Modernity and the Flaneur, Issues: How do we characterize the postmodern flaneur (or city walker)?
General Introduction Rob Shields Baudelaire's views Benjamin's views Chris Jenks
What are his/her relationships with the city and its crowd? How about postmodern author as flaneur?
Baudelaire's viewsof modernity and the painter of modern life:
Benjamin's view of Baudelaire
- "By modernite I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable" (1986, 13)
- The painter of modern life has a specific task: 'he makes it his business to extract from fashion whatever element it may contain of poetry within history, to distill the eternal from the transitory" (1986, 12)
- 'shock and intoxication' usually associated with the crowd -- "Baudelaire placed the shock experience at the very centre of his artistic work." (CB 117) "Jostled, pushed and shoved by the seething urban crowd, the city dweller must remain ever vigilant, constantly on guard and alert. In the midst of the crowd, the individual is bombarded by a plethora of unassimilable stimuli" (MM 143).
"The intoxication to which the flaneur surrenders is the intoxication of the commodity around which surges the stream of customers" (CB 55)
- disintegration of coherent experience --
- an idler and passionate observer; " For the perfect idler, for the passionate observer it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite (B 1972: 399);
- 'heroism of modern life" -- "The modern 'hero' is the one who, while embodying the tendencies of modern capitalism to the highest degree, is simultaneously engaged in an inevitably doomed struggle against them. The heroism of modernity as endurance and as impotent rage takes the form of self-deception (the flaneur, the gambler) and self-negation (the prostitute, the worker and the ragpicker). For B, the ultimate hero of modernity is the figure who seeks to give voice to its paradoxes and illusions, who participates in, while yet still retaining the capacity to give form to, the fragmented, fleeting experiences of the modern. This individual is the poet." (MM 134)
-- the modern heroes: the poet, the flaneur, the dandy, the collector, the gambler, the worker, the dandy, the collector, the gambler, the worker, the rag-picker and the prostitute. [CB 54]
- The flaneur -- "The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense job to set up house in the middle of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite" (1986: 9) Benjamin's view
- The city -- "The interplay between the city as bestial and the city as beautiful was both the essential theme of, and the very source of inspiration for, B's poetry" (MM 139).
- modernity -- "Benjamin regard Baudelaire as the figure who gives voice to the shock and intoxication of modernity; he is the lyric poet of the metropolis" (MM 134).
- allegory and commodity -- "For Benjamin, B's poetry directly expresses, and must be understood in relation to, the commodity culture of the nineteenth century . . . the allegorical poetics of B are as intimately interwoven with the character and fetishization of the commodity as the arcades themselves. Indeed, for Benjamin there exists a particular elective affinity between the concept of allegory and the commodity form" (MM 135).
. . . The commodity is the modern embodiment of the allegorical. With its emphasis upon exchange- and exhibition-value, the commodity is devoid of substance. Its fate in within the cycle of production and the contingencies of fashion is to become out of date, old-fashioned, obsolete" (MM 136).
- The crowd (CB pp. 59 - 66 ; 120 - )
-- p. 61
-- "When Victor Hugo was celebrating the crowd as the hero in the modern epic, Baudelaire was looking for a refuge for the hero among the masses of the big city. Hugo placed himself in the crowd as a citoyen, B sundered himself from it as a hero" (66)
-- "If he succumbed to the force by which he was drawn to them and, as a flaneur, was made one of them, he was nevertheless unable to rid himself of a sense of their essentially inhuman make-up. He becomes their accomplice even as he dissociate himself from them. He becomes deeply involved with them, only to relegate them to oblivion with a single glance of contempt" (CB 128).
--1. to alleviate panic and fear by creating consensus; 2. to play upon and exacerbate fear. [e.g. detective story] Chris Jenks
-- "In his later writings on Baudelaire and Paris, an increasing emphasis is given to the dehumanizing tendencies at work in the crowd: toward conformity, uniformity, anonymity and passivity. The metropolitan crowd emerges in a new light: namely as a threatening, undifferentiated mass . . . The concept of the mass appears as the afterlife of the dreaming collectivity and the crowd. . . Benjamin replaces the rather simplistic affirmation of the radical potential of the dormant urban population which characterized his initial formulation in the Passagenarbeit with, some ten years later, an equally one-dimensional denunciation of it. The dreaming collectivity has become the nightmare of the mob" (MM 146-48).
- modern heroes: (CB 97) "Flaneur, apache, dandy and the rag-picker were so many roles to him. For the modern hero is no hero; he acts heroes. Heroic modernism turns out to be a Trauerspiel in which the hero's part is available"; it is hard to accept this view [flaneur's being one flesh with the crowd]. The man of the crowd is no flaneur" (CB 128).
- "While the urban crowd is the medium through which the flaneur moves, in Benjamin's view, this figure must on no account be equated with the 'man of the crowd', Poe's enigmatic, perpetual seeker of the multitudes. The reason for this rejection of Baudelaire's formulation is clear. For Benjamin, the distinctive heroism of the flaneur, whether poet or not, resides precisely in his refusal to become part of the crowd.
- (Tester 13) Capital imposed its own order on the metropolis as if from outside, . . .Benjamin proposes that the hollowness of the commodity form and, indeed, the hollowness of the egoistic individuals of capitalism is reflected in the flaneur. Flanerie is a desperate attempt to fill the emptiness even though it ais actually a resignation to it.
The flaneur, though grounded in everyday life, is an analytic form, a narrative device, an attitude towards knowledge and its social context. It is an image of movement through the social space of modernity. . .The flaneur is a multilayered palimpsest that enables us to move from real products of modernity, like commodification and leisured patriarchy, through the practical organization of space and its negotiation by inhabitants of a city, to a critical appreciation of the state of modernity and its erosion into the post- , and onwards to a reflexive understanding of the function, and purpose, of realist as opposed to hermeneutic epistemologies in the appreciation of those previous formations. (148)
-- It is an alternative 'vision', though one more optimistic than that founded on 'power-knowledge'. The wry and sardonic potential built reflexively into the flaneur enables resistance to the commodity form and also penetration into its mode of justification, precisely through its unerring scrutiny. . . .The march of modernity is checked by the Nietzschean dance of the flaneur. In addition, the sedentary mannerism of the flaneur: the 'retracing'; the 'rubbernecking'; and the 'taking a turtle for a walk'; are essentially critical rebuffs to the late-modern politics of speed, he is persistently ungainly. (149)
--I have sought to establish that the flaneur is no absolute methodological stance but rather a creative attitude of urban inquisition and a 'relative' absence of variable constraints. (156)
--The (post)modern flaneur can equally well recognize the real, as well as supposed, character of the city's threats, intimidations, menaces or simply challenges to free access. (157)
-- 'Minatorial geography'
MM: Gilloch, Graeme. Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the City, Cambridge:
CB: Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A lyric poet in the era of high capitalism. Trans.
Harry Zohn. NY: Verso, 1997.
Jenks, Chris. "Watching your Step: The History and Practice of the Flaneur."
Visual Culture. Ed. Chris Jenks. NY: Routledge, 1995.