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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Eras are ending all the time, and new ones starting

To anyone who has been keeping up (not that I'm sure I'm entirely kept up, because these things are developing all the time) with the historiographical area of 'Soho Studies', so ably undertaken by Frank Mort in Capital Affairs: The Making of the Permissive Society (2010) and Judith Walkowitz in Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London (2012), the gloom and doom in this article: The slow death of Soho: farewell to London's sleazy heartland: For years, relentless gentrification has been squeezing the life out of the infamous district. The closure of Madame Jojo’s feels like the nail in its coffin feels not just like same-old-same-old, but actually rather ironic.

In particular, in its invocation of some kind of traditional Soho embodied in 'the old rogue' Paul Raymond, it places a figure who himself, as Mort has so ably elucidated, was instrumental in bringing about the end of a previous era of Soho, as the keeper of a heritage he himself did much to destroy. 

Perhaps, however, the glory days of any subculture are never in the present, but always in some moment that has just fleeted past and been missed: in a telling little essay on bohemia and the bohemian, Elizabeth Wilson invokes the following quotation:
“Bohemia is always yesterday,” wrote the American writer Malcolm Cowley, a bohemian himself, as long ago as the 1920s.
As writers on nineteenth and twentieth century bohemianism have commented - and were, as this line by Cowley shows, in a long tradition - that the 'real' bohemian has always just passed, by the time of writing it has become a performative spectacle or sold out to the mainstream.

But, as Wilson suggests, has it vanished - or has it just mutated or is it just located somewhere where people aren't looking?

Someday, no doubt, someone will be looking back at those vibrant subcultures of 2014 and lamenting their passing into the banal normality of the present moment.

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