During the second week of ‘Art & Design in Context’ we had a lecture and discussion focusing on the teachings of ‘The Flaneur’. Baudelaire’s Flaneur derived from Edgar Alan Poe’s works, a Flaneur is a stroller, a loiterer. An individual who ambles through a city without apparent purpose, he is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of somewhat adventure in terms of anything aesthetic, visual or even erotic.
Though I am stating that a ‘Flaneur’ is a ‘he’, from the lecture I have learnt that in this case it may not necessarily be true due to The Flaneur being a concept and not specifically a person.
The term ‘Flaneur’ origninated from the French masculine noun ‘Flaneur’, which holds simply the meaning of ‘stroller’, ‘lounger’, or ‘saunter’. In other words, ‘ a person who walks the city in order to experience it’.
The idea of The Flaneur has accumulated significant meaning as a ‘referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity’, due to the term’s usage and theorisation by Baudelaire in fields of cultural, literacy and historical.
The Flaneur often has negative connotations and is rarely used to describe strolling present in Canada because the term is commonly referred to ‘loitering’ [‘The act of remaining in a particular public place for a protracted time, under certain circumstances, it is illegal in various jurisdictions.]
☆Baudelaire characterised the Flaneur as a ‘gentleman stroller of the city streets’. He saw the Flaneur as having a key role in understanding, participating and portraying the city.
☆A Flaneur played a double life in city life and in theory, that is, while remaining a detached observer.
☆Architecture and urban planning: The concept of the Flaneur has also become meaningful in architecture and urban planning.
Traits of The Flaneur
☆Portrayed in the past as a well dressed man, strolling leisurely through the Parisian arcades of the 19th century.
☆A shopper with no intention to buy, an interllectual Parasite of the arcade.
☆Traditionally the traits of marking the Flaneur are wealth, education and idleness.
☆He strolls to pass the time that his wealth affords him, treating the people who pass and the objects he sees as texts for his own pleasure.
Baudelaire’s Flaneur is:
☆No visible means of income
☆Urban, contemporary, stylish.
☆Part of the crowd yet unpart of the crowd.
☆Distant [aloof] and unreadable, blase.
★Haussmannisation of Paris
Picture I drew in sketchbook
This lead on to the discussion of the ‘Hassumannisation of Paris’, a project centralised on the modernisation of Paris, called the ‘Haussmann’s Renovation of Paris’ or the ‘Haussmann plan’. This project was commissioned by Nepoleon III and lead by Baron Haussmann, taking place between 1852 and 1870. It was considered a life changing project due to rebuilding the city to ensure that the buildings matched or reflected one another in both size and appearance. The project helped to clear slums by essentially ‘opening up the city’, expanding local businesses, the streets were expanded to help ease the problems with traffic by providing more space for flow and movement, commercial streets, zoning for cafe.
It was known as ‘creative destruction’ The planning was influenced by many factors, not the least of which was the city’s history of street revolutions. Haussmann’s approach to urban planning unsurprisingly was criticised by some of his contemporaries, also ignored for part of the 20th century. Though some time on, was re-evaluated when ‘modern approached to urban planning became discredited’.
The reconstructuring of Paris presented the city with modern long, straight wide boulevards. This exuded a new type of urban feel and scenario with the cafes and shops, and have had a profound influence on the daily lives of Parisians.
Later on, we discussed the pros and cons of how the Haussmann’s project affected the citizens of Paris. We concluded this by imagining the modern streets of Paris, the pros were that this project essentially created wider space and a more modern environment which benefitted the people. More space meant buildings, traffic were less crowded almost as if providing more freedom. This was also a positive aspect for Baudelaire’s Flaneur as he had more space and area to observe people and places.
The negative factor was that since the streets and buildings were parrallel, it was difficult for The Flaneur to blend in and remain aloof.
