The other day after work I went for a swim. Then while walking home I stopped at the local food cart lot and bar to have a beer and a soft pretzel. As I sat in the bar, I felt a sense of contentment and easy come over me. I took some tasting notes on the beer (Love Potion #15 by Block 15), journaled on my week, and outlined some ideas for the future. Meanwhile jazz played on the speakers while someone read “The Fifth Season” behind me. Amazingly the lot and bar closed at 8pm, so I had to wrap things up and finish the walk home where I topped things off with a cup of tomato soup before going to bed.
This is quintessence of the flaneur experience; a pastiche of experiences and performances that involve a variety of people and activities mediated by the urban setting. It is a building of knowledge and intelligence by people in community. A slow meander that is not aiming to achieve a specific analysis, but fully experiencing life and people as they are. There is also an element of performance and engagement as the flaneurs express themselves to the community through their dress, body language and dialogue.
I kept trying to catch the eye of the person reading “The Fifth Season” as I had not seen someone reading this book before and was interested to hear their opinion on it. I was not very successful as we never talked, but this is exactly the kind of opportunity to interact directly with someone that is so exciting about direct experience. When sitting in a room with someone there is a physically imposed boundary to your interaction. The person can signal their intent through dress, body language and speech. This results in a richer experience and allows for a more nuanced exploration of individuals than a passing summary online. As innumerable writing books have observed, it is better to show than to tell.
The reader might laugh at my hypocrisy for praising an analog experience on the digital medium of a blog. Surely, I disprove my own praise through my medium of choice, but this article is an extension of that evening. It is one more dimension to my walk and allows me to relieve this experience in a new way, cementing it in my somatic body. For the gift of the digital is to give us new ways of viewing the world and directing our awareness and intelligence on the physical. All too often we think of the new as better than and replacing the old instead of seeing it as an expansion of possibility. While our ability to experience is limited, our awareness and intellect is infinite.
Flaneurs are limited physical beings and must rely on the physical senses gifted to them to experience and influence the world. Yet they are also vessels with infinite awareness and intellect that shines upon these experiences, giving them continually iterating, intersecting, and expanding meaning. Paradoxically, living within this slow, finite world with boundaries and limitations invites us into the infinite universe. Before we can fly through this infinite cosmos we must slow down and connect with the physical world in all its many imperfect forms and mediums whether that is a blog post, a drawing or trying to catch the eye of someone reading an interesting book at a bar.