‘Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930‘ Jerrold Seigel (1986).
Originally, the title for this blog post was ‘Tracing Bohemia through the ages’ as I’d been trying to pinpoint where and when the term Bohemia originated. In the first post draft, which I wrote exactly twelve days ago, I raved about Seigel’s book, thinking it was the holy grail of Bohemia I was looking for:
"Seigel's book is turning out to be the equivalent of an enormous gold nugget in a pan of useless rocks which is edging me closer to the crux of Bohemia, the foundations out of which it was all born: the French revolution of 1789. This unrest marked the beginning of the end of the old world order and heralded the rise of the bourgeoisie and its flip side, the bohemian. It's a wonderful feeling to find a signpost in the midst of a darkened forest of words to point you in a new direction. Now I am walking steadily along a tangible pathway in terms of what I'm studying - things are starting to make sense, a shape is beginning to form, both in my understanding and in my writing about what it means to be a bohemian. From its taproot in France in the late 18th Century, Bohemia has flourished throughout the world, although only when there has been the requisite social, economic and political conditions for it to bloom. Now, the term 'bohemian' is commonplace if not commonly understood."
So I thought I’d found a way through, a pathway to Bohemia, thanks to my reading of ‘Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930‘. I learnt about the French Revolutions (I only ever thought there was one!), and how the mythical, ‘starving artist’ rebel type figure, only came into existence alongside the Bourgeoisie social class which rose up out of the enlightenment and subsequent revolutions. The two are different sides of the same coin – one cannot exist without its other.
As I’ve travelled along this path, to take a break from words on pages, I’ve gone to documentaries to teach me what I thought I wanted to know:
So from there, I was lead to the birth of Romanticism, which I had thought was lead by the one and only Victor Hugo:
But the video below doesn’t even mention Victor Hugo in its overview of the History of Romanticism:
These documentaries have been a welcome break from my digging around in the abyss of books lying around my house. Someone recently likened the research process to falling down a ‘rabbit hole’ as in Alice in Wonderland. Although, the process is not always falling and opening doors. Sometimes I’m digging for connections between ideas either in my head and what I’m reading or viewing, or between what I’ve read in one book and another. I’ll pick a book up, read a chapter, become acquainted with a long forgotten bohemian, a real life or fictional character, and then move on to another book, another chapter and meet yet another bohemian. Digging, falling, drilling. These words certainly describe the process of my research thus far. Although, it could also be likened to driving a car along a road. At times the road is smooth and I travel swiftly, effortlessly. Other times the road is pocked by potholes and plagued by road blocks, detours and dead ends. Roundabouts have trapped me and I’ve driven round in circles, trying to hone in on the elusive place known as Bohemia.
I’ve gone to Youtube and found a delightful series of docos on the Beats, the artists which bridged the creative space between the 1940s and 1960s, the era of peace and love, the time when all ‘hell’ broke loose for ‘the Establishment’ with the Hippies etcetera etetera:
After all of this drilling, driving, falling and circling, the video below popped up on my Facebook feed. I stared at it for what seemed like hours (which in today’s time frame equates to about five minutes):
The root-like patterns of the neurons reminded me of ‘Rhizome’:
‘Rhizome is a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972–1980) project. It is what Deleuze calls an “image of thought,” based on the botanical rhizome, that apprehends multiplicities. ‘
Bert Olivier gives a good summary of how these pictures relate to the ‘Rhizome’:
‘People who do a lot of gardening probably know what a “rhizome” is in botanical terms. It is a kind of plant (including the prolific “wandering Jew”) that pops out of the ground over an expanding area, giving the impression that many separate plants are emerging in close proximity to one another, but in fact these ostensibly individual “plants” are parts of one big plant, and are interconnected under the ground. It has a distinct philosophical meaning, too, which is associated with the famous French duo, Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze. At the outset I should say that what follows is my own take on just one aspect of their work, and if any Deleuze/Guattari “authority” should have grave misgivings about it, I readily admit that when I read them I always feel somewhat dumb — their work is unapologetically difficult, but worth grappling with. Furthermore, I have tried, perhaps at the cost of accuracy, to make it accessible insofar as I (try to) understand it.
In Deleuze and Guattari’s work “rhizome” is roughly the philosophical counterpart of the botanical term, suggesting that many things in the world — to be consistent, if one follows the direction of their thinking, “all things” in the world — are rhizomes, or rhizomatically interconnected, although such connections are not always (in fact, seldom) visible. Animals or insects that live symbiotically appear to be an obvious example, such as the little birds that clean crocodiles’ teeth when these reptiles bask in the sun with their huge jaws open: instead of eating the birds, the crocodiles let them feed on the bits of meat, etc, between their teeth — their teeth are cleaned, and the birds are fed, in this way forming a rhizome. After all, when one sees them separately, few people would guess that their species-economy is rhizomatically conjoined.
Another way of expressing this in Deleuze and Guattari’s language is to see the birds and the crocodiles as an “assemblage”, which forms part of a larger assemblage or rhizome, ordinarily referred to as an ecology, or (biologically) interconnected totality of heterogeneous entities or, more precisely, processes “differing in rhythm and speed”. Bees and the plants whose flowers they visit to gather pollen comprise a rhizome, or an assemblage, just as a book does, according to Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (p. 4). In short, the rhizome or assemblage is a model that functions as a “crystal” of sorts regarding Deleuze and Guattari’s ontology. Insofar as, petrologically speaking, a crystal concentrates in itself layers upon layers of a mineral, metaphorically stated, the rhizome (or an assemblage) denotes the layers upon layers (“laminations”, perhaps) of the relationally interconnected, dynamically and quantitatively as well as qualitatively differentiated constituents of rhizomorphic reality.’
So, through travelling along, or trying to travel along a linear road by tracing Bohemia through the ages, I’ve realised that the ‘road’ is a construct, something that’s been programmed into me perhaps through my education. The reality is that neurons and plant roots are weird, strange and unpredictable in the way they connect with each other, and therefore it should come as no surprise that so too is the research process. But it has come as a surprise (typical, being the slow learner that I am).
I looked up this evening and saw an almost perfectly halved moon – and I think that thus far I’ve been operating in the ‘light’ side, the linear side, the usual, conventional, predictable, safe side. I’ve forgotten all about the ‘dark side of the moon’, the mysterious unknown. Linear structure, neat, traditional lines are definitely essential and necessary for new thoughts and ideas to emerge, but they are not the be all and end all, particularly when thinking about the creative/theoretical artefact I’m heading towards creating. In the spirit of the Romantics, I’m embracing the haphazard nature of nature, of my own brain from now on, excited to think of the new discoveries I might make. I feel, at this point a bit like the man in the famous painting ‘Wanderer above a Sea of Fog’ (1818):
I too am wandering into the wild, unpredictable unknown, into the dark side of the moon:
Till next time dearest blog and blog readers.