In Part 10 of Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton looks at the history of Bohemia and what it can teach us about how best to live our lives.
From the start of the 19th century onwards, a new group of people began to be noticed in the West. They often dressed simply, they didn’t much care about money or convention and they came to be described as Bohemian. There have been all kinds of Bohemian movements over the last 200 years: the Romantics, the Surrealists, Dadaists, the Hippies the Punks and the Naturists. These disparate groups were united by one thread which is the decision to stand outside the Bourgeois mainstream and to live for a different set of values. Bohemians pose an important question for all of us: who are we going to get to judge us? Whose opinions should we give weight to? We can learn from the Bohemians that status is available from a variety of sources, above all from our friends. Our choice of audience can be our own.
The Bloomsbury Group started an experiment in living in the 1920s and 30s whose affects we are all still feeling today. Being a Bohemian isn’t about having a certain job, income or house, it is about a way of looking at the world. In the words of the childrens’ writer Arthur Ransome “Bohemia isn’t a place, it is a state of mind”. What that state of mind boils down to is a spirit of independence and freedom and the commitment to live your life by your own values. The Bloomsbury Group gave themselves a sense of validation by breaking the rules of their time. Many of the freedoms which we now take for granted (to talk to whom we like, to have relationships with whom we like) were established by “Bohemia”. The disadvantage of Bohemia, de Botton argues is that it can spiral off in to wilful eccentricity. Take a look at the video to see him taking a lobster for a walk!
Posted by Shona Lockhart on 28th June 2012