Flaneurs in Skyscraper

When David Dwight goes into his analysis of the city in Skyscraper, his views of the city are reminiscent of the flaneur. He is trying to sweet-talk Lynn, so his words have alternative motives; however, his observations are real despite his intentions. He observes like a flaneur because he notices the small details and absorbs the city. He weaves tales about the city and sees the city in a way he thinks is fresh and unique. He says about skyscrapers, “Every day you go to one, are swallowed up by it, every day you work there, never thinking of the life teeming in the building, beating against the walls, unaware of the thousands of people, working, like yourself, passing in and out of ceaselessly, through the doors, unaware that many of them spend most of their waking hours under that impossibly high roof” (Baldwin 70). With this statement, he sees himself as above people like Lynn who simply live in the city. Dwight takes in the city around him.

Dwight is the perfect example of the flaneur as Judith Walkowitz defines it in City of Dreadful Delight. Flaneurs experience the city, not just walk through it. Walkowitz makes the distinction that flaneurs can only really be white men because only white men have the privilege in this time to fully experience the city. Walkowitzh specifically writes about Victorian cities, where women did not have the right or ability to freely explore the city. Walkowitz writes about how in the late Victorian period, women slowly permeated the public city. “These new entrants to the urban scene produced new stories of the city that competed, intersected with, appropriated, and revised the dominant imaginative mappings of London” (305). 

In the setting of Skyscraper, the women have more freedom than in past eras, but they are still limited. They represent the aftermath of the introduction Walkowitz describes. The women no longer require chaperones to move around and can even have jobs, but they do not have the freedom of the men in the novel. Because of this repression, they cannot be real flaneurs. They can walk around the city alone, unlike Victorian women, but they will see the city through a different lens. Dwight can go about his day and go wherever he wants without judgment. The women, however, will be judged the entire time. A single woman will be judged as scandalous or pitiful, depending how she is dressed or where she is. She will be viewed as either a prostitute or a spinster.

The culture also does not encourage change. It does not occur to Lynn and her friends to explore the city like Dwight does, so Lynn is impressed when she hears his theories about skyscrapers. If Lynn explored for herself, she could come to her own conclusions about the city and buildings. Dwight uses the inexperience of the city women to his favor. Another cultural construct is that Dwight does not feel the need to help the women see the city for themselves.

Baldwin, Faith. Skyscraper. New York, NY: Feminist Press, 2003. Print.

Walkowitz, Judith. “City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London.” The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 303-310. Print.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Flaneurs in Skyscraper

  1. I love this connection between Walkowitz and Baldwin! I think it could be expanded into a really cool paper. How would you incorporate the first chapter of the novel into your argument? That shows a bunch of people being flaneurs too, in different ways. I think you’re absolutely right that Dwight manipulates women using his knowledge for the city. Maybe Baldwin is writing the novel so women can see it for themselves?

  2. You really explore some significant elements and characters throughout this post by applying them and analyzing the texts of Baldwin and Walkowitz. I love that you apply the characters in Baldwin’s text to provide examples of what Walkowit discusses about public spaces and genders. By this, I was able to see a concrete image of the type of walker Walkowitz describes and received a better understanding of her ideas. You compared David Dwight to Walkowitz’s type of flaneur and I have to agree that he is the perfect fit. For Dwight, the city streets are his comfort zone and he uses this, as well as his extensive knowledge of the public spaces to manipulate women, particularly Lynn in Baldwin’s story. After reading your idea of Dwight being the ultimate flaneur, I can definitely begin to pick out so many similarities. The term flaneur is a male or masuline term and therefore, typically it described a white male.Walkowitz also describes the streets as dangerous for women because women who are more vulnerable, or inexperienced, etc. are extremely easy for flaneurs to spot them, pick them out, and prey on them. We see this evident through the simplicity and natural ease of Dwight’s pursual of Lynn, and how easy and willing Lynn blindly trusts him. The concepts of public space is a major theme in both texts and I think you do a nice job bringing elements in from both Baldwin and Walkowitz. This would make a great blog revision/final project. You already have strong components that go hand in hand and this blog serves as a great starting point. Great Job. Really enjoyed the ideas and concepts you brought to the post!

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