What exactly a flaneur is has never been satisfactorily defined, but among all the versions of the flaneur as everything from a primeval slacker to a silent poet, one thing remains constant: the image of an observant and solitary man strolling about Paris.
~Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust (2000)
Whilst the art of flanerie was the product of modernity and the practice of the bourgeois gentleman, it was in literature that the image of the flaneur was defined in the nineteenth century; in the work of Baudelaire and Benjamin as well as other artists and writers from every creative background. The flaneur highlighted change within modernity, and, more specifically, the urban landscape but he also provided a means by which to critique these changes and our experience of it.
One critic of the flaneur, Sally Munt, writes that “flanerie presupposes an urban epistemology,” a knowledge of the way things work. The “creative attitude” is one of the key characteristics that separate the flaneur from the idle walker, the everyday pedestrian. Walking is a fundamental part of life; everyone walks around the city but who actually looks at what they see? The flaneur’s “attitude of urban inquisition” is that of watching the city; he sees but he also observes – analysing the changes within the city. I would like to reiterate here a point made earlier about the flaneur being an observer of modernity, and modernity being the ephemeral and transitory part of beauty. In other words, s/he is an observer of change – the part of life which is constantly shifting. We may no longer be in the age of modernity, but ephemeral and transitory beauty, or change, is still a part of contemporary life.
The product of the flaneur’s “creative attitude,” whether it is literary or artistic, tangible or intangible, physical or metaphysical, is a methodology of flanerie: you may come to an internal conclusion or an external expression, or even an internal conclusion from the process of external expression or an external expression of an internal conclusion. In this way, the flaneur is not just a product of its time but is producing for itself an image of contemporary life.
He began by being an observer of life, and only later set himself the task of acquiring the means of expressing it.
Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life (1863)
There are many different ways in which we can experience spaces and how we can record and interpret these. Our experiences, and memories of these experiences alter depending on our interaction with the environment and other inhabitants of the space, as well as the unique, personal context we relate this experience within. I am particularly interested in relating these experiences of space to the written word – how we record these experiences, and in doing so produce ‘memories,’ using the connotations of language.
I started by taking a walk in Vienna, a city I didn’t know, choosing which route I took by subconscious desires. I recorded the walk by writing the directions I took… first left, right at the end of the road… and taking photos.
I discovered lots of new and interesting things on my walk in Vienna, but this is always going to be the case when you visit a city for the first time. I then chose to repeat my walk in London, following the directions I had written in Vienna. Following these strict directions helped me discover new things about the city I lived in, but the route will be very different with each person, time or location.
What follows is a selection of pages from the book that I produced…