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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Do We Consider Salons to Be Pretentious?

Posted by Paul Constant on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 10:59 AM

This Guardian article attracted my attention because it name-checked Dorothy Parker, but it kept my attention because it raises a good point: What happened to the salon? Christina Patterson attended one recently and thought it was a really good time:

If it wasn't exactly Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, it was still an awful lot of fun. We talked about books. We talked about banks. We talked about business and art. We talked about big issues, like unemployment and debt in the western world; and small issues, like the rise of the twirly moustache.
What we didn't talk about was our jobs. We didn't talk about our children, or where they went to school. We didn't talk about being happily married, or unhappily married, or happily single, or miserably alone. We didn't talk about how much our homes had gone up in value, or what plans we had to downsize. We didn't have to bother with any of this. We could, for just one evening, forget about the details of our lives, and think about ideas, and the world.

Patterson even feels obliged to begin the piece by apologizing about the idea of a salon, calling it "pretentious." And the comments fillet the idea even further:

Digested read: my bourgeois friends and I like to feel clever by arguing a lot about stuff we have no power over since we have nothing at stake and have no courage behind our convictions.

Which, you know, welcome to the internet and everything. But what's wrong with getting people together to talk about big ideas, and setting some ground rules that the usual conversation ("I'm good. How are you?" "Busy." "I hear that.") isn't allowed? I go to a lot of readings, and people seem happy enough to attend these sorts of events and think about big ideas if there's an author to serve as a focal point to draw the attention of the audience. What's wrong with spreading the focal point around to everybody? Why does the idea of a salon automatically have to come prepackaged with an apology?

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