Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Word of the Day is "Flaneur"

Sometimes, when I learn a new thing, I coincidentally encounter it again many times like a media blitz. Today's example of is the word of the day. Today's word is:

flâ·neur (flä-nûr')
n. An aimless idler; a loafer.

[French, from flâner, to idle about, stroll, of Germanic origin; see pelə-2 in Indo-European roots.]

When I read this definition I thought of a bum, a penniless, aimless wanderer; a bearded, smelly, mentally ill misanthrope. That's the picture I got from the word and kept it with me all day. In many ways it defines me. I like to often wander aimlessly, but not, I figure, in true flaneur style. I usually have a location in mind, but how and by what means I get there is up to chance. Flaneur. These days I can only aspire to be one.

I'd never seen that word before today.

Tonight, back home after visiting Jonny and Esther, I got online, checked e-mail, etc., and then did a Google search for down parkas. As I typed, the drop down menu of other searches I'd made came up, and the search for "hiker+blogs" appeared. I clicked on that link and clicked on Hiker Dude, and then a link from there to an article about a nerdy professor who hiked every street on Manhattan.

I checked out one titled A WALK TO REMEMBER, an advertisement/review of a Los Angeles urban art fair, where giving historical walking tours is treated like performance art.

In the article I found the following quote:

“For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy 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.” - Charles Baudelaire

And this text:

[The exhibition relates to Walter Benjamin’s concept of the flâneur as a figure who derives pleasure from the hustle and bustle of the city streets, who moves purposelessly among the urban crowd with the eye of an artist: a spectator of contemporary life and urban scenes. Yet, A Walk To Remember diverts from Benjamin’s idea when it examines a specific European phenomenon of the early 20th century: the postmodern condition of Los Angeles in which walking is clearly a thing of the past. In addition, in giving each walk a purpose and in trying to bring various locations and social and cultural relations of the city to the audience the exhibition reaches beyond what Benjamin described as an “aimless affair.]

The Flaneurs that Baudelaire references are Dandys of the 19th century, men who wore makeup, dressed flamboyantly, and acted out scenes on the streets of Paris to draw attention to themselves. Toulouse-Latrec's immortalized them in his paintings. Like this one:

(I first heard about Baudelaire ate age 16 when I read the biography of Jim Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive. I have a book of his poetry, but don't remember the title and haven't read it in years. )

Flaneurs, as it turns out upon further research, were men obsessed with their physical appearance in late 19th century Paris society. When I read the definition of it this morning, I imagined a classless Walt Whitman roaming the streets of Brooklyn and painting street scenes into his poetry. This image is the opposite of the Flaneur. Flaneurs are flamboyant, class-conscious, effeminiate precursors to today's metrosexuals. Flaneurs are nothing like the rugged, ragged image I kept with me all day.
"Burrows and Wallace show how New York embraced the idea of the flaneur -- of the disinterested, artistically inclined wanderer in the city, of what they call "city watching."-- Jed Perl, "The Adolescent City", New Republic, January 22, 2001
"The restricted hotel lobby has replaced the square or piazza as a public meeting place, and our boulevards, such as they are, are not avenues for the parade and observation of personality, or for perusal by the flaneur, but conveyor belts to the stores, where we can buy everything but human understanding.-- Anatole Broyard, "In Praise of Contact", New York Times, June 27, 1982
"Baudelaire saw the writer as a detached flaneur, a mocking dandy in the big-city crowd, alienated, isolated, anonymous, aristocratic, melancholic.-- Ian Buruma, "The Romance of Exile", New Republic, February 12, 2001

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