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Alternative View of the Flâneur :: Crime, Scandal, Spectacle

Alternative View of the Flâneur

“The delight in immersing oneself in the crowd,” was not completely unmotivated, flâneurs were “being viewed with suspicion since the keen ‘reading’ of urban physiognomies shows an affinity with the business of criminals and detectives” (Lauster 139). Walking the streets and following different individuals was not entirely innocent but rather, resembles stalking and often lead to criminal activities. The flâneur was an “unknown man who arranges his walk through London in such a way that he always remains in the middle of a crowd,” (McDonough 106) he used this to remain unnoticed when stalking people on the boulevards. Following individuals through the streets of Paris, watching what they do, whom they talk to and other actions was not purely to satisfy curiosity but often lead to crime. The flâneur held a particular fascination with crime; “his wandering through the streets as themselves perhaps criminal acts, inevitable leading him into crime” (McDonough). This apparent fascination with crime is the motivation behind the two deviant roles the flâneur may take on. The flâneur may use this interest in crime in a criminal nature, stalking his victim to ultimately murder or rape them. On the other hand, the flâneur may utilize his interest in crime through detective work; following individuals in order to solve a murder or other crime. The ability to blend into a crowd and operate as essentially invisible, in addition to the flâneur’s impeccable knowledge of the city were the essential facets of their ability to engage in detective or criminal-like behaviors. Walter Benjamin argued, “ no matter what trail the flâneur may follow, every one of them will lead him to crime” (McDonough 116), articulating the dual criminal and detective aspects of flânerie. Warehime argues the detective nature of the flâneur by examining Patrick Modiano’s writing on Dora Bruder. The telling of the story of her life is “the result of his personal research as a detective, an historian, and a flâneur who attempted to retrace her steps” (Warehime 108). He was able to tell the events of her life by retracing her footsteps and acting as a detective. In order to do so, Modiano utilizes the flâneur’s knowledge of the city and ability to remain incognito in order to discover the specific events of her past. “As detective-flâneur he also visits the “scene of the crime,”” to continue detecting the story of her life. In regards to criminal behavior, the same skills of the flâneur were utilized but to commit crimes rather than detective behaviors. “The flâneur-detective and the criminal became mirrors of each other, indistinguishable along the streets of the metropolis,” both hiding their true motivations under the cover of flânerie.  The flâneur would not start wondering the street of Paris and following people if there were not an alternative motivation behind his behavior. McDonough’s points lead to the argument that the flâneur is not innocent at all; there is an underlying motivation behind wondering the streets of Paris. They used the ability to blend into the crowd and knowledge of the city to their advantage to successfully execute a crime.

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