Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gone Walkabout: Flânerie

I have actually been pretty hard at work, despite the lack of updates. One of the problems with this project, and with creative endeavors generally, is how much of the work is 'invisible'; the processes of conception and refinement which it is almost impossible to document. With Vectis this particularly comes down to the walking.

I am on to the longer walks now, Section 2 and Section 3. These walks require more logistical forethought than the other walks, particularly now the days have closed in so much. Rather than being loops that start and end at my house (as the walks are in section 1) the walks require bus travel at either one or both ends. This places a new financial strain on me as well; bus travel on the Island is regrettably expensive.

So, since I've been doing a good deal of walking, I think it's probably time to talk about Flânerie. The first question we have to answer is: why the French? How do we justify the pretension, isn't there some equally adequate anglo-saxon expression for what we're getting at? Flânerie translates as something like "strolling", "sauntering" or "loafing", but none of these really provide a full meaning. The word evokes a literary and cultural tradition, particularly associated with 19th century Paris, of the man (always a man, it seems) of leisure who draws inspiration from the matter of everyday life, observed on strolls that have no purpose except observation. The Flâneur is simultaneously apart from and integrated with the urban environment during the process of walking through it; the Parisian literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve described it as “the very opposite of doing nothing." It implies a form of non-passive observance that is a great model for artistic practice and for psychogeographic walking. The body as recorder moves along streets like the needle on a record, scratching away an infinitesimal amount of new material each time, subtly altering the song that it sings.

Obviously, when I talk about using Flânerie in my work, I am removing it from an urban context. I am also breaking, quite deliberately, the concept of moving with and observing other people in crowds. This is quite necessary, of course, as there are no crowds on my walks (though there are people, who are not entirely absent from my images and observations). So why don't I adopt a rural term, such as rambling? First, Flânerie has strong associations with psychogeographic practice that I wish to evoke, and for good reasons. A rambler moves over the landscape, and leaves it as they find it. The 'countryside code' states that the walker should endeavor to 'Leave Gates & Property as You Find Them'. But this is not appropriate for psychogeography, nor is it really an accurate description of what walking through the countryside means. On un-metalled highways and holloways more than anywhere else, walking on a path reinforces the path, carves it, and helps create new paths. The walker moves not across but through the landscape, helping to carve the interface between space and time that we have already mentioned.

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