The Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, Literature, and Film in Weimar Culture
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Anke Gleber examines one of the most intriguing and characteristic figures of European urban modernity: the observing city stroller, or flaneur. In an age transformed by industrialism, the flaneur drifted through city streets, inspired and repelled by the surrounding scenes of splendor and squalor. Gleber examines this often elusive figure in the particular contexts of Weimar Germany and the intellectual sphere of Walter Benjamin, with whom the concept of flanerie is often associated. She sketches the European influences that produced the German flaneur and establishes the figure as a pervasive presence in Weimar culture, as well as a profound influence on modern perceptions of public space.
The book begins by exploring the theory of literary flanerie and the technological changes--street lighting, public transportation, and the emergence of film--that gave a new status to the activities of seeing and walking in the modern city. Gleber then assesses the place of flanerie in works by Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and other representatives of Weimar literature, arts, and theory. She draws particular attention to the works of Franz Hessel, a Berlin flaneur who argued that flanerie is a "reading" of the city that perceives passersby, streets, and fleeting impressions as the transitory signs of modernity. Gleber also examines connections between flanerie and Weimar film, and discusses female flanerie as a means of asserting female subjectivity in the public realm.
The book is a deeply original and searching reassessment of the complex intersections among modernity, vision, and public space.
lost” or “lose himself” in the spectacle of the street. Beyond the immediate sphere of their duties, W O M E N O N T H E S C R E E N S A N D S T R E E T S 175 proletarian women, like agrarian wives, in effect rather live “outside” the city, regardless of where they actually work; they are limited to households that remain preindustrial and thereby restrictive in relation to the play of their imag- ination. To compensate for such confinement, women project all their endeav- ors into their
the reading of physiognomy and the interpretation of passersby by way of their appearance, Hoffmann’s “cousin” suggests that this process of perception is predicated on an under- standing of the privileged moment of seeing, an Augenblick that names the moment of insight in which he perceives external appearance to be a “true representation of life’s eternal change . ”33 This formulation makes apparent how a slight shift in focus can redirect physiological descriptions of the city from an
flanerie and culture are the changes in the social and material conditions of public lighting defined at once by technological innovation and commercial consider- ations.27 The cultural history of every illumination in the street undergoes revo- lutionary transformations, particularly in the nineteenth century, when an in- crease in the numbers of pedestrians, the extension of streets that can be passed at night, the amount of time that can be spent in the streets, and the quantities of
street’s visual effects. The ad- vance of mass media and the distribution of posters and other advertising im- ages emerges at a time of rapid change to escalate these visual conventions. By 1860, the color lithograph poster has already replaced previous techniques of wood and copper engravings with more modern, technologically repro- duced commercial images.44 Typescripts in posters and pamphlets transport commercial messages in advertisements and furnish decorations for the walls of the
ambulatory quality that corresponds to the figure they seek to discern. In order to outline the cultural contours of the flaneur more closely, we might begin by describing the possibility of an observer and wit- ness of modernity. To speak of the flaneur, as Jonathan Crary explains, at- tempting to position the modern observer in general, would mean “to delineate an observing subject who was both a product of and at the same time constitu- tive of modernity.”1 Suggesting that this