Friday, May 13, 2011


I did not get the time, yesterday, to report on Wednesday's Intentional Conversation at the Huntington Library. I was so busy that I can't even remember what I was doing all day...

The "Intentional Conversation" sets out, in part at least, to be an antidote to the notable deterioration of that art in our society today. In our national dialogue, we have taken to talking past each other rather than with each other; and our more private, sociable conversations too easily degenerate into the exchange of pleasantries, party talk in which all serious discussion is avoided. I happen to love conversation. I love to hear how other people see the world and experience their lives--and I love to talk about what's in my own heart and what is on my mind. The Intentional Conversation's round table format takes us back to the circle around the camp fire or the kiva, where weighty matters can be debated without reticence or fear.

The day's theme was "Life in Uncertain Times: Responding to Change in Our Lives, Our Community, and Our Nation"--a topic of compelling and lasting interest to me. It's forty years since I published an essay titled "Living On a Fault," which focused on the peculiarities of the Los Angeles art world and its uncertainties. The day started with round-table introductions, with eight people of diverse backgrounds, interests and attitudes gathered around each of a dozen tables. It was surprising--actually, not surprising, because I have now seen this happen so often--it was not long before we were hearing intimate stories about the uncertainties that have intruded, sometimes rudely, compelling change in our personal lives. It is very human, I have found, to want to share one's secrets in a situation of anonymous trust. Some of our stories, yesterday, were astounding, and had a lot to say about uncertainty and change.

This first session was followed by a panel discussion led by Hoyt Hilsman, the title of whose new e-book, The Power of Uncertainty (co-written with David Palumbo) is sufficient indication of his own interest in the topic. Panelists included a film producer, a CalTech physicist, and a university administrator with a long-standing Buddhist meditation practice (details available at the above-linked website) which assured a lively and varied discussion coming from different, sometimes opposing points of view. A good conversation is not a place where everyone sits down and agrees with everyone else; it's a place to be open to other ways of looking at the world, and hopefully to expand one's own limited point of view. The panel offered a civil, serious, and often charmingly humorous model for the rest of us to follow.

(During the lunch break, I joined a small bunch of people who wandered over to the Huntington galleries to see a small exhibition of twenty works by William Blake, curated by the artist John Frame--a participant in the day's conversation, whose own current work is the subject of a major exhibition at another of the galleries. The juxtaposition of the two shows is in itself a fascinating topic, as is Frame's exhibition. These will have to await a future entry.)

The two round-table-sessions in the afternoon gave us the opportunity to address the topic of uncertainty in the public arena and to consider what might be learned from the day's discussions. At our table, it seemed to me, the fear of change was far outweighed by its generally positive outcomes. Terrible things may happen in our lives, but we usually come out stronger for the experience, and more compassionate toward our fellow beings. We were more divided on the subject of the national trauma we are currently engaged in. I myself have mixed feelings about it. I am a pessimist when it comes to this country: I am fearful (or should I be hopeful?) that our current downward spiral will lead to an end to America's leadership position in the world. The prosperity that has been our privilege for many decades now cannot last in a world of shrinking resources and growing populations.

On the other hand, I am an optimist in the sense that I believe that a major shift in human consciousness is imminent--and has indeed already started to take place. We have created a world in which uncertainty is the only certainty. Our current global turmoil will either make us stronger as a species, or it will destroy us. Either one is possible. But I'm choosing to opt for the former. Change is necessary, change is good. It may be uncomfortable, it may bring up our deepest fears. But in my own experience even the most difficult of challenges have worked out for the better, and I believe the same can be true on a global scale.

Which reflects some, but certainly not all of the conclusions offered by spokespeople for the various tables as we wrapped up for the day. E pluribus, plurum. (Is my Latin correct?)


Hoyt said...

Excellent summary of the day, Peter, and wonderful insights. Best, Hoyt

mandt said...

Excellent account Peter, one which caught my attention with the simply stated phrase: "uncertainty in the public arena." Many of us have been struggling with the paradox of "Obama." As a result of Obama's actual policy implementations contrasting so diametrically with what might be called 'classical' Democratic social policy. A full and objective analysis of his leadership can only lead to the conclusion that implementable, gradual changes in the most traditional of legal constitutional paradigms is underway. Considering the degenerate folly of the Republican Party these days intelligent people will vote for Obama as the 'lesser of two evils.' But Obama does not represent a lesser of two evils. He is indeed the very matrix of a profound and historical shift from populist democracy to some form of a corporate republic----a dichotomy that has always been a seismic event waiting to happen in the patterns set by unregulated capitalism. Crudely realized it's Jeffersonian democracy vs. Hamilton aristocracy. You are so correct in warning of the enormous changes that will transpire in the next few decades. Historically illiterate, frightened masses of the fading middle class will simply defend property over liberty, assets over democracy. Such is the Roman model of empire. At the end of my days I work now to find peace in this turmoil and intend at the next vote to exercise what may be my true moral imperative--- to not vote for the lesser of any evil. That is why I hope your arguments for the Obama position will convince me that this change will do the least harm. peace, m

PeterAtLarge said...

Good to hear from you, Hoyt--and thanks for the excellent day!

And thank you, too, MandT. I do appreciate the thoughtful response, and the position you take. We are agreed, I think, that the capitalist model has run its course, and that change WILL happen, like it or not. It looks like it will take some time, given the power of the resistance. We may not be around to witness the results. I just hope the human race will be!