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.
“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.
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.