Bohemias and the outside
October 24, 2010 4 Comments
I’m currently reading William Gibson’s latest novel Zero History – the third in his series of post 9/11 realistic novels set in the near-present. This turn in his writing emerges because of the acceleration of global capitalism, which makes traditional science fiction cultural extrapolation redundant almost before the novel is published. Gibson’s work, as Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson once said, aims at a (necessarily incomplete) comprehension of the technological sublime–the totality of the communication and capital networks that surround the world. Gibson registers what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire call the “informatization” of capitalism, the ways in which data itself becomes a form of commodity.
Anyway, Gibson has had a lot of interesting interviews promoting the book, which reflect intriguingly on the ways in which communicative capitalism and its technologies modify the ways we relate to art. I particularly like this segment from an interview with the UK Wired, which touches on the difficulty of thinking an “outside” to a capitalism that commodifies everything and co-opts resistance as soon it occurs:
I know that you’ve talked for a long time about bohemias being rapidly gobbled up by the corporations. Do you think that capitalism is so rapacious now that bohemians don’t stand a chance before their scene gets sold back to them?
That continues to be an important question for me. I can only keep my eyes open. I think a lot of what we think about bohemia depends on whether we look at it as having been historically some sort of mechanism of industrial society. As far as I know, prior to the beginning of industrial society there hadn’t been anything like that, there were criminal enclaves, there were perhaps groups of libertines, but not bohemians as we know them. These were people defined by certain demanding lifestyle codes, they dressed a certain way, had certain sexual mores, drank certain things and not others, and dreamed up new worlds, which the increasingly industrial society around them could feed on. So they became an enclave of walking imagination for a society that otherwise doesn’t value the imagination that you’re offering.
Over the course of the 20th century we saw the mechanisms of industrial societies and the commodification of bohemias just become so swift as to be almost instantaneous. I was saying that over a decade ago, so now a decade later I don’t actually know. Cory Doctorow and I were talking about this and my conclusion was that bohemias had become fully distributed globally. Cory’s way of paraphrasing it was: “There’s no Emo quarter.”