Is flânerie a…

Is flânerie a lost art? Is the postmodern society incapable of producing such a character thats primary purpose is grounded in observation, empathy, and intimacy, but marked by a level of estrangement? Probably. Nevertheless, while we will likely never see a postmodern flâneur, we can adapt new ways of utilizing old forms–a hallmark of postmodernity.  

Walter Benjamin’s flâneur, the 19th century observational, nostalgic, revelatory peruser of the streets, was able to transcend time and space through a perpetual dream-like state; by having extensive knowledge of the past, he is able to form a sort of parallel between the past and the present. (Benjamin, The Arcades Project)  

Carl Sandburg, flâneur in his own rite, wrote many poems that juxtapose past and present. The one that caught my attention, “Passers-by,” describes how the faces of strangers he meets on the street evoke memories of past times, and how the sounds of their steps and voices replace an “old silence” ( Chicago Poems). 

While Sandburg served his purpose then as a modern flâneur by documenting the present-day progress, effects of industrialization and capitalism, the ordinary occurrences of everyday life etc., how is this useful to us now? Well, the answer is pretty simple. All that objective observation he, and others like him, did, offers we poor postmodernites a candid glimpse of history over a period of time. Additionally, when put in writing the flâneur’s literal movement through time and space in the modern era allows us to experience it as they did–a vicarious revisiting of the past and the past’s past, if you will.   

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3 Comments

by | May 23, 2012 · 7:37 pm

3 responses to “Is flânerie a…

  1. righteousmyer

    I absolutely think there are flaneurs today! Simply because some literature of earlier periods contained flanerie and positioned it as the main function of the narrator doesn’t necessarily mean that flanerie as a function is directly opposed to today’s literary era. I think flanerie can be more elastic than that. Take, for instance, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, or Tom Waits. Granted, they may tend to take a more negative view when walking a city, but they are post-modern flaneurs nonetheless. These guys certainly feel the connection to the people’s grittiness, and the harsh realities of urban society. While the literary movement has shifted, I think it’s important to remain inclusive about what that shift might imply.

    • lbbk91311

      It’s true that people observe things everyday, but can it truly be considered flanerie? I’m still not convinced.

      I believe the flaneur is a subject specific to modern times, because his essence is grounded in modernism–a set of ideologies that not longer stand today.

      I’m not saying the art of empathetic observation is lost, but rather that it takes on a different form, and thereby, cannot be considered true flanerie. The flaneur experienced the progress he observed, and he saw first hand its effects on society; he was able to bring the past to the present because he was intimately connected with both.

      If it’s really so offensive to suggest that flanerie is dead, how about we compromise and call it something else–post-flanerie?

  2. I’d love to hear more about why you don’t think flanerie is possible today. Do you think it’s because people don’t walk as much and walking is the only way to have that concrete relation to the past? Do you think it’s because people pay attention to their phones even when they’re walking instead of getting lost in the sights surrounding them? I’m glad you brought Sandburg into the discussion. He definitely positions himself as a flaneur.

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