From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Bouzingo was a 19th century avant-garde movement, a group of eccentric poets, novelists, and artists in France during the 1830s that practiced an extreme form of romanticism whose influence helped determine the course of culture in the 19th century with their art riots, romans frénétiques and contes fantastiques. Especially well documented is the battle that surrounded the premiere of Victor Hugo's play Hernani.
Bouzingoism is the spirit of revolution, a revolution against the ascendancy of power by the philistine bourgeoisie. This spirit was embodied in the “art for art’s sake” creed of Théophile Gautier, in the eccentricities and the poetry of Gérard de Nerval, by the lycanthropy and dark irony of Petrus Borel, and by those who gathered around them known as the Bouzingo. They were a decadent and radical offshoot of Romanticism and represented an unabashed taste for vampirism, shocking offenses, and self-styled Satanism. They considered themselves a thorn in the side of the bourgeoisie meant to aggravate and irritate polite society. They roamed the streets making a scene wherever they went. They had long hair and grew moustaches and beards. They dressed with an air of ironic aristocracy to spite and mock the bourgeoisie. They were fanatical extremists who delved heavily in the occult, black humor, dream/nightmare, and imagination inspired by Cervantes from Spain, Schiller and Goethe from Germany, Lord Byron and Shelley (the “satanic poets” of English Romanticism), and Emanuel Swedenborg (the 18th century Swedish occultist). They experimented with drugs and took their Romantic idealism to extremes. Although the Bouzingos have been obscured in the history of Literature and Art, there is no disputing their invaluable influence in the construction of Modernism. Credit to the Bouzingos can be found in writings from Baudelaire to the Surrealists and are credited to the origins of the avant-garde.
Etymology and origins
The name Bouzingo is a deliberate alternative spelling of the word Bousingots.
The Bouzingo were originally known as Le Petit Cénacle in 1830 but became known as Les Jeunes-France around 1832. The name Bouzingo came into being in 1833. One summer night, members of Les Jeunes-France were walking through the streets loudly singing a song whose chorus was "Nous avons fait ou Nous ferons du bouzingo". The neighbors complained of the shouting to the police and told them of a conspiracy by the bousingots against King Louis-Philippe. The Police, who were unable to tell the difference between the Bousingots and Les Jeunes-France, arrested several members including Nerval. The next day newspapers were filled with scandalous stories about these nefarious bousingots! Gautier and Nerval found the stories to be hilarious and decided to continue the scandal by taking the name Bouzingo and changing the spelling to confuse the Bourgeoisie. They immediately set out to publish a book called “Les Contes du Bouzingo”. Unfortunately it was never published, but the Bouzingo myth stuck and remains to this day.
The stories the Bouzingo wrote about themselves were full of intentional exaggerations. The stories were meant to frighten the bourgeoisie. They believed the Bourgeois would be offended by the idea of poets and artists acting like barbarians and primitives. This was the aim of the Bouzingo and for a time they spawned major controversies. The actual truth is now nearly impossible to find out. These artists were not well documented with any kind of journalistic objectivity during their prime. The legends of the Bouzingo are captured most notably by Gautier in “Les Jeunes-France” (1833) but also to a lesser extent in Henry Murger's "La Vie de Bohème" (1849).
Truth or myth?
These are a few of the most famous exaggerations invented by the Bouzingo:
- They hosted parties where clothes were banned and wine was drunk from human skulls.
- They played instruments that they did not know how to play on street corners.
- Nerval was said to have walked a pet lobster on a leash because “it does not bark and knows the secrets of the sea”.
André Breton wrote, "To be even fairer, we could probably have taken over the word SUPERNATURALISM employed by Gérard de Nerval in his dedication to the Filles de feu... It appears, in fact, that Nerval possessed to a tee the spirit with which we claim a kinship..." - The Surrealist Manifesto, 1924
Marcel Proust, Joseph Cornell, René Daumal, and T.S. Eliot have all cited Gérard de Nerval as a major influence. T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" borrowed one of its most enigmatic lines from Nerval's "El Desdichado".
Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Lautréamont have all mentioned the works of Gautier as influential. His thoughts on the philosophy of "Art for Art's Sake" have continued to be the source of debate.
Gautier with Nerval and Baudelaire began the infamous Club des Hashischins dedicated to exploring experiences with drugs.
Members of the Bouzingo
- Gérard de Nerval
- Petrus Borel "the Lycanthrope"
- Théophile Gautier
- Philothée O'Neddy
- Xavier Forneret
- Aloysius Bertrand
- Dumont, Francis, 1958. Nerval et les Bousingots (La Table ronde)
- Dumont, Francis, 1949 Les Petits Romantiques Francais (Les Cahiers Du Sud)
- Seigel, Jerrold, 1986. Bohemian Paris: Culture , Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930. (Elizabeth Sifton Books)
- Starkie, Enid, 1954. Petrus Borel: The Lycanthrope, His Life and Times. (Faber and Faber Ltd.)
- André Breton, 1997. Anthology of Black Humor. (City Lights Publishers) ISBN 0-87286-321-2
- Italo Calvino, 1998. Fantastic Tales. (Vintage) ISBN 0-679-75544-6
- Mélanges tirés d'une petite bibliothèque romantique: bibliographie anecdotique et pittoresque...by Charles Asselineau, Théodore Faullain de Banville, Charles Baudelaire, 1866.
- On Bohemia by César Graña, Marigay Grana, 1990 - Chapter: Bouzingos and Jeunes-France pp. 365-369
- Lettre inédite de Philothée O'Neddy [pseud.] auteur de: Feu et flamme, sur le groupe littérai...by Théophile Dondey, 1875