the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Bohemian, New and Old

The lovely thing about the Internet is that even when you miss an interesting article, it still pops up days later when you search. Not like newspapers, which I love for the ink-stained physicality, but hate when they pile up in corners of my home.

The article I found was in, in the "well-traveled" department, by Inigo Thomas. It's entitled Bohemia in New York, two subjects close to my heart. Monsieur Inigo starts off well, talking about the history of the word "Bohemian," and what it means for New York and those who come to New York. Then it sort of become a travelogue--to be expected perhaps, since that's what he's supposed to be writing about--but still disappointing that's not really why I was reading.

I did alert my friend Laren Stover, author of the lovely, bubbly Bohemian Manifesto, that someone else was trampling on her beat. I can't help but wish she had written on the subject for instead, but I think that might be a matter of taste. I like Ms. Stover's take on "bohemian," and yes, I'm about to tell you why.

Two books came into my life at the same time: The Bohemian Manifesto, mentioned above, and Bohemian: Glamorous Outcasts, by Elizabeth Wilson. They cover the same subjects: the meaning of the word "Bohemian," and the artists--from the Belle Epoque to the Jazz Age to the Beat Generation--who embodied it. And yet, they are very different books. The Bohemian Manifesto is bubbly and beautifully illustrated, a light-hearted and colorful romp that reminded me of those books that bird-watchers by to identify rare hummingbirds. ("Want to spot a Bohemian? Here's how!") It's very also very much a girly book--which is no surprise as Ms. Laren also wrote The Bombshell Manual of Style. Bohemian: Glamorous Outcasts, is, on the other hand, serious, heavily academic and bursting with scholarly research. It digs way deep, and you'd better be okay with endnotes to read it through. I am, and I loved it.'

Both are excellent, and here is what they've taught me. "Bohemian" is a word that's used and misused, and it is generally assumed to mean someone outside of society with devoutly artistic leanings (also outside of society). It's a word that has acquired some tarnish--does the bohemian--the uncompromising, unconventional, deviant bohemian--actually exist anymore? No true bohemian wants to be labeled a bohemian...right?

But I do.

And I think that's the point. We're all classified. I've been categorized as "Indian" and "girl" and "nerdy" and "grad student" and "lawyer" and "blue-haired girl" and all sorts of other unprintable stuff. If I'm going to be classified as anything, I'd like to choose the antiquated, anachronistic, slightly pretentious title of "Bohemian." (At least, in being pretentious, "bohemian" doesn't aspire to mean "hangs out with P.Diddy." "Bohemian," even as a poseur, aspires to mean "great" and "alive").

I may not qualify. Can one be a bohemian while having cable television, living in a doorman building, aspiring to be on a best seller list? Can one be a bohemian while writing law profiles instead of doing the one thing that makes the blood sing--writing novels, making "art?" I don't know. It sounds like a compromise, but I think that's the new bohemian--searching for a bohemia in a world that is filled with compromise, dealing with our unease at being part of that compromised world. Like when you blog instead of--well, writing the novel that makes your blood sing. Like when you watch Seinfeld and read People magazine and like it even though you know you could be truly enriched if you just picked up your battered copy of Les Fleurs du Mal. I think the new bohemians are the ones who are uneasy and feel compromised and juggle our mundane wants and with our higher needs, and learn to write or paint or perform about that. And the great ones manage to tie our individual struggles to a common humanity.

Um....pompous? Don't look at me; it's not even my own idea (I'm never above using other people's material). Over a century ago, Baudelaire wrote that the artist in modernity could only survive if he saw the marvellous in the banal. Is there anything more marvellous and more banal than the world we live in now?

These posts are getting too long. Someone stop me.


Post a Comment

<< Home