- Strolling Through the (Post)modern City:Modes of Being a Flâneur in Picture Books
The city and the urban condition, popular subjects of art, literature, and film, have been commonly represented as fragmented, isolating, violent, with silent crowds moving through the hustle and bustle of a noisy, polluted cityspace. Included in this diverse artistic field is children's literature—an area of creative and critical inquiry that continues to play a central role in illuminating and shaping perceptions of the city, of city lifestyles, and of the people who traverse the urban landscape. Fiction's textual representations of cities, its sites and sights, lifestyles and characters have drawn on traditions of realist, satirical, and fantastic writing to produce the protean urban story—utopian, dystopian, visionary, satirical—with the goal of offering an account or critique of the contemporary city and the urban condition. In writing about cities and urban life, children's literature variously locates the child in relation to the social (urban) space. This dialogic relation between subject and social space has been at the heart of writings about/of the flâneur: a figure who experiences modes of being in the city as it transforms under the influences of modernism and postmodernism.
Within this context of a changing urban ontology brought about by (post)modern styles and practices, this article examines five contemporary picture books: The Cows Are Going to Paris by David Kirby and Allen Woodman; Ooh-la-la (Max in love) by Maira Kalman; Mr Chicken Goes to Paris and Old Tom's Holiday by Leigh Hobbs; and The Empty City by David Megarrity. I investigate the possibility of these texts reviving the act of flânerie, but in a way that enables different modes of being a flâneur, a neo-flâneur. I suggest that the neo-flâneur retains some of the characteristics of the original flâneur, but incorporates others that take account of the changes wrought by postmodernity and globalization, particularly tourism and consumption. The dual issue at the heart of the discussion is that tourism and consumption as agents of cultural globalization offer a different [End Page 56] way of thinking about the phenomenon of flânerie. While the flâneur can be regarded as the precursor to the tourist, the discussion considers how different modes of flânerie, such as the tourist-flâneur, are an inevitable outcome of commodification of the activities that accompany strolling through the (post)modern urban space.
The Flâneur and the Changing Urban Space
The new experiences of modernity in large cities captured the attention of writers such as Baudelaire and Benjamin who wrote of the contrasting aesthetics of everyday life in mid- to late nineteenth-century Paris, and of the original flâneurs who strolled the streets recording their fleeting impressions of the crowds. The term "flâneur" was originally used to describe the modern urban male who observed the character of urban life (Paris) from a distance, usually without directly engaging others or participating in the city's economy as a consumer (Mazlish 43). The flâneur would move, watch, and record his observations of the everyday activities of the working classes and the poor, the prostitutes, beggars, street children, soldiers, and police, and report back to a less adventurous bourgeois readership with a poetic journalism (White 35). The narrated classism that early flâneurs such as Baudelaire wrote about, was of old Paris before the massive urban renewal project undertaken by Haussmann in the 1860s in response to Napoléon III's demand for a modern Paris.
Some commentators reasonably argue that the figure of the flâneur is "historically and culturally bound to middle nineteenth century Paris" (Borchard 192). However, Borchard contends that "postmodern tourist" cities such as Las Vegas offer a paradoxical space encouraging on the one hand flânerie while, on the other, "inhibiting a detached, anti-consumer stance" (192) that previously characterized the flâneur. In fact, Borchard contends that many of the activities of the postmodern flâneur are commodified; this is particularly so in his case study—Las Vegas—where "simulacra of cities and cultures have been commodified as tourist...