Notes on the Flâneur
As a member of the crowd that populates the streets, the flâneur participates physically in the text that he observes while performing a transient and aloof autonomy with a “cool but curious eye” that studies the constantly changing spectacle that parades before him (1).
As an observer, the flâneur exists as both “active and intellectual” (2).
As a literary device, one may understand him as a narrator who is fluent in the hieroglyphic vocabulary of visual culture. When he assumes the form of narrator, he plays both protagonist and audience–like a commentator who stands outside of the action, of whom only the reader is aware, “float[ing] freely in the present tense” (3).
The flâneur has no specific relationship with any individual, yet he establishes a temporary, yet deeply empathetic and intimate relationship with all that he sees–an intimacy bordering on the conjugal–writing a bit of himself into the margins of the text in which he is immersed, a text devised by selective disjunction(4).
(1) Rignall, J. Benjamin’s Flâneur and the Problem of Realism. The Problems of Modernity: Adorno and Benjamin. ED Andrew Benjamin. London. Routledge 1989
(2) Burton, R. The Flâneur and His City. Durham : U of Durham P, 1994.
(3) Mellencamp, P., Last Seen in the Streets of Modernism. East West Film Journal, 1988
(4) Baudelaire, C. The Flowers of Evil. Ed. Marthiel and Jackson Mathews. Trans. C. F. MacIntyre. New York : New Directions, 1989