Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bohemia? Viva le Revolution?

I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked...Alan Ginsberg, Howl

Since having Madam, I’ve developed some crafty ways to satisfy the needs I once indulged in abundance pre-baby. One of my favorites is to browse to read excerpts of books that look interesting; in much the same way I used to peruse new books for hours at a bookstore. Add a cup of good Italian coffee (now brewed at home instead of at a cool coffeeshop) and it almost resembles that luxurious meander.

Today I ended up reading a few pages of a book called “American Scream: Alan Ginsberg’s Howl and the Rise of the Beat Generation.” Handing Madam a new toy to ensure her cooperation (read: buy her silence), I took a sip of my steaming coffee and eagerly began to read. I’ve always been fascinated by the Beats, Hippies, Romantics, Transcendentalists, Punks, Salon-ers..basically any form of Bohemia and counter culture. These people who made a life out of their arts and passions and questioning of authorities--these were my idols and the models I am still striving to find a way to emulate. But what is bohemia, really? Is it how you dress, what you make, where you live, an essential quality found in a certain type of person? There is a desperation to the questions, because bohemia is a long-bubbling obsession of mine, something that I've always seen sideways, to the left of me, to the right of me, north of me, south of me, but never where I am. I sat with these questions and kept reading.

One sentence caught my eye. “In the midst of unprecedented prosperity, American culture turned increasingly commercial, and writers turned increasingly to conformity.” Couldn’t the same be said about the way our society (and by “our” I mean Western, which is where I live and what I know best) is developing? And yet, the time period the author is discussing, the Fifties, also had a powerful cadre of artists, writers, and intellectuals questioning this new movement towards upholding and enforcing the status quo. The Beat Generation, and the hippie movement after them, was born out of a frustration with the hollow pleasures that a society devoted to “getting and spending” could provide. They wanted to issue a challenge to society--to shake it out of its small minded adherence to tradition-for-tradition’s sake and offer an authentic alternative. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and often there were more questions than answers. But the desire was there--and the mainstream read and wrote and thought and talked about it even when they didn’t really agree or understand. Where is that willingness to question today? Has it be totally absorbed into the commercial culture? Is rebellion, a quest for a more authentic life merely another selling point?

I know my old industry, publishing, is part of the problem. Publishers used to see themselves as guardians of a long intellectual tradition, and while they always published fluff and fun and popular books, they saw those as secondary to the more serious, thoughtful works that would endure and redound to the publishing house’s credit. Now, unfortunately, publishing must kowtow to the monetary bottom line, and “give the people what they want” or more accurately, what will sell more, quicker, and be consumed and tossed away just as fast.

I look at the internet, at the phenomenon of blogging itself, and I see people who are searching for a way to communicate and find community in away that doesn’t involve buying allegiance to a group. the delicious abundance of generous creativity, inspiration, and thought growing online leading to something that will have a lasting change on society, or is it simply too much information inundating an already overwhelmed and exhausted culture? One thing that is very different from the Fifties, of course, is that there is no real “mainstream” culture anymore. Instead, we all drift into our own mini-mainstreams based on increasingly narrow interests--and make sure that all of our books, movies, CDs, and conversations feed back into this same loop. But what about large scale change? Is this still even possible...or desirable? Is the narrowcasting of our lives a triumph for us...or for marketers?

Basically, where are my bohemian dreamers today? Are they all online? (I’ve seen glimpses, thank goodness, but I’m greedy and need more.) Have the best minds of our generation become passive, complacent, and docile? Or are they working in isolation, waiting out this latest turn in Western culture in the underground, until they’ve got the numbers for a revolution?

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Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

you know where to find this one.

: )

i thoroughly enjoyed reading this entry of yours.

i think you'll dig a book called "Bohemian Manifesto" by Laren Stover

i also think you should consider going to Burning Man. you'll find many bohemian dreamers there...

6:27 PM, March 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just flipped through that book on It does look good. Perhaps I should actually splurge and buy it!

I've always wanted to go to Burning Man. Have you ever been? Do you think a baby would be a welcome guest? ;)

12:48 PM, March 03, 2006  

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