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