BOHEMIA


At this point it would seem possible to draw up a series of theoretical oppositions or opposing cultural models like Art against carnival or Avant-Garde versus carnival , let's resist it, and instead consider a similarity between bourgeois Art and the mediaeval carnival.
The function of Art is to be functionless, to be superfluous. According to Bakhtin the carnival also rejects function :

'The feast has no utilitarian connotation (as has daily rest and relaxation after working hours). On the contrary, the feast means liberation from all that is utilitarian, practical. It is a temporary transfer to the utopian world.'
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Both mediaeval carnival and bourgeois Art eliminate 'necessity', but whilst carnival celebrates a sensual and abundant respite from necessity, Art eliminates necessity by suppression, and whilst carnival mocks and negates the feudal hierarchy, Art maintains a fetishized feudal hierarchy. However, as we noted earlier, the impulse for the culmination of the functionlessness of Art in the 'Art For Art Sake' movement of the mid 19th century has a radical aspect since it is a rejection of the means/ends utility of bourgeois capitalism, an attempt to construct a zone of freedom outside the hierarchy of capitalism; an alternative. 2

The historical autonomisation of Art lies in the autonomisation of the bourgeois class, the exclusion of necessity, the exclusion of vulgar emotional and sensual pleasure, is also the exclusion of those who are chained to necessity, those who display vulgar emotion and sensual pleasure. The development of 19th century capitalism enabled the bourgeoisie to finally seize the power of the feudal Church and nobility, to finally separate themselves as a class from the common people, to create a private culture of individualism and luxury, to free themselves from want. To legitimise their rule they developed a hierarchy of taste and autonomous Art, the fetish of feudal power. Which is to say that autonomous Art is the fetish of the official serious culture of feudal society.
But as Bakhtin observes, the Renaissance, the initial break with the legitimacy of the Church and the nobility, was brought about by harnessing the unofficial culture of the carnival. In their accession the bourgeoisie invoke the carnival against the feudal hierarchy, but having gained power they set about excluding and controlling it, for in realising the revolutionary utopian potential of the carnival they fear the carnival and understand that it must be suppressed. This fear is also a desire, for as Bakhtin notes, the carnival was celebrated by every rank in mediaeval society, so the bourgeois suppression of carnival is not only the suppression of carnival amongst the common people, it is the suppression of carnival in bourgeois culture. This is the tradition considered by Bakhtin, the indestructible carnival as an aspect of bourgeois culture.

The Renaissance conception of the classical body, the nascent bourgeois conception of the body, is a body sealed and finished, without growth or death. It is a body without functions, nothing goes in or comes out, it is without process, alone. As the bourgeois class liberates itself from the power of feudalism, it liberates itself from the base needs and excretions of the body. But the crude and toxic industrial processes which generate the wealth of the bourgeois class turn the cities of the 19th century into dark and savage reservoirs of disease and effluent. Thus the very source of their liberation pushes the bourgeoisie ever deeper into autonomy, into alienation , alienation from the vulgarity of the body, alienation from emotion, alienation from the common people, alienation from the urban squalor of the industrial city, alienation from the source of their own wealth. This alienation is the freedom of the bourgeoisie and it is reproduced in Art as the distance of the aesthetic gaze. To remove this alienation, to experience the loss of the aesthetic gaze in a moment of ungoverned sensual and emotional pleasure, to be unable to differentiate between the sign, the signified and the referent, to lose your subjectivity in the object3.....this for the bourgeois is both horrific and seductive. 4 It is both a fear and a desire.

This tension between disgust and desire is expressed first as an aspect of Romanticism; the Romantic grotesque. The grotesque body of Romanticism is the living corpse, the bestial, the wanderer, the deformed, the alienated, it is Frankenstein, the Ancient Mariner, and Maturin's 'Melmoth the Wanderer'.
The celebration of the cyclical abundant collective life of the body in carnival reappears in Romanticism as a delirious horror of , and desire for degradation and disintegration, to be ravaged by the monster, to be bought low.
Consider the words of the Comte de Lautremont, the anonymous Isidore Ducasse, the God hater, one of the last Romantics, who understood Romanticism and the carnival absolutely, who invented himself ironically as an aristocrat:

'When the foot slithers on a frog one feels a sensation of disgust, but one's hand has barely to stroke the human body before the skin of the fingers cracks like flakes from a block of mica being smashed by hammer blows; and even as the heart of a shark an hour dead still palpitates on the deck with dogged vitality, so we are stirred to our very depths long after the contact.' 5

The transcendental disgust and desire of the alienated bourgeois is another reason why the shock tactics of the post Dada Avant-garde can only maintain the autonomy of Art. The use of animal corpses, meat, blood, shit, menstrual fluids, used condoms, self mutilation etc. may disgust the bourgeois public but this disgust is also a fascination with the means of their own superiority: which is to say that there is pleasure in alienation, and that this pleasure is most profound in the distance between having the aesthetic gaze and losing it. This is also Wollen's cubist 'coupre', the tension between disgust and desire as content.

