James's Reviews > Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge

Bohemian Manifesto by Laren Stover
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's review
Feb 28, 2010

it was amazing
Recommended to James by: me
Recommended for: anyone who likes this review

While American feminists were attempting to nail down equal pay and maternity leave, French feminists were advancing theory into the realms of psychoanalysis, linguistics, and the politics of language. For Julia Kristeva, all of signification can be located on a continuum, with the semiotic occupying one pole and the symbolic the other.

The semiotic is closely associated with the infant's babbling state, with our pre-Oedipal union with the maternal body, with our bodily drives, urges, rhythms, tones, and movements as these interact or merge with those of the maternal form and her movements, rhythms, tones, urges and drives.

At the other end of the spectrum of signification looms the symbolic, associated with grammar and, more fundamentally, with denotation. The symbolic makes all reference, denotative meaning, possible. It thus facilitates fixed meanings, reification, even totalitarianism.

If we are opposed to totalitarianism, we may find ourselves on the far semiotic pole of the spectrum, thrusting our hips while chanting "O baby, O baby." At the other end of the spectum we may find non-emotive legislation allowing the extermination of, say, Jews or polar bears or instituting a ten-year prison sentence for spitting on the street. [If there are no small crimes there will be no big crimes wrote Lord Shang (商君书), one of China's first totalitarians.]

All signification involves some degree of both the semiotic and the symbolic. Without the symbolic, all signification would not proceed beyond the babblings of an infant or a psychotic. Without the semiotic, all signification might be mathematically exact but humanly empty.

The realm of signification we enter upon opening Laren Stover's Bohemian Manifesto is an artistic one, a world of painters, sculptors, magicians and musicians at play in an embrace breaking down the fixed significations of culture and of artistic cliché, an embrace where formlessness and form eternally find themselves fornicating with one another, a reversion back to our absolute union with the voluptuous, nude, nuturing, fecund and warm mass of the maternal form, babbling our hours-long songs of ourselves, babbling in the sense that long, bop apocalyptic sax flights and starving, hysterical, naked howls and heavenly connections of mantras dissolving into light-body forms of the Goddess are babblings.

So, Stover, though writing about Bohemian style, is not writing about imitation, but about living out that cool, white-hot moment of soul jizz.

Reading Stover brings to mind another volume about artists: The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz, his brilliant exposé of the Balkanized psyches of state-sponsored poets and novelists. Like Stover's gang of artists, his, when carefree college youth in Vilnius, were Hell bent on defying artistic clichés. However, then came the Russians, the Germans, and then the Russians again, and those of his peers who survived the war often found themselves in the role of artist sponsored by a bureau of the totalitarian state. Suddenly, their souls and art were defined by the oppressive weight of political conformity they must constantly press up against in order to feel free, all the while maintaing a careful balancing act between artistic urges and the propaganda needs of the state. Many of them resorted to suicide.

It would be unimaginable to think of any of Stover's bohemians pulling the plug. They are having too much fun. One might disappear behind a door in a stage set of A Midsummer Night's Dream only to pop up behind a magician's cloak on another stage. Reading the two books together offers the reader insight into Kristeva's understanding of the politics of language and of how the psychology and role of the artist changes in relation to the weight of oppression. One begins to wonder if Stover's American artists, some of whom define themelves by drinking absinthe, are not also held captive, shackled by a sense of freedom their Balkan predecessors, the very ones who did themselves in after having defined themselves by having survived Auschwitz, might find too liberating.

If you like, call me désengagé, but personally, I'll stick with the less politicized, American, particularly the Waikiki-beach-boy breed, of bohemian. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwvYNW...

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 28, 2010 – Shelved
March 19, 2010 –
page 10

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Booklover (new) - added it

Booklover French feminists didnt have to fight for maternity leave, equal pay, free higher education, so they were able to focus on the finer points of life. Vivre La France!

message 2: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Kilgore I feel so strange, but I like what's happening. Let there be more, and I will be satisfied.

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