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Literary Tourist as Flaneur


Notre Dame de Lorette, Paris

“But the great reminiscences, the historical shudder – these are a trumpery which he (the flaneur) leaves to tourists, who think thereby to gain access to the genius loci with a military password. Our friend may well keep silent. At the approach of his footsteps, the place has roused; speechlessly, mindlessly, its mere intimate nearness gives him hints and instructions. He stands before Notre Dame de Lorette, and his soles remember: here is the spot where in former times the cheval de renfort – the spare horse – was harnessed to the omnibus that climbed the Rue des Martyrs toward Montmartre. Often, he would have given all he knows about the domicile of Balzac or of Gavarni, about the site of a surprise attack or even of a barricade, to be able to catch the scent of a threshold or to recognize a paving stone by touch, like any watchdog.”

***

“The street conducts the flaneur into a vanished time. For him, every street is precipitous. It leads downward – if not to the mythical Mothers, then into a a past that can be all the more spellbinding because it is not his own, not private. Nevertheless, it always remains the time of a childhood. But why that of the life he he has lived? In the asphalt over which he passes, his steps awaken a surprising resonance. The gaslight that streams down on the paving stones throws an equivocal light on this double ground.”

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Harvard University Press, 1999)

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