#4 Are you a Flâneur?
From my welcome email, you may remember my newsletters are built around a French word that decided to stubbornly stay in the back of my mind for quite a while.
But, before digging into the subject...a question...
Are you the kind of person that likes to take long walks?
Not because you don't have a choice but because you have a visceral urge that puts you in motion?! There is something therapeutical in taking long walks, being there with your thoughts…scary, right? 🤣 Anything is solved by walking or, if you prefer a pompous and equally scrumptious expression with the same meaning, use Solvitur Ambulando. You will impress some folks!
Jokes aside, but this is not the kind of walk I want to talk to you about.
I want you to join me for a different kind of walk today, one of roaming and wondering and flâneuring around. Of course, it's a virtual one because, traditionally, two is a crowd for this walk.
Flâneur. My word for today
The word flâneur became well-known thanks to Baudelaire. As he nicely put it in Le peintre de la vie Moderne (in English "The Painter of modern life"):
"The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define"
To be completely honest, I researched the word for a better understanding, and I had a surprising and beautiful encounter with Baudelaire as an art critic. Therefore, I left the newsletter aside and started reading some of his writing on art. This is what I usually do, and that's why I never finish a book but start tons. (Not proud of this, but...)
What really strikes me is that Baudelaire wrote an essay about the painter of modern life, and he did not choose his friend, Manet, for this role. He actually decided on Constantin Guy (Monsieur G ). I had no idea who he was, so I searched for him. Of course, I left the newsletter aside...again…
But I discovered that he was a brilliant illustrator (see below some of his works)... absolutely stunning, yet, to consider him as the Painter of Modern life...
Baudelaire wrote the essay "The painter of modern life" in 1863. At that time, he had a close friendship with Édouard Manet. So, why didn't Baudelaire chose his friend Manet as "the painter of modern life"... it's unknown, at least to me. Not to mention that his painting, Le dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) is considered the starting point of Modern art.
But I digress...
I started with the word flâneur, and now I am talking about art. Maybe because, in my mind, they are so connected.
Before Baudelaire, it was Edgar Allen Poe who wrote about "the man of the crowd." His guy was not really a flâneur, or maybe it was Poe's type of flâneur, a dark, obsessive type. Or, better yet, who was the flâneur in his story? (this should be an open thread, after you read it, let me know who do you think it was).
Tip: read "Man of the crowd" by E.A. Poe while listening to The Police Every breath you take (which, btw is NOT a love song) Oh, Johnnie, you will never walk the streets alone...never, again.
Flâneur was a guy with money and social status that allows him to wander freely wherever he wants. These are also why you will not find a female counterpart before the latest stages of the 19th century. Or at least, not publicly. But, if you want to read about this, Lauren Elkin wrote a thrilling book -Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London.
I love the cover; the fellow flâneur looks good in green. 🤣
The term flâneur received different meanings in time, very far from the initial artistic/Parisian one.I read an incredible article written in 2012 on the death of cyberflâneurs.1
I had no idea about their birth... 😳
At any rate, the article is excellent. I loved the comparison of Baron Haussmann with Mark Zuckenberg:
“But if today's Internet has a Baron Haussmann2, it is Facebook. Everything that makes cyberflânerie possible — solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking — is under assault by that company”
But I am an old soul and very much fond of the artistic flâneur. I like reading more about the "gastronomy of the eye " as Balzac called the flânerie than reading about Geocities and cyberflâneurs. Although, I have to admit that they had their place in our lives due to Covid 19 pandemic. Maybe we will get to experience the Rise of Cyberflâneurs...what a movie title this could be 😀
I like to think that we all are flâneurs if only we could stop the mind from planning and processing while walking and enjoying the surroundings. This is why, a flâneur is different than a tourist. He has no checklist in place when walking the streets. There is curiosity in both of them, but the flâneur has it for the meaning of things and gets it from unexpected places, not necessarily from a must-see hot spot. Put a camera in their hands, and you will see the difference in their pictures...
There are multiple “ways of seeing” as John Berger said. Seeing is so intimately linked with each of us. This is why even if we look at the same thing, we will always experience it differently. And seeing is different than looking as they originate from different places. We look at things with our eyes, but we see their meaning with our hearts. Or at least we could, if only we stop our minds and allow ourselves to see
...And this is for me the essence of the flâneur.
That’s for today.
If you have any questions/suggestions/recommendations,you know the drill.. just hit reply. I love hearing from you.
Also, I leave here some art pieces (from impressionist paintings to street photography) that I believe reflects well the concept:
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