Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tom Yest is walking? Walking in the rain...

Here are the notes from Professor X's last lecture:


Paris and the Intersections of Urbanity and Humanity

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 New Wave film À bout de souffle (Breathless) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2003 The Dreamers are populated by characters who self-consciously inhabit mediated versions of themselves, or, more accurately, mediated versions of the types they wish to be. Godard’s protagonist Jean-Paul Belmondo and Bertolucci’s Isabelle and Theo define themselves only insofar as they intentionally reflect characters drawn from the history of film.

Similarly, and also within the Parisian context, the flâneur, who Walter Benjamin identifies as the “alienated man," finds himself as pure reflection (of himself) from the windows he walks past. Because he is alienated both geographically as well as socio-economically—he stands at the margins of both Paris and the bourgeoisie—he exists outside the realm of the real and outside the domain of a politically efficacious class. That is, his bourgeois-ness is negatively defined: not nobility and not proletariat. The only inherent characteristic linking him to his class is not economic but lifestyle; namely, a lack of manual labor. Yet, Paris and the bourgeoisie have called the flâneur into being, for it is only within the urban milieu among so many other men who, like Louis-Phillippe, also have declared Paris their “native city,” and within the non-working class that such a type could exist.

Moreover, his walks about the city are entirely mediated by urban planning; therefore, when he goes out for a walk, it is only within the confines of a purely artificial and manufactured space. This interiority, especially that of the department stores and arcades, informs not only the urban landscape but the identity of the flâneur as well, who seeks “his asylum in the crowd” while concurrently asserting his individuality. He dresses the part of the flâneur and surely encounters others just like him on the streets of Paris, but he remains alone as he blends into the crowd: there is no social intercourse among all these individual wanderers and window-shoppers.

A key factor in the life of the flâneur is that of documentation. Benjamin reminds us that “living means leaving traces." However, this documentation, particularly within the medium of the daguerreotype, was also the reference point at which he completed his identification as flâneur: the camera captures the Parisian street scene, further demarcating that space as that of the flâneur. The medium re-informs his self-perception in the same way as previous films re-inform Godard’s and Bertolucci’s characters. Benjamin himself also plays the role of the self-referential, self-conscious flâneur in his work with its meandering, stream-of-conscious analysis of the arcades, linguistically reconstructing and reconstituting those very same arcades as the site inhabited by the flâneur.


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