Friday, 06 May 2016

Radio Review: 6 May

Observing life from today’s city streets can be tricky

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176A long-departed and much-missed friend of mine, the jazz writer Kevin Henriques, used to describe himself on his business cards as a ‘boulevardier’. I thought it an enviable status and, ever since, I’ve fancied myself as a bit of a boulevardier, although boulevards are in short supply here on the edge of the Cotswolds. Instead, I opted to become a flâneur.

Unfortunately, if last week’s Thinking Allowed (R4, Wednesdays, 4pm) is reliable, I’m not sure I’m one of those either. In Baudelaire’s definition, the flâneur is a man of the crowd, exploring, loitering and observing on the city streets, usually finding material for essays they can flog. As we don’t have many crowds in the small market town where I live, I prefer to loiter and observe in the pub, and I get my essay material from the wireless.

Academic Keith Tester, editor of a collection of essays called The Flâneur, said that in the traditional sense, flâneurs were solitary creatures, and always men. Fortunately, Lauren Elkin, author of a book called Flâneuse, was on hand to challenge this view. It might have been frowned upon for women to saunter around town, particularly at night, peak flâneur-ing time, but nobody can deny that women were there, she argues, and we should try to understand how they interacted with the city, rather than try and make them fit the male concept of interaction. Presenter Laurie Taylor suggested that, social mores apart, one of the problems faced by the flâneuse was that she tended to become the subject of observation rather than the observer. Elkin cited cases where women dressed as men to achieve invisibility.

Finally, Tester wondered if anybody can be a flâneur any more? If you don’t pay attention to the traffic, you’ll probably get run over. A sad and sobering thought. I’m off for a walk.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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