Panodyssey: A 21St Century Culture Salon
Panodyssey: A 21st century international culture salon
By Claudia Moscovici
When I started a Twitter account several years ago, it wasn’t difficult to find the phrase that best captures me: “Born in the wrong century, a would-be salonnière.” Ever since college, when I first learned about Marquise de Rambouillet–the refined hostess who led the most talented artists and writers of her day in scintillating intellectual discussions in the elegant alcove of her drawing room–I knew that I had missed my opportunity and true calling in life. Sure, women may be able to be and do whatever they want today. Society is less sexist, more democratic. But in an era when entertainment news outdoes even socio-political news in popularity and readership, what hope is there for placing art, literature and philosophy at the center of public attention again?
The main problem I encountered in being a contemporary salonnière was: Where are the culture salons? Most academic discourse struck me as too technical and specialized to draw a large audience. Fortunately, while an undergraduate at Princeton University, I had the enormous privilege to study with scholars who epitomized the salon tradition of worldly intellectuals: Professor Robert Fagles, translator of Homer’s epic poems, and Professor Victor Brombert, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, who encouraged my love for world literature and culture to the point where I decided to pursue Comparative Literature for both my undergraduate and graduate studies.
Clear thinking and writing in academic settings, however, is not the same thing as an interdisciplinary cultural awakening such as happened during the age of Enlightenment. As historian Dena Goodman explains in The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Cornell University Press, 1996), the philosophes—writers and scientists such as Condorcet, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, and their feminine counterparts, the salonnières, achieved nothing short of a cultural upheaval. Paris became the epicenter of a network of ideas that, rooted in empirical science, challenged the dominant religious doctrines and established political authority. The new civil order was no longer based on the divine right of kings, but on natural law, which gave every citizen both rights and responsibilities. To curb the absolute power of monarchs, the political philosopher and satirist Montesquieu proposed a political division of spheres among the branches of government; a concept that Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and other important figures of the American Enlightenment made the lynchpins of democratic government in the United States.
While the U.S. led the way in applying Enlightenment principles to politics in the most progressive fashion at the time, monarchs throughout Europe who were influenced by the French philosophes, including Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, Leopold II of Tuscany and Joseph II of Austria, also enacted many reforms in their versions of Enlightened monarchies. The Encyclopdie co-edited by Diderot and D’Alembert (1751-1772) in turn helped spread this knowledge to the middle classes. Its inherently interdisciplinary and revolutionary aim was nothing short of changing “the way people think”. The previous invention of the printing press, which facilitated the dissemination of books, journals and pamphlets, made this fertile exchange of knowledge possible.
In our days, the Internet has similarly changed the way we communicate and spread ideas. Social networking forums such as Facebook have enabled many of us to keep in touch with family and friends living far away. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn have made possible professional opportunities and collaborations throughout the country and abroad. Group meeting forums such as Zoom have given us a chance to work with colleagues on joint projects from afar. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when many countries have established stay-at-home injunctions to curb the spread of the virus, social media forums have proven to be not only useful but also absolutely necessary.
Panodyssey.com, the cultural networking platform initiated by French entrepreneur and media executive Alexandre Leforestier, is anticipating another potential cultural revolution. Panodyssey offers a way for artists, writers, photographers, journalists, film directors, editors, architects, business professionals and technology innovators to collaborate on joint projects. As Claudia Ferrazzi, the President of Viaarte and a former counselor to French President Emmanuel Macron indicated in a recent article in Challenges.fr, today’s business leaders will also help pave the way.
To return to the theme of the culture salons, just as the enlightened monarchs and religious leaders were the patrons of the arts during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, so government agencies and industry leaders are the current patrons of the arts. Ferrazzi is correct to see successful business professionals as today’s visionaries. They anticipate the needs and technologies of the future. They fund innovation and support cultural projects that, without their patronage, may never see the light of day.
I believe that few cultural projects are as necessary today as those founded upon the Enlightenment spirit of interdisciplinary and international collaboration. Artists and writers find inspirations in other fields. They need each other. They also depend upon computer-savvy professionals to bring their visions to the public via modern technologies. For instance, thanks to new technologies, such as the Google Art Project, we can admire artworks from the world’s premier museums from the comfort of our homes. This is particularly necessary nowadays, given the restrictions on our mobility imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Similarly, Panodyssey uses an innovative and inherently interdisciplinary platform to make our own cultural and technological revolution possible. It provides an ideal forum of international artistic collaboration and creation. And like all artistic forums, it depends upon the support and patronage of our governments and of the international business community: leaders who see that, in every society and nation, culture is our best legacy for the future.