“The chief means of travel will be walking,”  Gruen said, of his reimagined metropolis. “Nothing like walking for peace of mind.” 

– ­­Victor Gruen

 

I straighten my papers
I set up a schedule
My days will be busy
I don’t have a minute to lose
I write.

Blaise Cendrars in Complete Poems, 1992, tr. Ron Padgett

“There is no truth. There’s only action, action obeying a million different impulses, ephemeral action, action subjected to every possible imaginable contingency and contradiction. Life.”

– Blaise Cendrars

 

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 flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to self 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 – such are a few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family…

– From, Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” trans. Jonathan Mayne, in The Painter of Modem Life and Other Essays (London; Phaidon, 1964).

The arcades are, certainly, a “primordial landscape of consumption”- temples of the commodity, with their seductively displayed, endlessly varied wares: “binoculars and flower seeds, screws and musical scores, makeup and stuffed vipers, fur coats and revolvers”.

Christopher Rollason in The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West
, quoting from Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project.

 

The cafes are full

With gourmets, with smokers;

The theaters are packed

With cheerful spectators.

The arcades are swarming

With gawkers, with enthusiasts,

And pickpockets wriggle

Behind the flaneurs.

– Ennorie and Lemoine, Paris la nuit. Cited by Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press, 2002.

 

Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically teaches viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.

Alain de Botton

The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”

Susan SontagOn Photography

 

When I first read Walter Benjamin and his writings about Baudelaire, the whole notion of the flaneur was a revelation for me. That was one of the most important books of my life.

Philip Lopate

Until 1870, the carriage ruled the streets. On the narrow sidewalks, the pedestrian was extremely cramped, and so strolling took place principally in the arcades, which offered protection from bad weather and traffic. “Our larger streets and our wider sidewalks are suited to the sweet flanerie was impossible except in the arcades.” Flaneur, Edmond Beaurepaire, Paris d’hier et d’aujourd’hui: La Chronique de rues (Paris 1900), p.67.

– Quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press