Walter Benjamin on The Flâneur

“Before Haussmann wide pavements were rare, and the narrow ones afforded little protection from vehicles. Strolling could hardly have assumed the importance it did without the arcades.

Paris Arcade

“The arcades, a rather recent invention of industrial luxury,’ so says an illustrated guide to Paris of 1852, ‘are glass-covered, marble-panelled passageways through entire complexes of houses whose proprietors have combined for such speculations. Both sides of these passageways, which are lighted from above, are lined with the most elegant shops, so that such an arcade is a city, even a world, in miniature.’ It is in this world that the flâneur is at home; he provides ‘the favourite sojourn of the strollers and the smokers, the stamping ground of all sorts of little métiers’,’ with its chronicler and its philosopher. As for him-self, he obtains there the unfailing remedy for the kind of boredom that easily arises under the baleful eyes of a satiated reactionary regime. In the words of Guys as quoted by Baudelaire, ‘Anyone who is capable of being bored in a crowd is a blockhead. I repeat: a blockhead, and a contemptible one.’ The arcades were a cross between a street and an intérieur. If one can speak of an artistic device of the physiologies, it is the proven device of the feuilleron, namely, to turn a boulevard into an intérieur. The street 4a becomes a dwelling for the flâneur; he is as much at home among the façades of houses as a citizen is in his four walls. To him the shiny, enamelled signs of businesses are at least as good a wall ornament as an oil painting is to a bourgeois in his salon. The walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks; news-stands are his libraries and the terraces of cafés are the balconies from which he looks down on his household after his work is done. That life in all its variety and inexhaustible wealth of variations can thrive only among the grey cobblestones and against the grey background of despotism was the political secret on which the physiologies were based.”

From Charles Baudelaire by Walter Benjamin published by Verso which comprises of extracts from The Arcades Project

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