Flânerie

  
  

(Fernando Pessoa, Bob Dylan, James Joyce, Jose Garcia Villa)

Highly self-aware, and to a certain degree flamboyant and theatrical, dandies of the mid-nineteenth century created scenes through outrageous acts like walking turtles on leashes down the streets of Paris. Such acts exemplify a flâneur’s active participation in and fascination with street life while displaying a critical attitude towards the uniformity, speed, and anonymity of modern life in the city. (Wikipedia)

The flâneur is a Baudelairean “gentleman stroller of city streets,” a notion at odds with the efficient bourgeoisie of the urbanized and industrialized 19th century. The flâneur is a saunterer, idly meandering the labyrinthine city streets, observing everything with a detached, aesthetic gaze–and flânerie, according to Balzac, is “the gastronomy of the eye.” He is an amateur in the original French sense of “lover,” and a dilettante in the positive Italian sense of “one who delights.” Thus, while he is removed from the action, the flâneur is intellectually engaged. Like Pessoa’s effete Álvaro de Campos regarding the tobacco shop across the street from his apartment window.

I’m nothing.
I’ll always be nothing.
I can’t want to be something.
But I have in me all the dreams of the world.

Windows of my room,
The room of one of the world’s millions nobody knows
(And if they knew me, what would they know?),
You open onto the mystery of a street continually crossed by people…

Borges  Borges  Borges

(Jorge Luis Borges)

Here, I adopt this same stance, this mode of perceiving, in my rambling excursions… to where? I would like to say cyberspace, but expand its meaning to encompass the world of knowledge constructed and controlled by men in the Borgesian sense of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. (Yes, including Wikipedia.)

It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… directed by an obscure man of genius. Individuals mastering these diverse disciplines are abundant, but not so those capable of inventiveness and less so those capable of subordinating that inventiveness to a rigorous and systematic plan. This plan is so vast that each writer’s contribution is infinitesimal… [It] is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

Orbis Tertius is a fictitious planet. A Third World. It is the library of Babel, an endless labyrinth devised and deciphered by men, a garden of forking paths. The orb (globe) evokes the metaphor of the sphere in universal history: it is Xenophanes’ one god, Plato’s geometric perfection, Aristotle’s unmoved mover, Ptolemy’s concentric orbits, Dante’s divine cosmology, Pascal’s infinite sphere, Blake’s fearful symmetry. (Einstein’s space-time manifold?) It also evokes the Aleph, the iridescent all-seeing sphere–the device from which to peer at this world in all its multifarious details all at once, entire.

I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth…

The metaphor thus circumscribes both the one and the many.

Flânerie, more than anything, is an excursion into the arcades of the mind, where nothing is discarded and everything considered–from the sublime to the mundane. The one and the many. We saunter leisurely, with no purpose, unhurried by the demands of life, for as Borges said: “there is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.”