Flâneur comes from a French noun and it means “stroller”, “lounger” or “sauntered”. The word Flâneur proceeds from Flânerie which is the act of strolling. The meaning of this word was drawn by rich associations or men that for take the causal leisure. The concept of Flâneur was exerted in the 19th century when urbanization and industrialization were in the making. This kind of concept was explored in a literary and artistic sense by Charles Baudelaire in his essay “The Painter of Modern Life”. In this essay, he explores the processes of modernism and how the world is constantly changing. He tells about the shifting conditions of modernity and how it changes the people and their surroundings. Through the essay, Baudelaire dives into the concept of Flâneur in a more philosophical and literary rather than the concrete act of Flâneur; the author assimilates it with strolling by but in a more complex tone. The act of strolling by and relate to the reality of the changes. Baudelaire describes that act happens when you’re around the cities and the crowd; when you hold still and spectate your surroundings, embracing each person’s individuality. By also watching other people, you enter into a state of self-reflection
Throughout this decade many writers were inspired by the literary phenomenon that is flâneur. Strangely enough one of them was the gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe. Baudelaire being the translator for Edgars works, it wasn’t a coincidence that he too was influenced by flâneur and you could find it in his short story “The Man in the Crowd”.
After being named of an unknown illness, the main character sits in a coffee shop and stares into the window, fascinated by the crowd outside. The narrator takes his time into describing us the reader’s small details about each person or group he sees “a decrepit old man, some sixty-five or seventy years of age man” ( Edgar Allan Poe, A Man in the Crowd) peaks his interest and starts following him around the city.
Me being a movie buff I can’t help but think how the literary concept that is flâneur and Poe’s thrilling story that is “A man in the crowd” has a lot of similarities with Christopher Nolan’s first film “Following”. The “Following” starts an unemployed young writer and he takes pleasure in following strangers in the streets of London. One day following a stranger, the man takes notice that’s he’s being followed and introduces himself as Cobb. He tells the young writer about his hobby that is breaking into people’s houses and enjoys robbing or misplacing other people’s items.
Baudelaire says that to reach a certain enlightenment and ideas you have to experience flâneur. We can say that the main character for takes this literary phenomenon in an extreme way; by following people until he has reached an idea has he trying to be an inspiring writer (which in the film he failed). The main character also has similarities with the main narrator of “A man in the crown”. Plot-wise from being in the coffee shop and admiring people to both get fixated in the same person and start to follow them between the crowds.
An interesting similarity “A man in the Crowd” and the “Following” have is how the plot is just a big cycle. The film starts with a scene from the future and ends with us finding out how everything was part of the plan and how the main character was the one being followed this whole time. In “A Man in the crown” it’s more ambiguous, its starts with us seeing the narrator fixated with one person and end with them still being obsessed with the old man but not telling us the readers more about him just left on midair.
From characters to plot and settings; the following and “A man in the crown” have a lot in common. Characters obsessed with peculiar people to reach a certain idea. The plot in a sense of they both enjoyed following people has their hobby lastly, the setting where they took place in large cities with big crowds.
The concept of flâneur created by Charles Baudelaire has influenced big writers such as Poe and picked up and reinforced by Walter Benjamin who has open discussions with scholars. Till this day poetry about flâneur is being discussed and related because the theme of modernization and urbanization is always going to be in the table because the world is constantly changing and modernizing themselves through the years to come.
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Christopher Nolan “Following”
“A Man in the Crowd.” Complete Tales and Poems, Web Books.
Aimée Boutin (2012) Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses, Dix-Neuf
Walter Benjamin, “the Flâneur, and Redemption.”