“In the flâneur, the joy of watching is triumphant. It can concentrate on observation; the result is the amateur detective. Or it can stagnate in the gaper; then the flâneur has turned into the badaud.” –Walter Benjamin
“The flâneur must not be confused with the badaud; a nuance should be observed here. […] The simple flâneur […] is always in full possession of his individuality. By contrast, the individuality of the badaud disappears, absorbed by the outside world, which ravishes him, which moves him to drunkenness and ecstasy. Under the influence of the spectacle that presents itself to him, the baudaud becomes an impersonal creature; he is no longer a man, he is the public, he is the crowd” —Victor Fournel
A Walker in New York
As birds in air or fish in water, I am a walker, and the streets and their people, their bustle, the coming and going and to-and-fro(ing) . . . all the banter, the many voices, the vices, the noise, all the cacophony of the streets–my milieu. Yes, a walker in this city, what city is this that I speak of, New York, Manhattan, Brooklyn, any other city–I love cities–we visit cities when we vacation and become in them, walkers . . . yes, I am as I have been for many years now a walker, this particular flaneur in this Brooklyn–
Brooklyn, another city, a city apart–a city separate from the city it belongs to, belongs in . . . into what space do I fit? Is it fitting? Once separate from New York City, this Brooklyn itself it’s own remains aside, not necessarily off to the side, apart in a lesser way, if only a less conspicuous way. Brooklyn less conspicuous? No, it is mighty conspicuous, my Brooklyn, Whitman’s Brooklyn lost.
Yes, Brooklyn and New York City were once separate cities; they merged in the 1890s–I’ll look up what year exactly, but later, not now. I was always something of this kind of walker, another kind of flaneur, we could say, who else has said as much about this man-about-town I do, I engage, I fulfill because there are expectations to fill . . . Fournel, Benjamin, what of Baudelaire . . . Paris Spleen, I recollect my first venture through those pages. Manhattan Spleen? Could it work? I have written it on the pages of leather bound quadrille and blank paged notebooks, two sizes, one more like 6X9, the other more like 4X6? Am I accurate or only loosely approximate?
I have had poem journals in my walking, how many times keeping a verse journal, I would have to look throgh the boxes in my closets to find just how many pages , , , how many thousands of pages of writing and writing and writing, writing, yes, in verse, my observations on me about the town, my about-ness here and there on the streets, in the streets, Manhattan Streets, once again, for decades now, the journeying without destination . . . wherever I would wind up I would wind up, no intention . . . an active=passivity in letting the world happen to me, a passive-active walking about, to go about, be about, run about, look about . . . what more was there is there to do in doing nothing but . . .
Still and so–you could say–what could you say, could I say about this Brooklyn and this New York City that remain apart, separate . . . more than 3 million people in Brooklyn . . . more like 4? I do ask. What’s the latest census figures? I hear one of you say, in love with data as you have come to be. There is not data in my conveying what i see have seen will expect to see next, what i am experiencing? Are you experienced in this way of moving with being . . . Statistics are not observation but support, footnotes–my feet walking, moving about the streets of Manhattan are not the notes I take–what am I trying to say? Once more, to say or not to say what I have done seen been around . . . pausing at an outdoor table to watch the passers-by? I have three reels of 8mm film developed . . . a motion picture flanerie. To observe, serving the ob-ness of my vision . . . toward, to, on, over and against . . . to serve toward something, to serve to something, some things, persons, places, details . . . description is reciprocal observation . . . to serve on, on to serve . . . serving is being of use? What utility is there in observing? Is it a matter of utility?
To be a walker in Brooklyn, to be a walker in Manhattan . . . I am, I was, I have been, I will be, I will have been . . . these are my stomping grounds, as we used to say–did we say this? Did I? Yes, I am sure I can recall, recollection something else not entirely. What means this to stomp around? My eyes opened–I see so many people walking around town oblivious to what is happening, too many with their eyes down, looking to their feet? Not even les baudauds. Looking to the pavement, diverting their gaze as I do not–mine is set, fixed here then there then on this one that one which perosn, what woman, that woman with her child in a stroller . . . to stroll is what the flaneur does, no? I gaze at women all the time–I see them–girl watching we used to call it when we were teens. I am sure there are those who imagine something else. I bear no apologies. The walking in itself for itself; to walk in itself walking; this is non-utilitarian–the flaneur is without utility in his or her flanerie . . . I am the greatest flaneur of Manhattan and Brooklyn–and this I can say with confidence. I have been such since I was a boy? Since I was a teen, for sure. I am; I was; there is an I am in I was; the past is not past I recall Faulkner trying to mean. My observations as in all observers are perpetually now.
Today neither too hot nor too humid, neither nor, really, but not nearly the opposite of either. Not bad, you could say, the weather . . . 7th Avenue, the shops, the shop owners, managers, the people who enter them, shop in them, window shop by them, the lunch I have at Yamato . . . a video I take of the outside reflected in the window of one fo the doors left opened to receive deliveries . . . 5th is a different street than 7th; I am a different flaneur on one than I am on the other . . . yesterday the pressure was shifting in an impossible to endure way for me . . . was it the barometer, of course that’s what we mean when we talk air pressure, the barometric pressure . . . sometimes my joints are in need of WD-40.
Horrible headache–excruciating . . . yesterday . . . Could have lead me to think I was having a migraine . . . maybe I was. I’ve never really had them, headaches like I had yesterday, that is; not specifically migraines. But what I felt yesterday . . . I could not even make it home without first buying a packet of two extra strength Tylenol, 500mg each . . . I took them both. It took a while for them to take affect, or so it seemed to me.
