Sunday, August 05, 2007

Where's Bohemia?

The question is whether a real bohemia is even possible today.

The first requirement is a tight neighborhood, as existed in Greenwich Village once upon a time, or in Paris in the 1920s.

I'd guess that classic bohemias were mixes of lower class and idle rich, or radical rich. Without the low rent aspect there's no authenticity, no edge.

How many American urban neighborhoods are full of vibrant life yet affordable at the same time? (Detroit's Cass Corridor in the 1990s.)

The Hydrogen Jukebox has created a scene in West Philly-- but West Philly is too sprawling, the writers here scattered all over the place. South Philly might be tighter; Fishtown more working class, with more real bohemian freedom.

Most interesting urban neighborhoods have been taken over by the gentry-- hyper-conformist rat-race yuppies who are if anything anti-bohemians. Rents and prices exclude all but the Clean and Saved.

Bourgeois conformity has spread into most segments of the upper class (even ultra-rich guys like Tom Beller and Rick Moody obtained writing degrees) and swept through the lower middle class from whose ranks come many MFA writer-wannabes. True artistic and social rebels are a minority of a minority.

Also, few writers today except those of means will travel to be part of a scene-- as many writers like Hemingway, Robert McAlmon, Kay Boyle, and so many others moved to Paris to create the Lost Generation.

Sorry, but one can't have a community of writers through the Internet, which is a collection of disembodied voices without the exciting interaction of physical reality. At best it's a bloodless, enervated, unsatisfactory substitute.

Those who pose today as literary bohemians are in fact anti-bohemians. Take MediaBistro, a walking contradiction; an impossibility-- a mock-bohemian scene constructed around career and conformity. Their reality is anti-bohemia (as they're so thoroughly anti-ULA). Only the pose of difference remains-- and as everyone inside the System adopts the pose, any trace of difference from acceptable life and culture has thoroughly vanished. All that's left is consumerist advertising.


Noah Cicero said...


those writers never really saw each other.

the lost generation really never hung out like they were best friends or something. They saw each every once and awhile, that was it.

And half of them didn't even meet the other half. Joyce sat around with Beckett, hemingway had some drinks with pound, fits, and stein a couple of times.

The beatniks met and hang probably for like a year before they left columbia and went all over the world. If you add up all the time they actually were in the same room it really doesn't add up to much at all.

Those are myths created to sell books.

They probably communicated more through letters to each other than actual face to face talking, just like we with the internet.

The absurdist movement with Ionesco, Beckett, Genet, and Albee, they never spoke to each other at all.

This thing you speak of never really existed.

Literary movements are just collections of writers who share a slightly similiar style or worldview, and the media and the publishing companies after the fact throw the word "movement" on it to make money.

Kerouac spent the majority of his life walking around alone.

Burroughs spent most of his time fucking teenage boys and shooting heroin by himself.

Hemingway spent in exotic locations hunting animals.

Fits spent his life drunk taking care of that crazy bitch.

Writers are people who seek solitude, that is the writer's usual temperment.

FDW said...

No Ci:

You're wrong but right probably from your point of view.
For one thing Becket was Joyce's personal secretary.
Another is that Pound scrounged together freak'n' tennis sneakers and $ for Hemingway and a lot of other writers/ poets/ artists there but even here. Importantly so here 'cos a nicely sized knot of struggling poets-- Imagists, Ojectivists-- who happened to be Jewish Americans, mensch as Pound was later and still is defamed and smeared as an antiSemite which really makes me scatch my noggin in mulled mulling, and then went ahead and intro'd H to P.
Meeting in bars wasn't so casual and just chance at all in P in the twenties meetings as well as bondings as well as "making connections" getting in touch, rubbing shoulders was all in the mileau.
The Surrealist were all about that the great modernist painters and sculptors were all about holding court induction etc. in local bars and watering holes as well as the DaDa the Symbolist, und so wieter before them and the beaniks (especailly in SF) and always in The Village before that and the Existentialists in Paris and the Expressionist in NYC.
The Beats moved outta NYC in toto when the New Critics oloch and then Charlie Parker died according to Baraka.
Nomadicism in Amurikkka, see. All else as you should especially see and do is Alienation-- where for one tunnel vision struggles in its alienation to claim "the Big Picture" while the opposite of course is the truth. Nomadicism again the "kids" are and are wanting to travel around be self sufficient do their artz thruout directly to the FOLK--- this is partly a response to the resurgence in our own '50's namely the Naughts of Moloch but Moloch in the more suitable guise of "Pseudopod".
The "scene" here spearheaed at least semiotically as Karl sez by the HJ and the Carnivolution IN loose allegance as a matter of record to the ULA contingent in West Philly includes also the resurgence of the Folk Art Entertainment monad of Sides Show and Carnival/Circus/ open air theater Revival-- the rebirth of the nomad gypsy "pursuit of happiness" factor. I will define as I have here over the past year infact what is TPOH in this context if asked otherwise keep this Blog close to you with the Gideon at your motel bedside! Fellow trippers.
By the way letter writing amongst these cats was significant but taken in the proper light was were I think their way of cutting off the post- modernist post-post modernist herasey at the pass. Think about if you can pull yourself outta the preconcieved notions.

FDW said...

meant, EP intro duced EH to GS!

In more breaking Bohunk news:

ULAers Eric Broomfield and Frank Walsh as well as Jellyboy The Clown and The Masked Professer appear in WestPhilth's 3 min. movie trailor just out on UTUBE
just enter THE UNHOLY SIDESHOW in the search engine on the top of the UTube homepage!

