move things along.

I'm also wondering what conditions give rise to salons, and if they're out there but just invisible. I started my group because I suddenly realized that I wanted to see actual people, not just IM them, and had the vague notion that energy would be generated. Was there something similar happening in the beginning of the salon era?

Evelyn Rodriguez

I think you give a good description of a salon yourself.

There has been salons going for a long long time so no "era" per se - Wikipedia does a good job of it but stops a bit early in the history. Drawing rooms and welcoming guests and going to parties was part of society life pre-phone, pre-Net.

Your question is a great one as to the conditions that give rise to salons. I'll dig into that more, but often it just says stuff like "Rexroth established the Friday salon"...but never WHY. Of course some of the best stuff we do we have no idea WHY at the time than other because it feels right and it is experimental.

Read Chapter 37 in Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life". He talks about why he started the Writers Grotto which is probably why anyone starts a salon (they probably 'emerge' more than they're created). Similar vien, here he answers question why he went to writing school after being a bonds salesman:

"Julie asked me, "Can writing schools really teach you to write?" I never thought that was the litmus test. Writing school helped me by surrounding me with people who aspired to the same ideals I did... The hardest thing was not learning to write; the hardest thing was to never give up."

When you're swimming upstream against the world, it really helps to be surrounded by those doing similiarly idiotic things ;-) but it's not group therapy ( but more like mutual inspiration, feeding your soul so you can engage in the world refreshed.

In past, I think many salons flourished because women that didn't feel they could participate publicly as an artist, philosopher, politician for themselves could influence, support and shape the men in the limelight. It was acceptable to be a witty conversationalist in their own sala. Plus the hostesses tended to be connectors (in Tipping Point terminology) that brought together diverse people. People in polite society didn't mingle outside their own network...until salon hosts brought them together.

"Marmontel's remark about Julie de Lespinasse suggest the secret of the salon in French culture:

'The circle was formed of persons who were not bound together. She had taken them here and there in society, but so well assorted were they that once there they fell into harmony like the strings of an instrument touched by an able hand.'"- Wikipedia


When I was in Santa Fe & Taos last year I noticed how important certain folks were to establishing an arts community there that is still vibrant today. One is Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy arts patroness. Before moving to Taos, she lived in NYC. "Her [NYC] salon became a mecca, a catalyst for some of the most interesting thinking by people who were trying to reshape society aesthetically, politically, or socially."

Tom Foremski

Evelyn, I love it that you've been making the same connections to the Beat writiers that I have noticed and have written about:

And yes, I have been trying to get salons organised but this business crowd in Silicon valley is early to bed and early to rise and they lack any energy for anything else--I'm fed up with trying to stimulate their imagination. Let's just get one going together :-)

Evelyn Rodriguez

Thanks Tom. And thanks for the first link to your post, which I missed. People, no problem. Just need a place as mine isn't a suitable sala.

Dug up more on the rise of salons here. This site's motto: “To converse is human… to salon is divine.” from

I'm sure it goes back even further than ancient Greece too: "Sappho led one salon, in which she instructed women in "the arts," such as chanting or singing in the choruses for the marriage ceremony. The women of the salon have been called poetic disciples, friends, and students of a sort of finishing school; Sappho has even been called the president of the world's first women's club, a kind of sacred sorority." -

Tish Grier

The Beats most definitley paved the way for the counter-culture computing revolution--most of us who've done counter-culture kinds of stuff owe *something* somewhere to the Beats. (but I tend to not want to give too much props to the Beats, as there was an anti-women element to Beat culture that was also part of the legacy of the Punks, direct heirs to the Beats...but I digress)

Here's a link to an NPR story on salons that mentions the origin of salons in the Greeks, and what is going on now (some of it in the Bay Area, some in Seattle.)

However, there does have to be the right crowd for salons to work. For awhile, a group of friends out here had a salon going. Sadly, after everyone either had babies or moved, the salon dissipated (kind of like Tom's early-to-bed, early-to-risers never getting started.)

hmmm....perhaps that's part of why salons that consist of gay men and bon vivant women last longer and have more of an impact...

the one important thing that is missing from the blog-as-salon ideal is that, most of the time, there is no face to face time. Still, the variety of people that can be part of a blog conversation is fascinating.

