A Modern Day Flâneur
Strolling through the Internet.
One of the first courses I took in my second Master's programs was based upon the subject of Modernism and Photography. The material in this course led me through the labyrinthine maze of many other French concepts, but none fascinated me more than the idea of “flânerie".
The French literary critic, Walter Benjamin described the word “flâneur” as a stroller who aimlessly strolls , oftentimes with his pet turtle throughout the Parisian city streets at the end of the 19th century. Obviously if his turtle was setting the pace, we know it could be nothing but leisurely! Benjamin spent a great deal of time working with the idea of flânerie and studied its implications as well in photographic daguerreotypes. Since that time, his work on his "Arcades" project, left unfinished had a great deal of research on the subject.
There have been a few works over the past one hundred years that have utilized the figure of the flâneur as an archetype.Edgar Allen Poe's fiction has a flâneur in his detective fiction and more recently a book written by Edmund White: was written discussing the Flâneur in a more modern day Paris. Since Benjamin was the one who coined the phrase, it makes the more modern day idea of flânerie appear to be a topic that can be malleable to the times. There are a whole breed of flâneurs who are not "dandies" that bring along their turtles, and merely are so because they are solitary saunterers, becoming more a part of the landscape of their times.
It seems to be befitting that I take this 19th century idea and bring its 21st century counterpart to the fore and move it "forward" so to speak to more modern day applications. So, last year I wrote my thesis on the more modern day "flânuer", the Internet saunterer.Since the time I wrote my thesis, I have continued my studies in the humanities but am always drawn back to my interest in this theme. Coming to the HubPages therefore continues my journey into my own flânerie. Here in these pages one can link continuously through the hubs, and even into the more wider view on the Internet and find gems awaiting us. It can also be akin to falling down the rabbit hole, as in Alice in Wonderland. We link here to there and there back to here. And in each link we travel deeper and deeper into our own minds, and into the more ethereal world awaiting our perusal.
In my research I found so many ideas that represented the combination of sociological, anthropological, literary and historical cohesion of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace. A whole new world exists in the "Web world", and oftentimes the more modern day flânuer can get sucked into areas that contain both good and bad influences. We are participants in our surfing on the Internet whether we are active or passive. Actively we stroll when we create online writing blogs, comment on others work, use e-mail or find social communities were we feel comfortable participating. But we also can be more passive participants and just enjoy the view, (so to speak) without saying a word.
One of Benjamin's favorite examples of a flâneur was the poet Charles Baudelaire.Baudelaire felt that the 19th century flâneur had a major influence on
city life even though he was more of a silent, detached observer.As 21st century writers we have no idea what influence we have on those more silent observers
who may stroll by the written pages we share online. In Baudelaire's poem "A une passante," he captures the relationship between the flâneur and the inhabitants of his city at the time of his writing:
Amid the deafening traffic of the town,
Tall, slender, in deep mourning, with majesty,
A woman passed, raising, with dignity
In her poised hand, the flounces of her gown;
Graceful, noble, with a statue's form.
And I drank, trembling as a madman thrills,
From her eyes, ashen sky where brooded storm,
The softness that fascinates, the pleasure that kills.
A flash . . . then night!--O lovely fugitive,
I am suddenly reborn from your swift glance;
Shall I never see you till eternity?
In this poem Baudelaire, assuming the role of flâneur, addresses a passing stranger--a widow as judged from her garb--for a brief instant and then mourns her loss as she vanishes from his sight. In a city as large as Paris it is possible to see a person but once; thus each street encounter bears with it the fleetingness of youth, spring, or any other Romantic ideal. The feminine beauty of this passing stranger resident in her "swift glance," contains an ephemeral element that pulls the observer closer to a reflection upon their own death and the subsequent appreciation for life.
I am reminded of the more recent song by James Blunt entitled "You're Beautiful". A man sees a woman on a train and as he observes her we hear his thoughts:
"Yeah, she caught my eye,
As we walked on by.
She could see from my face that I was,
And I don't think that I'll see her again,
But we shared a moment that will last till the end."
and his realization later that he must realize the truth: "I'll never be with you".
Benjamin left his impressions of a flaneur of his day and while that type of stroller in Paris may not exactly be the same kind of saunterer of our own times, it is wonderful to reflect upon the more modern day observer. Reaching across time and space, the world is anew with fresh places for us to stroll outwardly, new places to stroll inwardly and those links on the Internet that bring us from here to there and back as we venture inside the World Wide Web.
Enjoy your stroll...and make certain your take walk your turtle from time to time, as the slow pace offers you much more time for reflection and wonder.