08 June 2014

Bohemianism

Bruce Sterling has a great little meditation on Bohemianism.

Professor Seigel's book [Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life 1830-1930] is especially useful for its thumbnail summary of what might be called the Ten Warning Signs of Bohemianism. According to Seigel, these are:
  1. Odd dress.
  2. Long hair.
  3. Living for the moment.
  4. Sexual freedom.
  5. Having no stable residence.
  6. Radical political enthusiasms.
  7. Drink.
  8. Drugs.
  9. Irregular work patterns.
  10. Addiction to nightlife.

As Seigel eloquently demonstrates, these are old qualities. They often seem to be novel and faddish, and are often denounced as horrid, unprecedented and aberrant, but that's because, for some bizarre and poorly explored reason, conventional people are simply unable to pay serious and sustained attention to this kind of behavior. Through some unacknowledged but obviously potent mechanism, industrial society has silently agreed that vast demographic segments of its population will be allowed to live in just this way, blatantly manifesting these highly objectionable attitudes. And yet this activity will never be officially recognized — it simply isn't “serious.” There exists a societal denial- mechanism here, a kind of schism or filter or screen that, to my eye at least, is one of the most intriguing qualities that our society possesses.

In reality, these Ten Warning Signs are every bit as old as industrial society. Slackers, punks, hippies, beatniks, hepcats, Dead End kids, flappers, jazz babies, fin-de-siècle aesthetes, pre-Raphaelites, Bohemians — this stuff is old. People were living a vividly countercultural life in Bohemian Paris when the house in which I'm writing these words was a stomping ground for enormous herds of bison.

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