Posts Tagged ‘flaneur’
I think of the puzzles and spaces of the 1995 Sierra game Shivers as an extension and ambient accompaniment to the game’s soundtrack. No game that I have since played captures mood so well – the sound and feel of mystery, danger, anticipation, uncanniness and solitude. The rooms are themed exhibits in an abandoned museum “of the Strange and Unusual”. They recall a very Museum of Jurassic Technology-ish type of eclecticism, mixing anecdote and legend with fact, preferring poetic allusion to information visualization.
Most delightful of all, various classic puzzles often inspired from ancient devices act as the gatekeepers to the microworlds of each exhibit. Sound plays a key role in evoking the tactile and kinetic qualities of these mind-toys – the sound of clicks and whirs and small metal balls rolling down granite passageways. The patient mechanical unfolding of the puzzle processes the ambient soundtrack, so that solving the puzzle becomes a means of listening to the music, the way dancing offers a solution to a beat. Here, the player experiences the sound of thinking.
These texts and clips had me thinking about the relationship between the modernist concern with contingency (starting with the ubiquitous presence of photographic arts from the early 20th century onwards) and the movement of situationism as it flourished in the late 50s and 60s – I see another line or relationship between the flaneur, the nomad, the cyborg and the situationist as precursors of immersive arts/installations practitioners…immersion is basically the design of playful space.
Debord advised drifters to allow themselves to be guided by those features of the street neglected by most pedestrians, like “the sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters” and the “path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the contour of the ground)”. the determinants of drift, apparently, were alternations in emotional and ambient intensity; “the appealing or repelling characters of certain places”; and the drifter’s tendency to “drain” along relatively unresistant paths, “the fissures in the urban network”. The Lettrist International even “envisaged a pinball machine arranged in such a way that the play of the lights and the more or less predictable trajectories of the balls” would represent the “thermal sensations and desires of people passing by the gates of the Cluny Museum around an hour after sunset in November,” as though drifters were like ball bearings, propelled through the city’s channels by the energized “pins” of the unities of ambiance.
Simon Sadler, The Situationist City
Doane argues that early film showcases “time becoming visible as the movement of bodies through space”
Mary Anne Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive
Mark Shiel, Cinema and the City in History and Theory in Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context, edited by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice.
Mary Anne Doane and Mark Shiel make arguments for opposing conceptions of cinema as escape valve for modernity’s alienation from “lived time” and as a postmodern transformation of simulacra into “lived space”.
According to Doane, “the technique of metropolitan life” implies the development of a consciousness regularly leached of meaningful experience by the systematic “shock” of paradoxically both the excessive presence of the present in the form of a barrage of urban stimuli and the alienation of subjectivity from its own present by the logic of capitalist labor. Doane’s essentially psychological (Freudian?) argument is that this constant condition of collective trauma is the origin of a schism in our conception of time – between a time characterized by “the most punctual integration of all activities and natural relations into a stable and impersonal schedule” (the time created by railroad logistics, punch-cards and wrist-watches) and the time that takes shape in the experience of cinema, which offers “the technological promise…of immortality, the denial of the radical finitude of the human body, access to other temporalities” and, contra the traumatized time of daily modern life, can be archived, re-captured, indexed, “rematerialized”. Cinema in this case become a collective prosthetic imitation of memory, a mechanized algorithm for the production of the lived time that has been lost in the business of a modernist logic that “spends” time instead of holding onto it.
This new or other cinematic time is constructed around a double absence: the phenomenological gap resulting from the fact that cinema is a juxtaposition of still frames, and therefore fails to reproduce (according to Bergson) true time/movement, and the diegetic gap constituted by editing, which dislocates the linear flow of time. This phantom, uncanny time, resurrected/ “relived”, “haunted” by its own fabricated past, becomes a site for experiments in fresh meaning-making, for the presentation and representation of the kind of life that “results from immanence and embodiment”. Out of perversity or driven by a utopian desire for the impossible, Doane argues that photography/cinema, or at least their proponents, seek to transform the contingent, the arbitrary (the non-contextualized moment, “that which is beyond or resistant to meaning”) into that which is most authentically (because instantaneously) meaningful. From a classicist point of view, this reconfiguration of time into a present of memory (and nostalgic memory of the present) is equivalent to attempting to achieve a sort of alchemy – in spatial terms, to conflate surface and depth.
