The Fragmented Flâneur: An Introduction

I have many reasons to thank my parents for me being where I am today, many of which I cannot remember. I am, after all, an only child and both my Mother and Father are dead. Nevertheless I still have many memories of them which I cherish and cultivate. The one that sticks out for me though is something my Father said to me back in the early 1990s. Before I get to that though I just need to give a bit of a background to that moment.

My Mother died in 1988, an incredible thirty years ago, when I was only 24. It was, as you can imagine, a hugely emotional and traumatic event at the time; but one I was able to move on from relatively well. This is mostly because the Autumn of that year saw my life take a significantly different turn as I went away to University as a ‘mature’ student. In many ways looking back it was the making of me as it opened me up to many new experiences and ideas, as well as giving me a sense of independence that I had not had before. It was intensely liberating for all sorts of reasons. Which brings me to what my Father said to me which was, and I still get a tear in my eye thinking about it, that whatever I decided to do in life he would support me. This was not meant as financial support, far more important than that, this was emotional and moral support; a knowledge that whatever I did someone would be standing in my corner and backing me.

Now this support did not mean that he was going to stop offering advice or not push me now and again, but I think you get the drift of what he meant. Indeed it was no doubt difficult for him as my degree turned into a masters and then a PhD, my student life stretching out to the decade mark before I had finished. But he was always there.

It was when writing my PhD thesis that I first came across idea of the flâneur. I was looking at the origins of what we might today call ‘modern life’ and thinking about how our ideas of identity began to change, particularly during the nineteenth century. I was really taken with Charles Baudelaire’s characterisation of the flâneur as the archetype who was the first to really see the city from the point of view of an observer. I loved the idea that this person was part of the crowd and yet not part of it, invisible to others. I was really taken with the flâneur’s sense of independence, as someone who had no fixed role in society… something that had not really happened before but was now occurring as city life developed. The flâneur was a free spirit who was released from responsibilities, but was ultimately limited by the physical city around him.

Such physical limitations are not so evident these days with the advent of the internet and social media. We can, to a certain extent, all be flâneurs; but ones that are even less rooted in our surroundings. We live in a much more fragmented society and culture than was the case in the nineteenth century, something that I want to reflect in this blog, hence the title ‘The Fragmented Flâneur’.

In a sense then this blog is about freedom. Freedom from the burden of expectation that my Father began to relieve me from all those years ago. My freedom to wander through landscapes and cityscapes, walking being something of a passion of mine. Freedom to navigate my way through the light and dark recesses of social media. Freedom to reflect on the flights of fancy of my own mind.

BUT if this blog is about freedom it is also about balance because, like the original flâneur discovered their own limitations, then so must I. Actually that sounds negative, so let’s put it another way, This blog is about freedom but how that freedom is ultimately arrived at for me through balance. The balance that I have found through being part of a family, my wife and children providing that emotional and psychological support; a sweet spot that can be disturbed by all sorts of internal and external factors.

Balance is something that is both simple and complex, which is something that I want to explore here. Are we at our happiest when we achieve a balance? How fragile is this balance? What are the things that destabilise us? How do we retain our equilibrium?

This is only the first post so most of the questions and answers are ahead of us, but let’s see where this takes us. In the meantime I’ve added a few posts from previous blogs (those published on the same day as this on, 19th May 2018) that I thought were relevant to this, and at least give the site a bit of content from the start. I hope you enjoy them and this voyage of discovery.





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