What are we doing at the Goethe Salon? Here’s a little introduction: It is an attempt to revive the culture of the ‘salon’ in the digital age. We ‘reoralize’ written culture through digital media and the internet, reintroducing society to oral traditions like the convivial chat and joint discourse. For the “Streaming Egos” project, we cultivate the fundamentally European idea of the salon as a discursive format through various media and through analog, digital, written and oral conversations.
How can we involve as many people as possible in a social discourse and identity-building – even across borders? With this experiment, we sound out how the digital space can help facilitate and lead social and transnational discourse.
1.) Interview with PD Dr. Peter Goßens: “What would Goethe say?”
A one-on-one conversation, captured as an audio file. To make it internationally comprehensible, an English-language interpretation was overlaid over the original audio track. We did not take the detour via a written translation, but rather used simultaneous interpretation, preserving the orality of the conversation even in its English rendition. Running parallel to the interpretation, the original sound conveys an impression of the original flow of the conversation – especially at those points of the audio file when the volume of the German track is turned up.
A talk about Goethe and transnational discourse, in his day and today. We talk about Goethe’s idea of world literature as a process of exchange and a transnational space for communication, about identity and community building, about Thurn & Taxis as an early provider and Goethe’s privilege of sending letters postage-free as a predecessor of the free internet. In addition, we discuss what the aging prince among poets can teach us about creating a borderless post-digital society today. The Goethe/Goßens interview
2.) Interview with Mokhtar B.: “Who am I? Radicalization and the search for identity in the digital age”
The media format is the same as for the Goethe/Goßens interview: A one-on-one conversation, captured as an audio file with English interpretation and the original language track in the background.
Mokhtar B. counsels radicalized youth. He helps them quit the Islamist scene and works preventatively with endangered teens. I talked to him about the stabilizing and preventative power of social bonds and identity as well as the role of digital media – both as an identity-building social space and as a recruiting and propaganda tool.
3.) Salongespräch – intern
Goethe Salon participants Dirk von Gehlen, Martina Pickhardt, Enno Park and Sabria David chatted via video conference (Google Hangout). This was an intimately personal conversation, despite the fact that the participants were physically in Berlin, Bonn, London and Munich. This talk was internal and only accessible to the participants themselves.
We talked about how we were going to approach the topic of digital identities. We came up with the concept of an ongoing conversation, meandering through various media formats, starting with the internal group and successively incorporating more and more external participants. Another goal is to explore which media formats lend themselves to a transnational dialog, and in which contexts.
4.) Salon Talk On Air – external
A personal conversation between four people at remote locations in Berlin, Bonn, Munich and London. We used Google Hangouts on Air as our media format, which means the conversation was streamed live and open to external viewers. We announced it ahead of time. Viewers were able to engage in the conversation using the question & answer function, via Twitter and via Google. The comments sections for the posts on YouTube and on goethe-salon.de were another interactive option.
Our salon talk between Dirk von Gehlen, Enno Park, Martina Pickhardt and Sabria David revolved around digital identities. We discussed Narcissus and Echo in the digital space, bonding and self-assertion in the context of the ‘selfie’-craze, Enno Park’s Alter Ego (the fake image with the real tie) and memes such as #confusedtravolta and #doitlikedemaiziere.
The recording of the Salon Talk on Air
5.) Email correspondence with Annette Schwindt: “Never there and yet involved”
This conversation is a written email exchange. It starts with the question how a person can be socially present without being physically present, and the role of digital media in this phenomenon. Other questions (What does Annette Schwindt think of “digital identities?”? Does she even distinguish between her “digital” and her “analog” self?) evolved as questions and answers ping-ponged back and forth. It is therefore almost a verbal conversation in a written form, which can subsequently be translated into other languages.
Where can digital technology build bridges? How can we use digital media to involve people who would otherwise be absent in a social discourse? This question affects not only participants in a conversation who are scattered across remote locations throughout Germany, as was the case in the Salon Talk On Air, but also – in the spirit of inclusion – people who are physically confined to their apartments, unfit for travel, or otherwise immobile. For cyborg Enno Park, this is a cochlea-implant that allows him to hear and take part in conversations. For Annette Schwindt, the internet is a gate to a world from which her illness would otherwise ban her.
E-Mail correspondence with Annette Schwindt
6.) Written interview: 6 questions for Mrs. Höpker
This is a classic written interview. All 6 questions were pre-written by an interviewer and sent to Mrs. Höpker, who answered them in one sitting and returned them. There is no quasi-oral exchange. The written form allows for easy translation.
Hundreds of visitors attend and join in the musician’s sing-along concerts. The interview addresses the revival of old, communal-social cultural techniques (such as singing and salons) via digital means, identity and community building by singing together and musical heritage as well as the manipulative potential of such collective emotion. Which – no surprise there – makes us wade knee-deep in German history.
7.) The analog salon at the Digital Identities Convention: Long Live the Salon!
At the convention (Digital Identities/Streaming Egos) at the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, we held a classical, analog salon – perched on original period furniture and using salon props from the workshops of the municipal theater. My guests at the salon were the members of the German country circle Martina Pickhardt, Enno Park as well as PD Dr. Peter Goßens from the Goethe interview and Prof. Bernadette Wegenstein. As the former participants had fallen ill, we acted quickly to bring them to the event live and digitally via Google Hangouts, as behooves a true cyborg.
The salon talk is thus a mixed analog and digital format. Even though the participants are German speakers, our working language is English in order to make the talk accessible for all international visitors. The talk was streamed live simultaneously on the project’s blog, on YouTube and on Google. Attendees and partners from all participating countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and Germany) were able to join us remotely and engage in the conversation using the question & answer function as well as the hashtag #StreamingEgos. The recording is available online for anyone who wants to view it later on.
While munching on tea pastries (well, only those of us who were physically present, the digital attendees had to watch us eat) we talked about Marcel Proust, madeleines, archives, recollections, memories and memes, as well as how we can use digital media today to facilitate transnational and decentralized discourses. What can we learn from 19th-century transnational discourse? What parameters do digital technologies provide for us today? Is the internet merely an archive, or rather a memory machine – which is also emotional? One important insight gained from this talk: Memes are the madeleines of the Internet.
Another insight: Language and technology may sometimes be rickety bridges– but they do really create a bond between the present and the absent and between speakers of different languages. And they help make the salon a strong metaphor for togetherness, mutual inspiration, exchange and productivity, especially in the digital age. In addition to the aforementioned bridges of language and technology, another prerequisite is to have confidence in the open-ended process of the conversation itself, to trust that a fruitful dialog will yield something spontaneous, something new, something that takes us further – in the spirit of Kleist’s “„l’idée vient en parlant” (The idea will come as we talk).