Friday, July 24, 2009

Channeling the Flaneur

As I have embarked on this journey of all things beauty, it boggles my mind as to how enraptured I've become with tutorials, blogs, reviews, and hauls. When, literally, only a year or so ago I seemed to get by with just a couple of Smashbox trios and a Colorstay quartet. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't stay for more than a few hours (thanks UDPP et al.). Now, I am completely and utterly enthralled. The funny bit is that I worked in the fashion/make-up industry for a good decade and had the stuff shellacked on my face nearly every day, yet I couldn't begin to tell you how to reproduce those looks...until now...well, still trying to learn through all of the gurus.

I am reminded of a Victorianish french term called the flaneur. I feel a bit like the flaneur as I stroll the department stores, MAC counters, and drugstores. The sheer enormity of products, colors, and items on display can leave me wanting, tempting, and wishing I had a blackberry to look up a Make-up Alley review and make purchases.

Here is a very high brow description of the flaneur:

"Flâneur" is a word understood intuitively by the French to mean "stroller, idler, walker." He has been portrayed in the past as a well-dressed man, strolling leisurely through the Parisian arcades of the nineteenth century--a shopper with no intention to buy, an intellectual parasite of the arcade. Traditionally the traits that mark the flâneur 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. An anonymous face in the multitude, the flâneur is free to probe his surroundings for clues and hints that may go unnoticed by the others.

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 (Rignall 112). As an observer, the flâneur exists as both "active and intellectual" (Burton 1). 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" (Mellencamp 60).

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.

Walter Benjamin posits in his description of the flâneur that "Empathy is the nature of the
intoxication to which the flâneur abandons himself in the crowd. He . . . enjoys the incomparable privilege of being himself and someone else as he sees fit. Like a roving soul in search of a body, he enters another person whenever he wishes" (Baudelaire 55). In this way the flâneur parasite, dragging the crowd for intellectual food--or material for his latest novel (Ponikwer 139-140). In so doing, he wanders through a wonderland of his own construction, imposing himself upon a shop window here, a vagrant here, and an advertisement here. He flows like thought through his physical surroundings, walking in a meditative trance, (Lopate 88), gazing into the passing scene as others have gazed into campfires, yet "remain[ing] alert and vigilant" all the while (Missac 61) .

The flâneur is the
link between routine perambulation, in which a person is only half-awake, making his way from point A to point B, and the moments of chiasmic epiphany that one reads of in Wordsworth or Joyce. Like Poe’s narrators, he is acutely aware, a potent intellectual force of keen observation--a detective without a lead. If he were cast a character in the "drama of the world," he would be its consciousness.

The rest of the article can be found here: http://http//

If we take this lens and turn the gaze on on the youtubers, blogs, and ourselves, I think there might be an interesting relationship to be explored. Not every aspect of the flaneur can be equally transposed, but I believe a kinship becomes established though I would err more on the positive aspects of the flaneur. We are not all "educated," "well off," or "intellectuals." I realize that I'm getting awfully Lit Crit here, but I'd be interested in what you think on the subject.

Do we become flaneur like at times? If so, when and how?


  1. Enjoyed reading this. Let me let this ruminate in my head and I'll be back with some thoughts.
    As aside, I believe it's The Worlds Dresser who keeps and excel spreadsheet of her makeup collection on her Blackberry so that when she goes shopping, she can compare notes at the counter. Love this idea but have failed repeatedly to completing this task!

  2. Just read your post and aestheticcoo's comment. Wonderful. Lectured today on Nietzsche's advice to readers of his Geneaoloy of Morals that they "ruminate" on his thoughts in order to fully digest them. Seeing your blog and reading your thoughts (and a's response) after a long week reminded me of the importance of beauty even when we don't understand it or have it. Thank you, Lorla.

  3. to aestheticoo: Wow an excel spreadsheet..such dedication. Looking forward to your thoughts:)

  4. to Anon: Thank you for your support and the thought provoking insights:)

  5. I've been delayed with work and life in general to make a proper comment on your post. But it has stayed with me and different thoughts have come to my mind but nothing fits together per se.

    Here are those thoughts:
    - I was reminded of the song by Sting, 'I'm an Englishman in New York' something to do with the lyrics about him walking the streets of New York with a walking cane at his side.

    - After reading your post again, I realized that I've read Benjamin while studying art history in grad school. Can't say that I remember much but I think I had to translate an article or something...the cruel things they do to grad students:)

    - The idea of the arcade reminded me of architecture that has a pedestrian appeal (I can't think of the proper term for this). Personally, one of the best places I've acted out this flaneur sensibility is in Florence, Italy. Full of sites that are pedestrian friendly.

    -I'm reminded of studying the act of Buddhist monks perambulating around stupas. I think a interesting comparison could be made. I wonder how long the written concept of flaneur has been around?

    -Now, we 'perambulate' through the ether...You're right about the internet, i.e. youtube, blogs. There are so many points that could be made!:)
    Great post and thanks again for sharing:)