Category Archives: Bohemianism

Boboland and Bongoland do not mix

Apartheid, European-style

Dalrymple writes that not far from his flat,

there is an area that was once a country village, which in the 18th and 19th centuries was an aristocratic retreat but which has long since been incorporated, de facto and de jure, into the city. The aristocrats have been replaced by the bobos, the bourgeois bohemians, with their cafés and restaurants and galleries selling stream-of-consciousness art. Property prices are eye-wateringly high.

On the other side of a road, you cross from Boboland into Bongoland.

Suddenly there is hardly a white face to be seen. The groceries are full of ‘exotic’ vegetables and stockfish of various kinds, as well as long-frozen products whose nature is not immediately obvious to me. The population, at weekends dressed in colourful printed African robes (no doubt made in China or Bangladesh), has been decanted into huge buildings of Corbusian inspiration, of an ugliness, brutality, and inhumanity that surpasses belief, and which are the equivalent of battery farms for chickens. Posters advertise Communist Party–organised demonstrations or collections of clothes for distribution to the poor; anti-capitalist slogans are everywhere.

Dalrymple observes that there is an easy sociability.

There is a certain solidarity. In one African grocery, I saw a woman with a basket of goods, not amounting to very much, who had not enough money to pay for the last item, a few tomatoes. The owner — a Malian — told her to take them anyway. He said to another woman, when she couldn’t find her money, ‘Just give me a kiss.’ Everyone rocked with laughter, with that full-souled laughter that I know so well from my time in Africa.

Boboland and Bongoland do not mix,

notwithstanding a geographical separation of not more than 20 yards and Boboland’s ideological adherence to multiculturalism.

No bobo ventures into Bongoland, and no bongo ventures into Boboland.

There was more mixing in Johannesburg under apartheid than here.

Which does Dalrymple prefer, Boboland or Bongoland? He supposes that he is a bobo, but he feels more warmth towards Bongoland.

My heart is in the latter, but my wallet is in the former.

They mock respectability

No doubt, writes Dalrymple, it

has its drawbacks.

But its opposite,

bohemian anarchy without culture or intellect to redeem it,

has

no advantages.

The 70-year-old adolescents

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 07.55.41Forever a teenager

When one sees pictures of ageing rock stars, writes Dalrymple,

one is torn between repulsion and pity. Their faces are canyoned by age, but with their uncompromisingly youthful hairstyles, dress and comportment, they look like revenants in a budget horror film, as if they have just brushed the clay of the churchyard in which they were buried from their face and body. There are more and more people in our streets who look like this but who have never been rock stars; we grow older as a population, but not with acceptance, let alone grace.

Western culture is one of eternal adolescence, keeping us permanently immature.

First comes precocity, then arrested development.

Dalrymple points out that adolescence

is an age of bad taste, when all that is garish and meretricious attracts, and all that is subtle and meritorious repels. To make of adolescence the state in which one wishes to remain is to wish upon the world the permanent triumph of the kitsch, the shallow and the gimcrack.

Accordingly, the adolescent sensibility

is one that prevails in much of the art world, where the most adolescent of goals, transgression, is still aimed at. Shock the parents, épater le bourgeois.

The problem is that

the parents have long since refused to grow up and the bourgeoisie has long since decamped to Bohemia. It is hardly surprising that so much artistic production now has all the freshness of last week’s bread, for few are so conformist as rebellious youth.

The proletarianised bohemian intelligentsia

La gauche divine

La gauche divine

Imagining it has a divine spark (as opposed to what it thinks of as the bovine self-contentment of the bourgeois), the proletarianised bohemian intelligentsia

  • claims political allegiance with the proletariat
  • pretends to some of the tastes of the proletariat, for example that for association football
  • has a bohemian lifestyle and at the same time claims the economic advantages and privileges of a bourgeoisie

The proletarianised bohemian intelligentsia is the enemy, writes Dalrymple, of

thrift, honesty, reliability, respectability, solidity, respect for learning, willingness to postpone gratification and politeness.

The Bohemian, parasite upon respectability

Being born too late to be a Bohemian is, writes Dalrymple,

the greatest regret of my life.

By the time he was old enough to be in a position to enter into the profession of Bohemianism,

respectability had almost died out, and Bohemianism is parasitic on respectability. When everyone is a Bohemian, no one is.

The decay of Bohemianism

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 23.15.41High real estate prices, and high rents for furnished rooms, have been disastrous.

Property prices have risen so much that it is no longer possible to live in what one might call higher squalor in the centre of a great city, renting a single uncomfortable room for next to nothing. Where residential property costs $15,000 a square yard, no one wants a feckless poet or painter as a tenant, not even of a cupboard-size room.

Even in dress, Bohemianism is impossible.

Nowadays it is sometimes difficult to distinguish by his mode of dress the chief executive of a giant corporation from a student.

Indeed, it is easier to express social rebellion

by wearing a collar and tie than by turning up at a cocktail party in a turtleneck sweater, once regarded as the height of eccentricity.

 

Universal Bohemianism

Bohemia shares borders with Licentia, Philistia, and Saevitia

As the Burgess map confirms, Bohemia shares borders with Licentia, Philistia, and — let us not forget — Sævitia

It is not so easy, writes Dalrymple, for people

to escape conformism, if for no other reason than that anti-conformism soon imposes a conformism of its own. Rebels are often only dictators awaiting their chance, and Bohemianism only makes sense in a context in which there is a non-Bohemian norm: that is to say, where everyone is a Bohemian, no one is.

(2008)