The Bohemian Manifesto


I think I was twelve when I first heard the word Bohemia.

I didn’t really know what it meant but it conjured up a mist-drenched, mountainous region where men in long coats and women in peasant skirts sang the praises of Bacchus all night long in roadside taverns. Everyone had on either eyeliner or kohl, even the men.

They lived in garrets, in close quarters, and wore each other’s clothes. They kept odd objects on their windowsills. They were dirty and ecstatic and didn’t need drugs to go to far-off places.  Of course I wanted to be one of them.

Around the same time I discovered Jack Kerouac. I would read an old Bermuda-printed copy of On The Road under the covers with a flashlight. The flashlight wasn’t necessary, nor were the covers, but they certainly added something a tad romantic to the experience. Later, around thirteen I discovered a real relic of Bohemia, An Autobiographical Novel by Kenneth Rexroth which sort of condensed in unbelievable exploits and intellectual tangents the pivot point between Lost Generation bohemians and 1950’s beatniks.

Today we have hipsters of course, but also bohemians too. Even “brohemians” who sort of have fled from the “brogeoisie.”  There are even old beatniks who come into my bookstore, smelling of cigarettes and wet newspapers, wanting to talk about long-dead radio shows. But the Bohemian mantle is the oldest tag to use if you’re poor, artistic, impulsive and mildly hedonistic.

And this morning my friend sent me to a site that purports to diagnose different breeds of contemporary Bohemia: Bohemian Manifesto.

With tongues not wedged that firmly in cheek, the contributors discuss different breeds of Bohemia: the nouveau bohemian, the gypsy bohemian, the beat bohemian, the zen bohemian, and the dandy bohemian.

This could be the next thing to get skewered on Stuff White People Like which continues to unnerve me by  just how accurate yet simulataneously irritating it is.

Hmm, now I can respect the “Bohemian lifestyle” just as much as the next underpaid, artistically-inclined city dweller but it seems to me that this tendency to half-ironically praise socially unorthodox lifestyles and to elucidate their various taxonomic divisions is at best an ironic gesture of surrender. The moment you celebrate something by giving it a name, you also give it ironic heft and a price tag.

I’m willing to bet that this book will very soon be sold at Urban Outfitters right next to their new line of fixies.

But then again Bohemians need to make money too and  half-humorously exploiting their own iconography for a buck might be the only way to do it.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →