Flâneurs and the "Gastronomy of the Eye"

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On route to explaining why cyberflânerie isn’t flourshing online, Evgeny Morozov rekindles the joys of real-world flânerie:

“Engaging the history of flânerie may be a good way to start answering these questions. Thanks to the French poet Charles Baudelaire and the German critic Walter Benjamin, both of whom viewed the flâneur as an emblem of modernity, his figure (and it was predominantly a “he”) is now firmly associated with 19th-century Paris. The flâneur would leisurely stroll through its streets and especially its arcades — those stylish, lively and bustling rows of shops covered by glass roofs — to cultivate what Honoré de Balzac called “the gastronomy of the eye.”

While not deliberately concealing his identity, the flâneur preferred to stroll incognito. “The art that the flâneur masters is that of seeing without being caught looking,” the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman once remarked. The flâneur was not asocial — he needed the crowds to thrive — but he did not blend in, preferring to savor his solitude. And he had all the time in the world: there were reports of flâneurs taking turtles for a walk.

The flâneur wandered in the shopping arcades, but he did not give in to the temptations of consumerism; the arcade was primarily a pathway to a rich sensory experience — and only then a temple of consumption. His goal was to observe, to bathe in the crowd, taking in its noises, its chaos, its heterogeneity, its cosmopolitanism. Occasionally, he would narrate what he saw — surveying both his private self and the world at large — in the form of short essays for daily newspapers.”

Evgeny Morozov uses flânerie to revisit his ideas that the Internet isn’t particularly a force for good. But if flâneurs ceased to exist in the real world, why should we expect it to be the opposite online?

He also quotes the German writer Franz Hessel that “in order to engage in flânerie, one must not have anything too definite in mind.” But, ironically, even while lamenting that Google and Facebook will all but make cyberflânerie impossible – Morozov himself is too definite and defined by his own agenda. Unlike the flâneur who knows not what he cares about, Morozov only knows what he cares about, seemingly uninclined to explore any other ideas or spaces.

It seems what’s holding back flânerie is not that our surroundings (offline and online) make it impossible to practice – but that we ourselves lack the self-realisation or the inclination to do so.

Image via Flickr

Original Post: http://www.misentropy.com/2012/02/fl%C3%A2neurs-and-the-gastronomy-of-the-eye.html