Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review of the Day: The Flâneur

A flâneur is a loiterer, or a stroller, or, as French poet Charles Baudelaire described him, “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” Edmund White describes Paris through the eyes of such a person in The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris.

White’s book is loosely organized into chapters discussing various types of people living in Paris: French writers, American writers, blacks, Jews, artists, gays, and royalists. He uses these as starting points for rambling discussions through Paris history, politics, and the lives of famous Parisians, with detours to fashion, sex, architecture, and the city’s assorted nooks and crannies.

Writers loom large in White’s Paris. While he includes artists, jazz musicians, politicians, and aristocrats, White’s heart lies in a literary Paris. He mentions dozens of poets, novelists, critics, and philosophers, and provides detailed portraits of some of Paris’s more celebrated scribes, including Colette and Baudelaire.

The loose structure of book sometimes jumbles the information provided. It can take a while to figure out where White is heading, and the amount of information White packs in can be staggering. But the book may be all the more enticing because it lacks a rigid itinerary and provides such an abundance of particulars. As White explains:

[T]he flâneur is in search of experience, not knowledge. Most experience ends up interpreted as – and replaced by – knowledge, but for the flâneur the experience remains somehow pure, useless, raw.

This is one of the 12 books I am reading for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge. It is also on my French Connection list.

(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


  1. Sounds like an interesting, though challenging book though the subject matter is immensely interesting to me.

    Btw, I've given you the Prolific Blogger award. Visit me at for details.

  2. The concept of the story sounds good, but I don't think I'd like the writing style. Thanks for your review.

  3. JaneGS -- Thanks for the award! I'll come over for a visit now.

    Bermuda -- The concept was great. The style required some concentration, but he is a very good writer, so it was worth it.

  4. Oh wow, a couple of years ago, for a class on Modern Poetry, we had to learn the principles and philosophies of being a flaneur, in order to better understand some works. And I did not know this was a book. Eek. I think I'll brave the writing style to read this. :)

    - Sasha
    Sasha & The Silverfish

  5. Sounds like the form matches the content: digressives strolls through literary Paris. I have two books about walking on my TBR list: The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy and Literature of Pedestrianism by Geoff Nicholson, and The Walkable City: From Haussmann's Boulevards to Jane Jacobs' Streets and Beyond by Mary Soderstrom. This sounds like a book to add to the walking pile...

  6. Although I'd like to avoid the cliche, I can't help loving Paris. Or maybe it's the idea of Paris that I'm so drawn to.

    Either way, this book sounds like a great book to wander through to find new insights on the City of Lights.

    Thanks for your thoughtful review.

  7. Silverfysh -- Thanks for visiting! I love the idea of learning to be a flaneur. What a great class to take!

    Nathalie -- I am adding those two books to my wishlist right now! I have another on my TBR shelf called Walks Through Hemingway's Paris or something like that. I could have a whole bookshelf of books telling me where to walk in Paris.

    Debbie -- I think I like the idea of Paris too. There is no other city I like to read about as much, even though it does not make my list of cities I fantasize about living in (Florence, Munich, Luzern, Positano . . . ).

  8. I'm in. I love everything French. And a literary Paris is my own personal dream.


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