city strolling

Most of the images in the Adelaide section of The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia come from city strolling with a camera in the company of Fichte,  my cream coloured,  standard poodle.   City strolling is a translation of the French term flânerie, and it  is an aimless rambling and drifting in the labyrinth of the big  city of modernity  that involves a ludic engagement with the city.

Strolling has no goal,  and it involves   poeticizing what we come across in our aimless drifting.   We invest in our power of imagination  and  attribute meaning to the changing phenomena around us as in the shops in Rundle Mall.

Witchery, Rundle Mall
Witchery, Rundle Mall

My city  strolling  through the city  crowd was not just a  moving through the industrial  city, but rather a  concentration on the displays  exhibited in the  store fronts. These form a dreamscape–a mythic,  re-enchantmen of the banal city.   City strolling is not just a practice of walking and watching but also a way of theorizing and  photographing.  It is a cultural activity.  There is a European tradition  of strolling as a cultural activity–eg., Baudelaire,   Walter Benjamin,   Franz Hessel, Siegfried Kracauer, and Virginia Woolf (a  flaneuse?).  Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil  (1868),  for instance, was a book  of poems about urban life. City strolling finds its telos in understanding and producing works of art.

Cambridge Thirties, Grote St
Cambridge Thirties, Grote St

The modern city  is a city of strangers, and  it integrates people with completely diverse backgrounds and completely different intentions and it is  the site of our encounter with the other. Moving though the city is  to move through strangers.

The freedom and pleasure in strolling is undercut by the way that encountering strangers implies a latent threat,  and possible danger and violence. There is a unpredictable weirdness to the city, dark undercurrents, unstable strangers, drunken violent males.

doll, Rundle Mall
doll, Rundle Mall

Outside the celebratory character of the festival time that was situated outside the everyday,  the urban streets incipient violence  simmers beneath the surface of the city like an undertow. There is   a sense of fear due to the  potential for the eruptions of unconscious energies.  With such eruptions the sociality of urban life cracks, the acceptance of social difference breaks down and  there is a sense of feeling powerless amidst the swarming crowd.



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