International flânerie in the twenty first century - Completing the picture.
A flâneur is a solitary man, and it is always a man, who wanders through a European city as if it were a luxury assortment of visual treats, lovingly created by hand just for him. As he strolls through the streets, he penetrates the fancy wrapping and ostentatious surface layers, creating an individualised freedom within the constraints imposed by the city. He writes his own map of urban life, gazing upon the city as a 'special receptacle for storing and transmitting messages'1, and discovering the 'crystal of the overall action in the analysis of the small individual moment.'2 Then he retires to his quarters, takes some refreshments (which have appeared from nowhere), and writes something achingly poetic. And perhaps he foments an aesthetic and cultural revolution, but perhaps not.
A refugee, on the other hand, is one of 22 million 'people of concern' currently recognised by the UNHCR. Unofficial estimates put the figure at 50 million. Refugees, migrants and other displaced persons now constitute one percent of the world's population. In the twenty-first century, it is the 'clandestini', 'sans papiers', 'asylum seekers', 'Asylanten', who form the 'reluctant international avant-garde'3, albeit an extraordinarily heterogeneous one without political representation. War, and capitalism, require human mobility as a form of self-defence and self-preservation. As geopolitical boundaries petrify, the international market system demands ever more nomadic human capital, 'brown gold'.
A spectre is haunting Europe
The modern European metropolis no longer functions according to 'punctuality, calculability, exactness',4 but informal and insecure employment, substandard housing, political scapegoating and racism, arson attacks on refugee hostels, the Bossi-Fini law,5 returning to your makeshift home in a Firenze railway siding to find that the police have defecated on your bed and torn your clothes up, paying for your groceries in a British shop with vouchers and not being entitled to the change. Official maps of states and cities reveal none of these realities. Migration into and through the city, in which 'interpersonal relationships are distinguished by a marked preponderance of the activity of the eye over the activity of the ear'6, reveals a transformation of the cityscape itself. In 'Paris, Capital of the Twenty-first Century?', the Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo writes of a new heterogeneity, the result of a progressive influx of migrants, which 'extends an invitation to versatile flânerie in which a mysterious lesson in the city's layout is woven and torn up, like Penelope's web'7. Once again, this transformation of formal public space is absent in official cartography.
Our revolutionary friends the flâneur and flâneuse may yet be able to complete the picture, however. For even now, living every day under the threat of deportation and violence, 'there is no lack of subjects, or of colours, to make epics. The true painter we're looking for will be one who can snatch from the life of today its epic quality ... lets hope that the true seekers may grant us the extraordinary delight of celebrating the advent of the new!'8
1 Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1961.
2 Walter Benjamin, Passagenwerk, 1927-39.
3 Refugee Republic, 'Refugee = Capital', 2001.
4 Georg Simmel, 'The Metropolis and Mental Life', 1903.
5 The proposed October 2001 'Bossi-Fini' amendment to Italian immigration law will render the right to residency
dependent upon employment, threaten freedom of movement within the country, and criminalize the act of
entering Italy without papers. See Observatory on the State of Democracy in Italy (OSDEM).
6 Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A lyric poet in the era of high capitalism, 1938.
7 Cited by Edmund White in The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, 2001.
8 Charles Baudelaire, cited by Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts Into Air, 1982.