I have been trying to generate interest in a private club for Bay Area futurists, based on the social clubs of Victorian England. This idea was inspired by the Neo-Victorian “phyle” or tribe in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. In my last post, I outlined some of the reasons why I think we need this sort of thing, which boils down to the fact that modern life is inherently socially isolating. I feel it myself, and I want a place to go and socialize with fellow futurists, night or day.
A lot of people to whom I mention this idea complain that the narratives of the Victorian Era are incompatible with futurism. Some focus on the prudishness and repression of that time. I think the main problem is that some people are unaware of the amazing progress that this era ushered in. The VictorianWeb.org website has a lot of good information about this time period. Here is an excerpt that conveys my point:
“In ideology, politics, and society, the Victorians created astonishing innovation and change: democracy, feminism, unionization of workers, socialism, Marxism, and other modern movements took form. In fact, this age of Darwin, Marx, and Freud appears to be not only the first that experienced modern problems but also the first that attempted modern solutions. Victorian, in other words, can be taken to mean parent of the modern — and like most powerful parents, it provoked a powerful reaction against itself.”
– George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University
I want to reconstruct a Victorian narrative that acknowledges this era for birthing feminism and socialism. The portraits in the library of a Futurist Gentleperson’s Club might be of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Thomas Carlyle, Jules Verne, Jane Austen, and maybe Ada Lovelace. (We can argue about this later.)
This sort of social club was an important institution in Great Britain for hundreds of years prior to the Victorian period. Sometimes organized in pubs, other times in dedicated houses, the clubs of London were the nexus for political, literary, and even scientific thought. I have been reading up on how these clubs functioned. Here is a fun quote:
“(Humans are) said to be a sociable animal; and as an instance of it we may observe, that we take all occasions and pretences of forming ourselves into those little nocturnal assemblies, which are commonly known by the name of Clubs. When a set of (humans) find themselves agree in any particular, though never so trivial, they establish themselves into a kind of fraternity, and meet once or twice a week, upon the account of such a fantastic resemblance.”
– Excerpt from: Timbs, John, 1801-1875, “Clubs and Club Life in London: With anecdotes of its famous coffee houses, hostelries, and taverns, from the seventeenth century to the present time.”
These clubs were private places where people could relax and create friendships. They provided everything a home would have, such as: a dining hall, library, game room, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Men and women formed separate clubs during this era, but I see no reason to reintroduce that separation in a modern futurist club, thus the name “Futurist Gentleperson’s Club.” You are free to join the Pacific-Union Club if you disagree.
I particularly like the ideals of the Savile Club of London. The main focus of that club is food and drink, good conversation, and games like bridge and snooker. They have frequent musical performances, including concerts in which members perform. The Savile Club has relaxed their dress code, but I would still encourage members to dress well (business casual). I also like the idea of discouraging cell phone use or restricting it to phone booths. Further, the Savile Club strives to keep costs low, so as not to exclude interesting members with more modest means.
Then there is this question of why should we have an aesthetic narrative in the first place? A chap at a recent East Bay Futurists Meetup preferred a space that allowed people to interact in any way they saw fit, without any preconceived notions. In my view, setting a clear narrative in a space gives participants a common starting point to work from, and should reduce barriers to communication. We need a little help understanding how to fit into a classic space like a Victorian library. I expect a properly designed, archetypal space to easily evoke the civilized, genteel, and intellectual aspects of one’s personality. Furthermore, if we choose our inspirational figures from this period wisely, perhaps they will inspire us to seek out the magnitude of progress that the Victorians accomplished, here and now in our own time.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the sort of club I am proposing. If you are interested, please take this poll. Questions, criticism, and suggestions are welcome; please comment below.