Academic journal article Italica

Flanerie, Spatial Practices and Nomadic Thought in Antonioni's la Notte

Academic journal article Italica

Flanerie, Spatial Practices and Nomadic Thought in Antonioni's la Notte

Article excerpt

"In the flaneur, the joy of watching is triumphant. It can concentrate on observation; the result is the amateur detective. Or it can stagnate in the gaper; then the fldneur has turned into a badaud. The revealing presentation of the city has come from neither. They are the work of those who have traversed the city absently, as it were, lost in thought or worry."

Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire

"Nietzsche constatait la mort de Dieu. Foucault annoncait la mort de l'Homme. Le nomade est celui qui, sans lamentation, prend son depart dans cette situation extreme et qui, contournant le domaine des sous-dieux et des sur-hommes, traversant le neutre, s'aventure dans un champ de forces inedit, le long de plages insolites."

Kenneth White L'Esprit nomade

"But the essence of cinema--which is not the majority of films--has thought as its higher purpose, nothing but thought and its functioning."

Gilles Deleuze, The Time-Image

Manifestations and representations of cityscapes and urban experience have over the past decades emerged as a field of highly diverse socio-historical and philosophical inquiry. This critical topus of urban space--physical and lived; mental and walked--finds a singular model in and has produced productive rereadings of Walter Benjamin's urban writings which in their turn refers to Charles Baudelaire for sensitive perceptions on metropolitan life and cultural modernity. (2) At the centre stand 19th-Century Paris and the flaneur--the leisurely wanderer who, unaware of time but aesthetically and sensually attached to space, has become a symbol of street life, urban culture, and modern subjectivity. If both the air of nonchalance and detailed knowledge of the city invest this figure with the freedom to observe unobserved, to immerse himself in the crowd or to dwell in the domestic intimacy of the city's arcades, his inherent ambiguity enables him to form a private habitat everywhere in the city without conforming to any of its institutions or social strata. This, at least, captures the flaneur as a concept and a cultural icon we can trace back to Baudelaire's celebration of a certain "heroism in decadent ages" ("The Painter of Modern Life" 421). Benjamin's reconstruction of the flaneur's historical paths in The Arcades Project tends, however, to delineate a victim rather than a hero of times of decadence; a marginal figure whose voyeurism betrays alienation from the crowd as well as a foreboding of the anxiety Benjamin predicted would come to shape future metropolitan citizens. (3) This existential insecurity is spatially and financially explained with reference to Haussmann's reorganisation of Paris: if increasingly trafficked boulevards and the disappearance of arcades in favour of department stores would have altered the conditions for free strolling, changes in the city's socio-economic layout would have made the uncompromising libertine conform to the logic of commodity exchange and commercialise both public persona and urban expertise in the form of city writings, detection and surveillance (Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, 51-54; The Arcades Project 21; 472). Like the prostitute--the only female urbanite Baudelaire and Benjamin grant any role of significance (4)--the flaneur ended his heydays as a metaphor for the larger commodification of the city, thus achieving a far more turbulent and inconsequential presence in the urban ambiance than has usually been acknowledged (Wilson 73). It is consequently not in the metropolis that the free-spirited voyeur's legacy has manifested itself, most vibrantly, but in the conceptual world of contemporary criticism, as a testimony to the city's invisible quality and contingency, as Italo Calvino suggests, on the eye that sees.

That this vulnerable urbanite is far more resistant and dynamic as an analytical category than as a historical figure, is demonstrated by the rising critical fortune of the flaneuse, a problematic figure whose absence in Baudelaire and Benjamin is so systematic as to imply that her existence is purely imaginary, and thus, to exclude altogether the idea that subjective pursuit of the city and of modernity could have a female anchorage. …

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