What’s New in Collective Intelligence? The 18th century salons!

The art of conversation is getting lost. Debating, building arguments, using humor or even irony against our opponents can be dangerous. Spontaneity and forceful statements are most successful. And it’s rare that it’s possible to exchange more than a few minutes without interruption!

Quality conscious companies follow the evolution of the “mean time between two failures”. Some display the number of accident-free days in the driveway of vehicles. In 2022, we were able to analyze our “average time without interruption”. Something to be nostalgic for the long literary or scientific discussions of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Chantal Thomas revels in this nostalgia. For centuries, intellectuals have always referred to an earlier period, when discussions would have been livelier, livelier and more participatory. She also shows us, through three examples of “salons”, that conversation can take different forms, aiming at different goals, and, above all, inspire our practices.

Useful Interpersonal Skills for Attending a Salon

Why do trade fairs appear? Probably because we are bored, we look for alliances, information about discoveries or intellectual games. Chantal Thomas, author of The Art of Discussion, recalls that seventeenth-century women did not have access to the same education as men. To exercise the mind, learn about the arts and literature, shine, amaze and seduce, even exercise power, salons are an ideal space. Behind frivolous and informal appearances, they are places for the dissemination of culture and early learning circles!

Depending on the case, we participate in scientific experiments, say poems, play music, translate works, exchange, debate and argue a lot. We are also guilty of slander, but most of the time in style. We can draw with Chantal Thomas the profile of the people who were able to feel comfortable in the salons.

The guest should preferably have a pronounced taste for the unexpected. Hosts care about surprising, surprising and gifting their guests with riddles. The sagacity of the ladder can cost a reputation, the sense of replica and the good word can, on the contrary, build a reputation!

Being “fully there” during the conversation. The level of participants is often high and the demands on the quality of expression require special attention. Linguistic tics, hesitations and empty formulas are quickly ridiculed in these spaces where a form of relaxation is cultivated, lighter than at Court, but where everyone is observed.

The guest will also have balanced communication. He forbids any abrupt words, even if they are the target of ridicule. He must not seek to impose himself beyond measure, hog the ground, or speak loudly. Speech must remain fluid and balanced. But he or she shouldn’t be overly cautious either. If the fear of ridicule paralyzes our guest, he will no longer be invited.

The faults of the salons: lack of manners, brutality, abuse of mockery, pedantry…

The posture is also important. Our participant should not feel intimidated, but neither should he give the feeling that he is giving “worldly scrutiny” to others. Comfortable enough to bring into the discussions and the general atmosphere, and modest enough and open enough to receive, appreciate, show the pleasure of being there.

Why argue in a living room?

Talk to seduce and escape reality.

The first example given by Chantal Thomas concerns the salon of Madame de Rambouillet, born in 1688. We meet in her blue room around language games, poems and surprises. We redoubled our attention to the refinement of her expression. It is a benevolent space, far from the risks of court where Madame de Rambouillet rarely goes, due to health problems.

At the moment of the encounters, life and literature seem to be one. Married at the age of twelve, the hostess experiences autonomy and freer human relationships there.

talk from a distance

Madame du Defand was fifty years old when she organized her first salon. Very comfortable in worldly ways, she carries a great deal of pessimism. She regularly expresses her disinterest in the things of the world and her distaste for life to friends like Voltaire. Disgust that doesn’t stop fear from dying. But she maintains one source of interest and pleasure: language and discussion.

Participating in the Madame du Deffand salon is living an experience of which the guests are co-authors. The readings of excerpts from literary works or letters alternate with debates, improvisations, exchanges of courtesies. Humor and sometimes irony spice up these interactions.

The room sucks, to use Chantal Thomas’ words. It is essential to make life acceptable to him!

“Les femmes savantes” by Molière presents these salons as spaces where talentless pedants and people in search of love meet and fight. But the salons also provide distance from the Court. If the discussion is very codified and if everyone observes the style and mannerisms of the other participants, there is also a space where there is greater diversity, where the relevance of a speech is not only linked to the position of the person who expresses it.

Talk to Emancipation

Chantal Thomas introduces us to Madame de Staël, born in 1766. She breaks social shackles through conversation. When she welcomes the rue du Bac in Paris, manners and style matter less than debates. We stop, we talk while we throw ourselves into the void, we improvise… Madame de Staël shows tenacity in her arguments that sometimes test the nerves of the guests.

In a conversation, can we risk severing the relationship by continuing to argue, sometimes several days apart, or should we move on to other topics when we know we will never have an agreement? Madame de Staël would have replied without hesitation that the debate should be continued, on pain of tiring her friends.

Behind her writings and the activity of her salon, Madame de Staël claims the right to happiness and greater participation in the life of political ideas and choices for women.

Conversation spaces are, therefore, places of learning. A different social environment is created there, which produces its own norms and uses, but thus allows us to distance ourselves from the norms and uses that we consider universal. The affective bond that is built, the relative benevolence that is there, encourages you to dare, to test your ideas. The sense of security shared by the guests also encourages them to join the debates.

The conversation moves away from conventional and phatic language, where one speaks only to maintain the relationship. Conversation also has nothing to do with instructions and hierarchical speech. Nor is it the succession of presentations or the cold demonstration. Express a style.

Has the spirit of the conversation disappeared? The digital buried him. Probably not. But as salons could sometimes seek the discretion of debates, private groups on social networks, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook rediscover the taste for language games, surprise, humor sometimes tinged with irony that these spaces of freedom.

Illustrations: Frédéric Duriez

Resources :

French Space – literary fairs – consulted May 15, 2022 – https://www.espacefrancais.com/les-salons-litteraires/

Chantal Thomas – The spirit of conversation – Rivages Poche- Small Payot library – 2021

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