Flâneur-a person who walks the city in order to experience it

The term flâneur comes from the French masculine noun flâneur—which has the basic meanings of “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, “loafer”—which itself comes from the French verb flâner, which means “to stroll”.

Funny enough though in French Canada flâner is rarely used to describe strolling and often has a negative connotation as the term’s most common usage refers to loitering. Interesting how same language can differ depending on the location.

Originally the term is coined by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) and refers to somebody who observes the city or theirs surroundings, and experiences an actual physical stroll but also is a way of philosophical thinking and a way of seeing/feeling things. Walking for walking sake and not in a hurry to just get from one place to another, but to just experience/wondering in the urban cityscape, alley ways and hidden corners and nooks observing the immediate, and also to be seen.

The 19th century experienced huge urban expansion. Cities like London and Paris(Haussmanisation) grew to unprecedented scale and gave rise to new patterns of urban life and new modes of experience. The French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote that in the modern city we become a flâneur or stroller. This was an entirely new urban figure, associated with the era of modernity. According to Baudelaire, the flâneur moves through the labyrinthine streets and hidden spaces of the city, partaking of its attractions and fearful pleasures, but remaining somehow detached and apart from it.

They aren’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere, they aren’t even shopping (which is as near as most of us get to this Baudelerian ideal). Flâneurs are standing in deliberate opposition to capitalist society, with its two great imperatives, to be in a hurry, and to buy things (as a protest against the former, there was in Paris a brief vogue for flâneurs to amble around town with tortoises on leashes). They are wondering about the lives of those they pass, constructing narratives for them, they are eavesdropping on conversations, they are studying how people dress and what new shops and products there are (not in order to buy anything—just in order to reflect on them as important pieces of evidence of what human beings are about). The flâneurs are avid enthusiasts of what Baudelaire called “the modern.” Unlike so many of Baudelaire’s highbrow contemporaries, flâneurs aren’t just interested in the beauty of classical objects of art, they relish what is up to date, they love the trendy.

It’s a paradox of cities that though they bring together huge numbers of people in small spaces, they also separate them from each other. So it’s the goal of flâneurs to recover a sense of community, as Baudelaire put it, “to be away from home and yet to feel everywhere at home.”

Baudelaire characterized the flâneur as a “gentleman stroller of city streets”,he saw the flâneur as having a key role in understanding, participating in and portraying the city. And women were left in the margin in this characterisation on given rather dubious parts like of an prostitute, in this mainly male dominant philosophy that was trying to experience modernity. Also the era had some restriction on what women could be and what they could do and where to go, but this enthusiasm for modernity was bringing on the change to that sort of 19th century Victorian thinking.

Just before World War II, Walter Benjamin( German Jewish Philosopher, July 15, 1892 – September 27, 1940) wrote that the flâneur was the symbol of modernity strolling into urban life. The city wanderer, sifting through the crowd, toured the arcades (the first malls) where commodities were arranged—sparkling and new—behind glass. As the flâneur’s job was to evade the material goods and instead find pleasure observing the crowds. But as the icon of the flâneur becomes more contemporary and the temptations of commerce more vigorous, she/he is a tourist, even at home. The 20th-21st century city’s design facilitates wandering, but in the areas acceptable and “safe” for shopping. In non tourist zones, often just outside of downtown, sidewalks crumble and the obstacles of rail lines, freeways and narrow bridges impassible to walkers lift from the landscape. The flâneur is still a shopper, but one who finds it more and more difficult to peruse for artistic moments and not for goods. Her role is to resist the commodities pushed toward her and instead take in the images that will be durable residue for a poem or painting or a building—or even a good conversation.

“That anamnestic intoxication in which the flâneur goes about the city not only feeds on the sensory data taking shape before his eyes but often processes itself of abstract knowledge – indeed, of the dead facts – as something experienced and lived through. This felt knowledge travels from one person to another, especially by word of mouth…” Benjamin, The Arcade Projects.

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Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.´An informed and aware wandering, with continuous observation, through varied environments. It can be sought and can lead anywhere.

The term does relate to Flâneurs as well having the somewhat similar meaning and definition of individuals exploring and drifting along in cities and their surroundings in a way that don´t have a premeditated destination ewoking their awareness for new. Also the term has connections to Lettrists International where the it originates from, Dadaism, Surrealism and Situationsim.

 

 

Bibliography:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A2neur

http://factoidz.com/charles-baudelaires-concept-of-the-flaneur-an-urban-explorer-in-the-period-of-modernity/

http://www.arcadejournal.com/public/IssueArticle.aspx?Volume=24&Issue=4&Article=200

http://www.arcadejournal.com/public/IssueArticle.aspx?Volume=24&Issue=4&Article=198

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychogeography

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