Walking today, observing today, Park Slope, today, on 7th Avenue, walking between Union Street and 7th Street, the people I saw, the men and women merely players in this stage the world . . . yes, women mostly noticed–always noticing women, without leering, and I know this without having to ask. A man is supposed to know the difference between looking and leering. He should, and in this should is my mandate.
Grand Army Plaza–how many times have I walked its perimeter . . . and this day from the Number 2 and 3 train stop to the Main Library, again, the perimeter, passing the center island of the Circle . . . the fountain was going today, how many people I noticed passing without looking or without looking noticeably intentionally. Yes, walking, later after my meeting in Central Library learning Center, from the Main Library to Union Street, and yes, then down Union Street to 7th Avenue–literally down, what we mean by Park Slope . . . what slopes down to the water of Red Hook from Prospect Park.
On my way to the Main Library Building at the confluence of Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue, a couple of homeless men, both black . . . one reading a paper, the other obsessing, it seemed, over dilapidated styrofoam cups in a dirty plastic bag barely containing them. I glanced at them, my gaze diverted by my sense that these men must bear the gaze and the stares of so many people with a lot less awareness than I possess–and this is something i note well every day walking the streets of my cities.
Earlier, I had come to Atlantic Terminal at Pacific Street on the D train. I got off there to switch for the 3 to Grand Army Plaza, from having previously boarded the D Train at 20th Avenue on 86th Street in Bensonhurst . . . walking 86th street, watching the bustle, the hustle, the to and fro of this one these those women, men, children, teenagers, elderly from China, Guatemala, Mexico, Russia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Algiers, Egypt, Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Italy, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Belarus, Albania, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Brazil, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Bangladesh . . . all together speaking, exclaiming, shouting, crying, screeching, whispering, keeping silent, watching, turning away, looking, gazing, stumbling, tripping, falling, buying, selling, cheating, stealing, embracing, pushing away, bumping into, cutting off, brushing past, confusing, confounding, misunderstanding, dis-undertanding, allowing, dis-allowing, touching, loving, liking, hating, loathing, disturbing, littering, exposing, meeting, missing . . .
Later, from Park Slope, I got on the R at 9th street/4th Avenue; I walked there from President and 7th, after having had lunch. There, I waited nearly twenty minutes for the R to 36th Street station in Sunset Park. It was at 36th Street Station I intended to make a connection with the D train. I made my connection, yet because of so many delays–why I still cannot fathom, as they have increased under De Blasio–the D was sent express from 9th Avenue station to Coney Island. It only made stops at 62nd Street and Bay Parkway on its way to the last stop at Stillwell Avenue, skipping 20th Avenue where I would have gotten off. But it was no never mind because I have been needing to put more walking into my daily routine because I have been carrying too much weight as of late, the last year, you could say. I recall the site of the Williamsburg Savings bank Building at the butt of Fourth Avenue where it comes to its end at Atlantic Avenue at the triangle completed by Flatbush right next to Atlantic Terminal, the largest subway stop station by the number of trains that stop there . . . right by Barclay’s Center where the Nets and the hockey Islanders play. That building was once one of the top 50 tallest buildings in the world, I thin number 49 or 48 . . . I would have to check the Britanica Atlas/Almanac I had acquired when my parents had bought me the complete Britannica encyclopedias when I was a boy . . . another kind of Flaneur, walking through the pages of what the collection itself intends by its name . . . encyclopedia is another way of saying to walk about.
A walker in my city, in this city, in the city–I recollect Alfred Kazin . . . I remember Benjamin, Baudelaire, who else among writers since the 19th century . . . the only true sovereign of New York, myself, the flaneur. I remember my dad’s stories off his growing up in Depression era Brooklyn, east New York, City Line, between Brownsville and Queens.
How much time I spent doing the like in Manhattan, years of it, going with no other purpose than to do just that, stroll about, strolling her and there, a wandering aimlessly, an aimless, purposeless wander-lust? An intense urge for self-development? What else could it be, unless experience becomes another content for conspicuous consumption? Things, things and more things, some likeness to Mr. Gradgrinds facts, facts and more facts . . . I never get lost in foreign cities . . . tourists without the spirit of the Flaneur are lost even when they have guides. las Ramblas in Barcelona . . . everyone misses the journey for the destination, preoccupation with being designed . . . destiny obsessed? It’s not the destination but the journey, we used to say when we wanted to appear wise without much effort or cost. But what of the journey without a destination . . . these were my afternoons on Fridays . . . days when I was off from any one of my many or just several teaching gigs, Fridays alone, always off, the man about town, I was; the idle wandered, the wandering idler, but also this looker, seer, receiver . . . yes, spending time learning how to write standing up, commenting on one page after another, journal after journal after journal, all of them piled in the closet filled with flanerie . . . new, old and other understandings, commentary on commentary, response following response, put again and again with pen to page . . . these observations, these conclusions . . . those . . . what else can I conjure from standing-under the rich variety of the city-scape, the urban landscape, the photograph in motion? I ask you thus I think of what you might say, how you could respond, all becoming a kind of monologic dialogia, or dialogic monologia?
Thus the videos I will take in this capacity of the flaneur of New York . . . the artist-poet of the modern metropolis . . . the birth of modernism has what to do with what I am talking about . . . the site I will maintain and couple with my YouTube site . . . I need to rename the latter. Something of the videos I have talken and have edited in other forms/formats for dissemination, I have a YouTube channel and I will fill it with these flaneries . . . a video flaneur . . . the POV of the flaneur.
To look without seeing is not my intent; the gaze is not a gawk, thus when I employ the gaze, I am not a gawker.