New Bohemians

Obtained from the poet and writer Jeremy Reed and unpublished in this form. Transcribed from his  handwritten  purple ink manuscript. Probably from about 2008/9. [Somewhere we have more of this inc writings about new bohos such as Pete Doherty.Will find. Wilde's attitude is reminiscent of a later writer Norman Douglas who told Elizabeth David 'Always do as you please and send everybody to hell and take the consequences. Damned good rule of life...']

Bohemians / New Bohemians / Jeremy Reed

   Every generation produces its own variations of bohemianism, a term first used in the nineteenth century to describe the antisocial lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, musicians and actors who lived outside of the mainstream and endorsed antiestablishment political or social viewpoints, as part of a cutting edge ethic aimed at undermining conventional society. The willingness amongst bohemians to embrace frugality or voluntary poverty, as a serious affront to capitalism, was in many ways, the beginnings of decadence, a movement spearheaded by the likes of the notorious nineteenth century French poet, Charles Baudelaire, author of Les Fleurs du Mal, (1852), as an exponent of terminal ennui, the original slacker and as an antagonist to the idea of being a useful member of society. Baudelaire's seminal influence as an edgy reprobate who couldn't care less for society, and who took refuge in opium to cushion himself from reality, [and who shaved his head to empathize with the idea of the poet as criminal] was the dangerous template taken up by the likes of Oscar Wilde, whose novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was to come directly out of the notion of bohemianism. In Wilde's case his lifestyle was to lead to being convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour in 1895, on account of homosexual offences, combined with a hedonistic attitude, deeply offensive to his mainstream contemporaries. Wilde, who with little income, but a great deal of style, and dressed in a slinky astrakhan coat, undermined the social hierarcy not only with the disarming wit of his plays, but with a contempt for almost everything but art and beauty, no matter the personal cost. Wilde's expression in The Picture of Dorian Gray, that dares to place beauty before class and received notions of morality, as an absolute aesthetic priority, typifies the bohemian disdain for social orthodoxy. 'I admit that I think that it is better to be beautiful than to be good. But on the other hand no one is more ready than I to acknowledge that it is better to be good than to be ugly.'
    The declared aim of all bohemianism is the liberation of the individual into personal fulfillment, rather than living in obeisance to the state, something that requires real inner conviction and considerable courage to maintain. If the French poets, Rimbaud and Verlaine, who travelled destitute across Europe, writing poetry on the road, are seen as prototypical bohemians, in advance of Jack Kerouac and the Beats, then Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs as representative of the Beat generation, adopted a similar lifestyle of travel, immersion in drugs and alcohol, and living on the edges of society as integral to their lives and work.

The American Beats in the 1950s/60s looked, for example, to the expatriate novelist and musician Paul Bowles, who had made his home in Tangier, as a source of inspiration to their own alienated lives. Bowles, the author of The Sheltering Sky, had moved to Morocco in the 1940s not only to take advantage of cheap living and the relaxed drug laws that permitted him to smoke Kif, but as a repudiation of Western capitalist-driven policies. Bowles' assertion of the artist as bohemian, prepared to radically let go the inherited values of his American upbringing was also a pointer to emergent cults like the hippies that bohemianism was a lifestyle as credible to the mid-twentieth-century as it had been in France a century earlier. In fact, the policy of not conforming is essential to nearly all non-commodity art, by which I mean the real thing and not the product of media hype. A big part of bohemianism is resistance to selling out and the commercialism integrated into Western [the art world] capitalism, although one could argue that someone like Keith Richards remains totally true to bohemian principles, despite the almost unprecedented commercial success of the Rolling Stones over a 45 year period. The Rolling Stones continue as individuals, to affront society with an attitude that still professes bohemianism as integral to its energised rock thrust.
    Bohemians too, have a dress code that expresses individual style independent of means, and which draws attention to them as people who don't hold regular jobs, with the clothes often picked up from markets or charity shops, but worn with inimitable panache. Bohemianism is essentially an irrepressible aspect of culture that refuses in every generation as a refreshing creative antidote to mainstream activity and corporate thinking. It's the natural expression for those who value individual freedom above absorption into careers and the ubiquitous system. Great twentieth-century bohemians would have to include the likes of Scott Fitzgerald, Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, the painter Francis Bacon, Quentin Crisp, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and Jack Kerouac, to name just a few of the individuals who made art out of the refusal to be anything but themselves on their own conditions. As I know it, those are not only the qualities that describe bohemianism, but by far the truest values by which to live.

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