This argument that cinema exists in a time of its own is curiously echoed (or produced in a postmodernist reverse/mirror effect) in Mark Shiel’s argument for the understanding of cinema as its own “spatial system”, a space that is present/constitutes a present rather than merely a “textual system”, a system of representation. Using the city as a metaphor for cinema as well as the site of (Hollywood) cinema’s very concrete expansionist/imperialist practices, Shiel points out that film has long ceased to be a factor amongst many in the progression of globalization, but constitutes its basic engine – that in a sense globalization is about the colonization of ‘real’ urban space by the space of cinema, by the imaginary of the cinematic presence / present.
Walter Benjamin, The Poet of Modern Life
Tim Cresswell, Imagining the Nomad: Mobility and the Postmodern Primitive (from Space and Social Theory, Interpreting Modernity and Postmodernity, edited by George Benko and Ulf Strohmayer)
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
Tim Cresswell traces many postmodern theorists’ (De Certeau, Deleuze and Guattari, Ian Chambers) enthusiasm for the trope of the nomad to Benjamin’s articulation of flanerie, i.e. the activity of wandering through the crowded city, exercising one’s gaze on the varied, ephemeral spectacle of urban life and being gazed at in return, as a preeminently modern experience of social space.
What differentiates the ‘modern’ flaneur from the postmodern nomad (where, for argument’s sake, we understand nomad as a theoretical construct rather than as a ‘real’, historical subject) ? Despite the mobility and anonymity of the flaneur as a subject/object of desire (consumption) steering a course in the flow of urban lived space (or representational space in Lefevrian terms), he remains a contextualized entity, culturally and metaphorically ensconced in a proper place, namely 1860s Paris and its geography of flaneur-friendly arcades. Baudelaire’s poetry, which Benjamin mines for clues of the flaneur condition, is evocative because it refers so concretely to the representational/lived space of Paris, a space that can be characterized as having a multiple, ambiguous (Baudelaire depicts nameless streets vs. landmarks) but nevertheless very tangible identity.
The flaneur is at home in the shifting, fluid unwinding of urban spatiality. This space, which he traverses according to personal habit, endows him with a certain flavor, attitude, a point of view that constitutes a form of identity – an identity that Benjamin argues is that of a commodity. There is nothing reified, however, about Baudelaire’s precise, concrete, rich description of the flaneur’s experience, which emphatically contradicts the notion that mobility is necessarily tied to the experience of space as abstract, empty, or isotropic (Deleuze and Guattari). The flaneur embodies that very modern idea of at-homeness within the fractures of society, of working with the destabilizing forces of space-time compression that shake up fixed places.
De Certeau adds miltary metophors to the poetic aura of the flaneur – Tim Cresswell dubs this new figure “pedestrian hero”, the tactician of everyday life, the lone consumer who is engaged in recapturing the representations of a space daily traversed from the “strategists” or masters of abstract space (the producers of capitalist space/power structures) through an infinite series of tiny narrative gestures or metaphorical inscriptions of one’s footsteps/traces in the city. This figure, more so than the flaneur, takes part in a spatial politics as a sort of everyman guerillero, producing infinite spatial possibilities – Borges’ aleph, what Edward Soja would call Thirdspace – from reified spatial product.
The term nomad more properly applies to De Certeau’s pedestrian than to the flaneur insofar as the pedestrian is not embedded in a place (19th century Paris) but produces ephemeral, personally specific places wherever he or she goes. The identity of such a pedestrian is mysterious – the making of “spatial stories”, as De Certeau puts it, is a means to produce a richly significant experience of the everyday, but what imprint does this plethora of microscopic narratives leave within the pedestrian’s sense of self? Does this pedestrian have any allegiance other than to himself?