“Loner” Versus/Plus “Joiner”

Thanks to Peggy Nelson for the hilobrow.com interview opportunity

Leave it to ever insightful Peggy Nelson, aka Otolythe various places online, to point out something about the Disquiet Junto that had never occurred to me previously. In a tweet linking to an interview she did with me on the occasion of the 500th consecutive weekly Junto project, she noted the countervailing origins of the music community. There is, of course, on the one hand Fernando Pessoa, author of The Book of Disquiet, and on the other Benjamin Franklin, who in 1727 founded the Junto in 1727 from which ours takes its name. Nelson in her tweet referred to the “dual, and dueling, presences of the ultimate loner (Fernando Pessoa) and the ultimate joiner (Benjamin Franklin).” I love this so much. It’s loner versus/plus joiner. So true! Thanks!

The full interview is at hilobrow.com. I want to reproduce one of the Q&A items here:

Nelson: Do you think, overall, the Disquiet Junto is more Pessoa-inflected, or Franklin-inflected, in how it has played out? (I am imagining the Franklin influence to be the discussions/comments.) Or are you satisfied that it’s been a pretty even balance?

Me: That’s a wonderful question. Thank you for it. I think the Disquiet Junto is fairly evenly divided between the influence of Fernando Pessoa and the influence of Benjamin Franklin. I should note that, by and large, it’s quite easy to participate in the weekly music composition prompts without being aware of where either word, Disquiet (from Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet) or Junto (from Franklin’s 1727 private society of that name), originated.

The “mutual self-improvement” aspect of Franklin’s original Junto provides a solid foundation for our group, and it’s a key part of why many people join in. Franklin was an instinctive creator of communities, small and large, from clubs to libraries to fire departments to schools to the United States of America. Our Junto is, in effect, his creation, as well. The Junto is very Pessoa in part because of certain aesthetic predilections inherent in the weekly music composition prompts: A lot of the musical prompts are about everyday sounds, everyday experiences, philosophical observations, then transformed into something artistic through reflection and consideration. In addition, an enormous percentage of Pessoa’s output was never completed. The Book of Disquiet itself is a collection of many scraps, of pieces of rough drafts. A big part of the Junto ethos is about posting unfinished work, works-in-progress, and I think that is very Pessoa.

However, there is one aspect of Pessoa I would like to see become more generally accepted. I think the Pessoa mode would be one in which individuals read a prompt and don’t ask, “Does this appeal to me?” but instead put the “me” aside and allow that doing something apart from “me” can be not just a beneficial experience, but an essential one. To borrow a phrase from another poet, Walt Whitman, it’s evident that Pessoa contained multitudes. I think it’s healthy to embrace one’s inner multitudes, or at least one’s inner many, even one’s inner handful. I think a lot of participants do that already, certainly, but I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job of emphasizing the benefits for people of doing projects that don’t seem, on first glance, as applicable to them as individuals. Doing so requires me to strike a difficult balance as a moderator, because I don’t want the Junto to be a source of stress. I don’t want anyone to fear they’re missing out by skipping any project or set of projects. The overall design and structure of the Junto is that it’s there when participants have the time and interest, week in, week out. I would like the Junto to be a little more Pessoa as we proceed, in this sense of it, in people trying things precisely because, as a member might say, “it doesn’t feel like me.”

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