King Wenclas said...

Noah, your ignorance of literary history is staggering.
I suggest you read, for starters, the book GENIUSES TOGETHER by Humphrey Carpenter. (The title is a takeoff of the title of the McAlmon-Boyle memoir BEING GENIUSES TOGETHER, which doesn't give the overall picture as well.)
The amount these writers interacted is in fact amazing, from McAlmon typing the manuscript of ULYSSES for Joyce, to Pound showing Hem how to write and Hemingway in turn showing Pound how to box, to Kay Boyle's relationship with a tragic poet, to Joyce stumbling into Sylvia Beach at a reading at her bookstore (he was nearly blind) and this leading her to publish his book, McAlmon handing a drink to a homeless person through the open window of a saloon while getting drunk with Kay Boyle; McAlmon and Hemingway's various fistfights with people, culminating in a brawl between each other outside a famous bar at the end of the decade, and on and on and on and on and on. It is THE great story of American letters-- you have to go beyond just the books I named to get the full picture, including any bio of McAlmon; Heminway's A MOVEABLE FEAST of course; John Glassco's MEMOIRS OF MONTPARNASSE, and for added flavor check out the film "The Moderns."
You're a good writer, Noah, but this is one instance where your head is completely up your ass.
This is a fascinating part of American (and world) history well worth looking into. I suggest you do so.
A glorious period not just of literature but of all art, as the Lost Generation included a range of talents, from Man Ray to Djuna Barnes, and yes, they were all hanging around together jumping in bed with one another partying constantly and in the process, creating great art. (Look what Hemingway got from just one side trip to Spain. Somehow I don't think the story would have been as compelling if the principals had just written letters to one another.)

Jeff Potter said...

The willingness to go where the action is is CRUCIAL.

And missing today.

It all requires a leap. It's never certain that one is making the right move. (Where it's "at" is never known til afterward!) There's a willingness to take a risk. It's usually done with little or no resources. It's foolish! Every time!

But ya know what I think that whenever a bunch of people dare, and do the foolish thing, in promixity, that it MAKES THE GREAT STUFF HAPPEN.

At least it will be worth it for those folks.

I suppose that sometimes it flops, but I'm not so sure. Maybe there's a critical mass factor---maybe more than a handful are required. But not a whole lot more. It's on a doable scale, if only we will...

I tried it a few times when I was young. I'm still out on a limb but not in terms of a hangout.

Another must-read is "Down and Out in Paris and London"---Orwell's memoir. Yay for foolishness and French restaurants. :) Those guys were flat broke, without food, so many times. And people say we have it tough today.

Then there's Boswell's Life of Johnson. There was a time when Johnson was between projects and without a penny and when vagrancy meant death. He and his pal walked around the city square declaiming the virtues of the king all night long. When he finally broke thru (by writing the first English dictionary) he brought all his friends and relatives along with his success---no social safety nets back then---that money meant food for those that needed it! Amazing to think that back then the greatest English conversationalist was so close to death in a dungeon just for vagrancy.

Ah, the English---our heritage! Severe. Yet sometimes when folks had money they actually provided food'n'shelter for those who didn't---and also created a true salon atmosphere. There's still room for that in the USA, too! (Do millionaires do this anymore? Do they just not advertise it?)

A neighborhood or actual hangout is part of the success equation for so much of our heritage that it's worth keeping the idea alive.

Jeff Potter said...

Actually, there are happening neighborhoods full of yeasty foment and creative cooperation in metro areas nationwide---there have to be. They just don't seem to be breaking out into wider relevance. If they are, I'd love to see examples! terms of literature, that is.

BradyDale said...

I don't think it's a relevant question, Frank. I think looking for Bohemians now is like my political activist crowd looking about for turn-of-the-century populists. The new "real deal" doesn't tend to resemble the old "real deal."

BradyDale said...

I meant Karl. I don't know why I called you Frank. No offense to Frank, but I meant Karl.

FDW said...

Political activist is just the liberal fallacy elitist-- abstracted.
Popu;ist whether young or old are the real deal.
neo-Liberals as to elites as populism is to Democracy.
Dashle sd for what it's worth the the is a RESurgence of populism among the voters on Charlie Rose.
Democracy Now tonight had a real incridble speech on by this veteran Brit reporter whose among others things calling to task professional reporters referring to the Mass Media Press as the shadow government in the IMPERIAL american pogrom and more pertinent to what your saying BD that Liberalism is the most dangerous and lethal despite the real pluses we've all got out of it but in measure in all of human history, Clinton the most murderous of all US presidents and Obama a war monger in line with the 19th Century elites not populist democracy from which neo-liberalism derives. Check it out on todays I know I will.

King Wenclas said...

The question is more relevant than ever-- the rise of the monopolies today sure resembles what happened one hundred years ago. (Or, we could use some of those "turn of the century populists" you speak about.)
Writers ARE adopting the pose of bohemia. Yes, we should find, and announce, the genuine article. Real writing which communicates in a visceral and truthful way with readers is the way to save literature.
It's curious, but before I ever decided to become a writer I was relating strongly to the words of writers from over a hundred years ago, who were saying more about the America I was living in than was the established contemporary crowd: Jack London, Stephen Crane, O. Henry, and the essays and novels of Frank Norris.
Good seeing you at Germ Books last month, Brady. Try some literary activism with us sometime-- the opposition is weaker. And don't let G.B.'s cynicism overwhelm you! Intelligence so wrongly and wastefully used.