e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “urban explorers”

The flâneur and the boulevardier

Rosler-LeFlaneurIn March I did a post on flânerie – the literary stroller and his environment. It was a new concept to me, but since then I’ve seen a couple of references to it. One of these introduces another stroller – the boulevardier and analyses the difference between them.

Add to these the urban explorer and the window shopper and you have a city full of wanderers. Striding past them are those who have a destination and roaming between them, the homeless.

The countryside doesn’t seem to be full of wandering – people work or hike or rush through in cars.

The cities mentioned in the various sources are modern and European – the flâneur and boulevardier seem to be 19th century French and the window shopper 20th century big cities. Were there such roamers in ancient Rome? in mediaeval Paris? or 18th century Beijing?

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Walking the city – modern flânerie

Online magazine, Stepaway, has released its latest issue today. I’m naturally excited, not just because it contains one of my flash fictions, but because it resurrects a literary idea – the flâneur or gentleman stroller.

To modern minds someone who has no job and spends his time wandering around the city in a kind of literary mood might sound anti-social, but in 19th century France, where he was born and lived, he was an explorer, a connoisseur of the streets and quite acceptable.

I doubt if the French flâneur would have had a high regard for modern urban explorers – investigating crumbling ruins or forgotten tunnels would ruin his elegant clothing and annoy his valet.

Stepaway magazine aims to put a modern spin on flânerie and looking at the current edition they succeed. The title comes from a poem by Frank O’Hara. His strolling was a bit constrained as he wasn’t unemployed, but nevertheless he did his best in the tradition. A Step Away from Them begins:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs.

I often wander around cities and many of my poems start when I’m on the move. I think other writers find the same. I don’t know if the original French strollers ever produced literature, but they are believed to have appreciated it and have inspired scholars and writers – enough justification for their wandering ways.

245x145xWalkThisMay15.jpg.pagespeed.ic.MSDH7-nCsSFor those more interested in serious walking, there is a National Walking Month (May 2015). This is a much more serious type of walking, but it is a chance to explore the streets and their literary possibilities.

The website belongs to an organisation called Living Streets which has a tagline of

Putting People First.

I’m all for that. I hate parts of cities where only vehicles can go.

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