Wander, Walker, Tourist, Flâneur ?

June 9th, 2008 § 0 comments

“Americans are particularly ill-suited to be flâneurs…they are always driven by the urge towards self-improvement.”


This line, from one of my recent reads, seemed to underline the contradictions I feel as a wandering artist, and I found in writing my thesis that I always seem to come out somewhere in the middle of tourist and wanderer. Despite the title of the book (The Flâneur) I am still not sure about the rules of flânerie; not that it was the books intent to point them out. Since the author calls Atget a scientific flâneur, saying “a contradiction in terms, since flânerie is supposed to be purposeless”, perhaps contradictions are allowed. The Flâneur seemed like a collection of obscurities from a place that is overly scrutinized, stories intermixed with stories, bringing the marginalized to the forefront.

In my head I have the makings of a great tourist, another contradiction in terms. When I think about traveling the word that comes to mind is greedy, I want to see everything and go everywhere. I am annoyed that I can visit a country and not see the one right next to it. Perhaps what I desire most is some kind of endless vacation, moving from place to place after a few years, growing old and dying in a new place. This often sounds more interesting than confronting life, and life might look different in different parts of the world. When exploring a new city I want to see the famous things first, for the same reason everyone else does, so you can say you did.

My good tourist intentions, however, become muddled by my own curiosity and the pleasure I take in observing. I suppose I am more of a watcher than a doer. Pointless places, a small square, an ally with peeling paint, force detours. Even at home in Richmond, I tend to begin with a purpose, some kind of structure, the canal, the fan, and in my organized way I put a necessary task at the end of each “walk”, but the point is lost somewhere along the way and the task is postponed. I guess Americans have a very hard time admitting they did nothing, and an even harder time calculating out the value of what they did. Walking for little reason other than to create some kind of mental collection seems about the same as doing nothing.

I finished Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist. If the whole book could have been written in the style of the last few pages, I would have enjoyed it very much. I started it a few months ago, in the midst of everything, and went through periods of heavy reading replaced by nothing for weeks. Not a good way to read anything, least of all Joyce’s meandering biographical story, but his book read in sections as well, covering his childhood up through his departure from Trinity, Dublin, and apparently Paris. This book too came with maps inside, showing the routes where he walked and thought, and this book, like Dubliners, seems to rely on place. I expected not to like Joyce as he seems too treasured, and especially by his own sex. I am not really sure if I do like him, but I like his style of writing, his play with words and their sounds, and the manner in which he strings words together. Ulysses is somewhere on my reading list, although perhaps a bit far down.

“And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.”

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