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The Flâneur

Posted on 02/11/2011



School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures

‘The Flâneur’:

Research Seminars in Comparative Literature and Culture, 2011-12



 Flânerie French. n. aimless strolling or lounging; idleness. [C19: from flâner to stroll, dawdle]

 Flâneur n. an idler or loafer

‘The street becomes a dwelling for the flâneur; he is as much at home among the facades of houses as a citizen is in his four walls. To him the shiny, enamelled signs of businesses are at least as good a wall ornament as an oil painting is to the bourgeois in his salon. The walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks; news-stands are his libraries and the terraces of cafés are the balconies from which he looks down on his household after his work is done.’

Walter Benjamin

The School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Royal Holloway is pleased to announce a series of lunchtime Research Seminars in Comparative Literature and Culture. The School’s popular degree programme in Comparative Literature and Culture (CLC) gives students the opportunity to study fiction, film, visual art, and intellectual history across different periods, cultures and contexts. The Research Seminars will showcase the complementary, comparative, and interdisciplinary research interests of researchers in the SMLLC by exploring a single theme: ‘The Flâneur’.

The ‘Flâneur’, both as a figure and as an approach to art, has its origins in the nineteenth century, when the leisurely ‘gentleman stroller’ emerged as a recognizable urban type in cities such as London and, especially, Paris, and consequently became the subject of comment, satire and analysis. For the poet Charles Baudelaire, the flâneur became of a figure of aesthetic and existential significance: the pedestrian observer able to ‘bathe’ in crowds, to feel at home anywhere, to derive intoxication from random encounters. As the world’s cities have continued to expand, the flâneur has continued to exercise influence on and appeal to artists and writers, and architects and urban planners. The early twentieth century saw the figure impact on the work of journalists and critics writing in German, notably the work of Walter Benjamin. At the same time, city streets, the anonymity of crowds, and a fascination for ‘observation’ were characteristic preoccupations of many photographers, artists and filmmakers. More recently, the narrative position of the flâneur – a combination of critical distance and total immersion – has become a feature of travel writing in an increasingly mobile, globalized world.

The Research Seminars will explore aspects of this fascinating theme from the nineteenth century to the present day. No specialized knowledge or foreign language skills will be required. All are very welcome.


  •    Wednesday, 7 December, 1-2pm, IN244

Jon Hughes (SMLLC, RHUL): ‘The Flâneur on the Bus: Franz Hessel and Joseph Roth in Weimar Berlin’

  •  Wednesday, 18 January, 1-2pm, Windsor 004

Hannah Thompson (SMLLC, RHUL): ‘Two Parisian re-writings of the flâneur: the failure and the planner’ [Rescheduled event]

  •  Wednesday, 22 February, 1-2pm, Windsor 005

James Clifford Kent (SMLLC, RHUL): ‘The psychogeographic mapping of a city: city-dwellers and lived spaces in Walker Evans’ Havana portfolio (1933)’

  •  Wednesday 7 March, 1-2pm, Windsor 005

Emily Jeremiah (SMLLC, RHUL): ‘Nomadic Ethics in Contemporary German Women’s Writing’

  •  Wednesday 9 May, 1-2pm

Efi Spentzou and Richard Alston (Classics, RHUL), 'Fleeting Moments in the Eternal City: Seeking the Flâneur in Augustan Rome'

  •  Wednesday 23 May, 1-2pm, Arts Building ABG24

Olivia Vazquez-Medina (SMLLC, RHUL): 'Strolling through London in Contemporary Mexican literature: Margo Glantz and Fernando del Paso'

All welcome.

Enquiries to Jon Hughes (jon.hughes@rhul.ac.uk)


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