☆’City of Glass’ by Paul Auster
The next task which was set was for individuals to read chapter 8 of the book ‘City of Glass’ and use the concept of The Flaneur and further apply it to what we learnt from what we read. The idea of the Flaneur was indeed present in the book; initially I was a little confused to what the chapter was about but with further reading I slowly got stuck into it.
Below are some questions and answers about the book which we discussed in groups, but as I read the chapter for the second time, I came up with my own theories of the comparison.
★ “Based on the reading of the Flaneur and City of Glass, can Quinn or Stillman be considered a Flaneur?”
From my perspective, we as an audience seem to be Flaneur ourselves, from what Stillman and Quinn sees and observes through their eyes seems to be transmitted back to us as readers. Essentially as Quinn is observing Stillman, we are observing Quinn and also Stillman from Quinn [if that makes any sense].
I think that Quinn and Stillman both meet the description of what is identified as a ‘Flanuer’ due to them both observing people and the environment, yet at the same time they are also not Flaneurs. Quinn, who obviously possesses a motive, which a real Flaneur will not. As a typical Flaneur would observe without ‘apparent purpose, he is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of somewhat adventure’. From this we can compare to Quinn, who is, throughout the entire chapter, spying or stalking Stillman- therefore Quinn does have a purpose, he is trying to figure out Stillman’s actions and purposes.
Though on the other hand, when Quinn takes on the role of Auster, he stated that supposedly ‘Auster was no more than a name to him, a husk without consent, to be Auster meant being a man with no interior, a man with no thoughts’. This description gives me the impression that he is clarifying that while being Auster, he is indeed a Flaneur.
From what Quinn documented, he seems bemused by the fact that Stillman seems to have no intention in his routine as he thinks: ‘No matter how haphazard his journeys seemed to be-and each day his itinerary was different-Stillman never crossed these borders. Such precision baffled Quinn, for in all other respects Stillman seemed to be aimless’.
From Quinn’s theory, this makes us think that Stillman could be considered a Flaneur, the way he picks up random things and wanders in different places without apparent purpose.
Though as the story progresses, Stillman does actually have a purpose, the directions and movements he makes forms patterns as Quinn notes, baffled, they form letters of a sort. Seeming to give Quinn a message; Stillman does not seem to be so simple after all…he has a purpose, therefore both move away from the concept of The Flaneur.
☆“What can we learn from the act of recording/mapping in terms of thought processes, how can we use this?”
It is inevitable to not note down or document what we see on a daily basis, each day we see or learn something new, or in some cases for example if I was to go past an area everyday, I may dismiss the detail of that area until I observe one day and notice something new which I have not previously noticed before. This could be an example of recording something even in memory. These thought processes could help designers further their thought processes or give inspirations of a sort.
☆“To what extent could the Flaneur’s character exist in 21st century London?”
In my opinion the concept of the Flaneur exists everywhere in contemporary society. Not necessarily limiting to walking around alone and observing people, but everyone, with the mordern technology today and the expansion of social networking. A prime example is Twitter, individuals are documenting what they see or feel during a certain time, and tweet it eg. ‘Today on the bus it was so crowded!’ or ‘The penguins were so cute! You should see them jumping around!’ Most commonly people would post pictures taken at that event and share it on the net for their friends to see. This, is an example of a Flaneur; seeing things and documenting it in a modern way, therefore in contemporary society, the Flaneur’s character exists eveywhere. From a photographer capturing the beauty of the morning sky by taking photos or people on a social networking website.
★“Consider the structure of New York and London. How could that affect Quinn/Stillmans maps if it had taken place in London?”
If the Flaneur took place in London, or in Quinn/Stillman’s position it would have been difficult for Quinn to follow Stillman due to the narrow structure of the streets, therefore Quinn would have not been able to follow Stillman properly and require more effort to follow him without being noticed. In New York the streets would have been more straight in juxtaposition with London’s and so Stillman would have been able to create more clearer letters and defined movements.
★★★Individual mapping task…
Mapping out your practice
Think about the brief (‘The Map & the Territory’) and about your design practice.
Here is mine…