The grotesque is not the only aspect of carnival which surfaces in Romanticism, there is also the appropriation of traditional folk genres, the mythologised feudal countryside, the fascination with the masses and the revolutionary utopian currents of socialism and anarchy. In the last case pivotal examples are the influence of the work of William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Robert Owen on the work of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Percy Shelley, Blake, Coleridge, Landseer and others in early 19th century England. 6 And of course the influence of the French Utopian Socialists on French Romanticism.

In late 18th century France the Art of the revolutionary state was the individualised Neoclassicism led by David, based at first on the idealisation of the ancient Republic of Rome, and later, with the coming of Napoleon, on the Roman Empire. 7 As George Steiner notes, the years between the revolution and the fall of Napoleon were charged with an accelerated and profound consciousness of a new history:

'....it is clear that the Revolutionary and Napoleonic decades brought on an overwhelming immanence, a deep, emotionally stressed change in the quality of
hope. Expectations of progress, of personal and social enfranchisement, which had formerly had a conventional, often allegoric character, as of a millenary horizon, suddenly moved very close. The great metaphors of renewal, of the creation, as by a second coming of secular grace, of a just, rational city for man, took on the urgent drama of concrete possibility. The eternal 'tomorrow' of Utopian political vision became, as it were, Monday morning. We experience something of the dizzying sense of total possibility when reading the decrees of the Convention and of the Jacobin regime: injustice, superstition, poverty are to be eradicated, in the next glorious hour. The world is to shed its worn skin a fortnight hence. In the grammar of Saint-Juste, the future tense is never more than moments away. If we seek to trace this eruption - it was that violent - of dawn into private sensibility, we need look only to Wordsworth's Prelude and to the poetry of Shelley. The crowning statement, perhaps, is to be found in Marx's economic and political manuscripts of 1844- Not since early Christianity had men felt so near to renovation and to the end of night.'
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But it was of course a false dawn, French Romanticism appears with the restoration, it is the revolution invoked and betrayed. Romanticism is both a product of the bourgeois revolution and a reaction against it. The accession of the bourgeoisie at once destroys the feudal hierarchy of Church and Court and restores that hierarchy fetishized as the acquisition of the new ruling class. Romanticism is the sensibility of the new historical time of bourgeois capitalism, of the possibility of an egalitarian democratic utopia and of the betrayal of this possibility by the bourgeoisie. It is a complex and paradoxical system of interdependent cultural formations, tendencies and determinants, it is irrational and progressive, it Romanticises the world.
To understand the influence of carnival in this complex web of interdependent traditions is to understand that it is a web of autonomous bourgeois culture. The resurgence of carnivalesque themes and forms in Romanticism is not the return of mediaeval carnival, it is a new element which can only develop because classicism excluded the carnival.
The Artist's desire for autonomy in the late Romanticism of 'Art For Art's Sake' is essentially the same desire as for the sublation of Art that was made a century later by the Anti-Artists of Dada; it is the desire for an end of alienation, the fear and longing for a synthesis in utopia. In the first case by creating a utopian realm outside bourgeois society and in the second case by eliminating the exclusivity of Art and so attempting to extend the utopian realm out into bourgeois society. The Avant-Garde in this context, emerges from Romanticism as the historical movement who believed that the utopian realm they were constructing in Art was to be the destiny for all humankind. The Anti-Art tradition should be understood as a series of radical projects engaged by bourgeois Artists to break out of the exclusive function (lessness) constructed by the accession of the bourgeoisie, this historical struggle is endless and the ingenuity of the Anti-Artist is only matched by the flexibility of the bourgeois institution of Art (of course they are often the same people). Both the Avant-garde and the Anti-Art tradition driven by the bourgeois imperative for innovation must constantly construct new projects and so they constantly draw upon the culture which is always new and alien to the bourgeois, which is the oldest and most persistent unofficial culture, the popular. This is why Huyssen's 'Hidden Dialectic' is incomplete, the central revolutionary influence on the Anti-Art tradition is not the technology of mass culture nor is it the mass of the culture , it is popular/folk culture, it is carnival ; it is not a new means, it is the return of a different purpose.