Tom Foremski

Evelyn, this Friday is the anniversary of "Howl" I'm heading over to the Beat museum in North beach for a recreation of that event, maybe you can join us?

This will be our last event in March and it may well prove to be our most successful undertaking yet! The local poets and writers of North Beach have gathered together to celebrate a milestone in the history of the Beats. We'll be re-creating that famous night from October, 1955. Join us as we re-create the spirit of that magical evening that set the entire Beat Generation in motion! "Charming Event".

Kenneth Rexroth --------------- Jim Brightwolf
Philip Lamantia --------------- Jessica Loos
Allen Ginsberg ---------------- Neeli Cherkovski
Michael McClure --------------- Catz Forsman
Gary Snyder ------------------- Michael DePaul
Philip Whelan ------------------ Jerry Ferraz
Lawrence Ferlinghetti ------------ Peter Sherbourne
Peter Orlovsky ----------------- Brewster Gray
Jack Kerouac ------------------- Hans Rivers
Neal Cassady ------------------- John Allen Cassady

Conceived and Organized by George Davis & Jerrry Cimino

Click here for our schedule of events.


Coming late to the conversation, I read the post and comments with interest. But doesn’t the fact that anyone can come late to a blog thread suggest a critical difference between blogging communities and salons? If we looked for applicable models, wouldn’t it seem that salons are structured like collective conversations around presence(s)? The most important presences are those of the speakers to each other and of the world they share – even when that world is in the process of being reinterpreted or transformed. We may want to come late to Rexroth’s salon, but we can’t. We can read about it, of course, but because we can’t be present, our relationship to the salon is literary, not personal (in the way that is only possible when we share a world in common with a group of others).

Following this same line of thought, wouldn’t blogging communities, for all their feel of presence, be structured like writing itself around a potential absence(s) --- specifically the (potential) absence of the writer and reader to each other? Because readers and writers must remain potentially absent to each other in order for writing to be writing (philosophers like Derrida have made this point, and so have phenomenologists like Poulet), we have to (co)construct whatever world we are to hold in common. Without that world-in-common, we can’t understand each other. (And isn’t marketing “about” finding or constructing a world that we hold in common? When successful, isn’t marketing a form of writing that mimics the presences, the intimacies, of conversation?)

The history of the Beats, at least as I read it, moves between these two ways of organizing experience and communication – the mode of presence and the mode of absence. In your description of how “Howl” was written, for example, isn’t Ginsberg (in part) evoking the presence of the absent Kerouac as the ideal person to hear his voice as he describes what he sees in the new world he discovers they hold in common? It’s as if Ginsberg is at the perfect Salon, holding the perfect conversation about the world these fellow-travelers all share (but which hasn’t yet been described or understood – which is in the process of being discovered and shaped).

After this absent presence was coded into “Howl” it then served as a touchstone for multiple Salons negotiating real presences of writers, hipsters, beats, hangers-on, musicians, artists, deviants, drop outs, and the like.

Kerouac himself alternated wildly between presence and absence – setting out on adventures of speed and vision, all night bouts of drinking, talking, loving, beholding, and then retreating to write – usually in solitude. At the heart of writing, as he details in Desolation Angels, Some of the Dharma, and many other places, Kerouac found the VOID – the Buddhist-inflected idea that emptiness lies at the core of both our suffering and our ability to transform (and redeem) ourselves and our worlds. His spontaneous prose method begins with this insight that no form can be permanent when emptiness drives it from within, forever pushing it to the brink of transformation into the NEXT THING.

As Kerouac knew (and Ginsberg learned), none of this is new. Tolstoy, whom Kerouac read closely, considered the question of how historical movements happen. He came to the then surprising conclusion that the so-called great individuals who serve as agents of change are symptoms, not causes. Tolstoy wrote: “There are two sides to the life of every man, his individual life, which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and his elemental hive life in which he inevitably obeys laws laid down for him” (War and Peace, Bk. 9, ch. 1). I wonder if it would be worthwhile to think of salons as a kind of hive life that strives for the freedom of individual life (if, in no other way, by working out a language or style in which to address the strange new forces that constantly push and reshape us).

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