Romanticism begins with the triumph of the bourgeoisie, it is the point at which the Artists begin to oppose official bourgeois culture.The demand for the autonomisation of Art, which led to the absolute irrelevancy of Art, is inextricably bound in Romanticism to a radical Anti- Art demand for a non-bourgeoise culture, an unofficial alternative culture. In their search for this alternative the Artists turn to the carnival.

The alternative culture of Romanticism was Bohemia, the underground gypsy kingdom of industrial Paris.
As early as 1799, twenty five years before Saint-Simon's formulation of the Avant-Garde, a group of young Artists formed a radical movement structured by the paradoxical projects of autonomy and Anti-Art: the Barbus, the Bearded Ones. 9 Also known as the Watchers of Man (Observateurs de l'homme) the Barbus, began as a breakaway faction of students from David's studio. They rejected the new bourgeoise age of science, industry, function and trade and demanded a return to the primitive and ancient world of Homer, Ossian and the Bible. In painting and sculpture they advocated the primitive style of ancient Greece and believed that all the art after the time of Phidias should be destoyed.10 To demonstrate their faith the male Barbus grew their hair and beards long and wore flowing robes copied from ancient sculpture, whilst the women adorned themselves with black crepe, veils and flowers. They believed that Art could transform the world. The key figures in the group were Lucile Franque and the charismatic Maurice Quay. It was Quay who when asked by Napoleon "Why did you adopt a type of clothing which seperates you from the world?" replied "In order to seperate myself from the world"11 Around 1800 the Barbus founded a utopian vegetarian commune in an abandoned convent in a suburban district of Paris. It was here that the Barbus began to turn away from ancient Greece and towards the Biblical desert and the mysticism of the middle east. However by 1803 both Franque and Quay were dead and the group dispersed. The influence of the Barbus is difficult to gauge, it's possible they had links with the German primitive Nazarenes and certainly several former Barbus were later involved in the French romantic movement. The Barbus are perhaps the first movement that sought an autonomous Art based on the fetish of a pre-industrial feudalism, they begin the tradition that runs through the Nazarenes, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Symbolists, and into the Hippie communes of the 1960s.
Although it is possible to identify in the Barbus elements that would feature in Romanticism, the Barbus Neoclassical utopia is essentially a monastic retreat into ascetic contemplation, whilst Bohemian life was a passionate confrontation.
The princes of Bohemia were the young disciples of Victor Hugo who were active from around 1830, principally the poet Gerard de Nerval , the architect Petrus 'the Werewolf ' Borel and Theophile Gautier, who as we have seen was also a central figure in the 'Art For Art Sake' movement. The bohemians were revolutionary dandies, reckless, flamboyant in outrageous costumes they sought to provoke the Philistine bourgeoisie who they despised for having betrayed the Revolution. And above all, they were young:

'With the Jeune-France, as the rebels now call themselves, everything revolves around their hatred for Philistinism, around their contempt for the strictly regulated and soulless life of the bourgeoisie, around their fight against everything traditional and conventional, everything capable of being taught and learnt, everything mature and serene. The system of intellectual values is enriched by a new category: the idea of youth as more creative than and intrinsically superior to age. This is a new idea, alien, above all, to classicism, but to a certain extent to all previous cultures. There had naturally been a competition between the generations and victorious youth had been the power sustaining artistic developments in earlier ages. But youth, had not triumphed simply because it was "young"; the general attitude to youth had been one rather of guarded prudence than of excessive confidence. It is not until the romantic movement that the idea prevails of regarding the 'young' as the natural representatives of progress, and not until the victory of romanticism over classicism that any mention is made of the fundamental injustice in the older generation's attitude to youth.' 12

The termphilistine originates in the conflict between the academy and the popular, it was German student slang for ordinary towns people, and of course it is also biblical term for the unenlightened barbarian Palestinians. The young bourgeois bohemians rejected commercial utility and bourgoise domesticity, they rejected a function for Art, but many of them were also involved in republican and socialist utopian revolutionary activity under the influence of Saint-Simon and Fourier. In Romanticism both the Avant-Garde and the Anti-Art project are initiated, Romanticism is the contradictory desire to be the pioneers of a new utopian realm, to drop out of society, to construct an alternative culture but also the desire to redeem the revolution, to join the masses and lead them to salvation. But as I have demonstrated the radical projects of Romanticism were destined not to transform Art but to perpetuate it , for the Artist there can be no escape from Art, to be an Anti-Artist it is first necessary to be an Artist. The alternative culture of the 20th century could not be Art.