Developing My Research Philosophy Part 4: Le Flâneur Politique

Walter Benjamin: The Arcades Project



I believe that philosophy is the proper starting place for any human endeavour. While I was on long service leave, I was trying to formulate my research philosophy, and trying to work out how I could fit in in an increasingly bureaucratic world. After reading Ryan Holiday and Steven Pressfield, I found Stoic philosophy helpful.  we can rationally decide what is and what is not within our control. Once this is done, even in relation to my research, then the rest falls into place.

Walter Benjamin's work The Arcades Project interests me from a number of angles. I devoured The Flâneur "Convolute M." (1999, pp. 416-455). Later, "Le Flâneur" surfaced while I was reading the Paris Review, and the idea of the nineteenth-century Parisian flâneur struck me as a model for my research philosophy. I want to be able to study politics and policy without being an essential part of the machine, but I still have to play the game. Enter:
The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. When Walter Benjamin brought Baudelaire’s conception of the flâneur into the academy, he marked the idea as an essential part of our ideas of modernism and urbanism. For Benjamin, in his critical examinations of Baudelaire’s work, the flâneur heralded an incisive analysis of modernity, perhaps because of his connotations: “[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism,” as a 2004 article in the American Historical Review put it. Since Benjamin, the academic establishment has used the flâneur as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity—urban life, alienation, class tensions, and the like. 
The direction my philosophy took was exciting. I had found a unifying principle for all the things I enjoy: art, music, philosophy, history, reading, architecture, theatre, and so on. Benjamin understood a similar approach: The 'variegated traces of daily life of "the collective"... was to be the object of study, and with methods - above all, in their dependence on chance - to the nineteenth century collector of antiquities and curiosities, or indeed the methods of the nineteenth-century ragpicker, than to those of the modern historian (p. ix). 

As an historical institutionalist, the "historical rummaging" (see Kathleen Thelen) is part of the satisfaction, especially when one finds the historical gem.

The approach, when combined with Stoicism, has allowed me to overcome the constant dissatisfaction that surrounded me before moving to Gunning: cheap architecture,  people glued to their phones, academics telling me they didn't have time to read books, me pretending to know something when I had never read the work from cover to cover.

General George S. Patton believed in reincarnation and claimed to have been in combat many times throughout history. I often think of him as someone born in the wrong era. But I never quite thought that for my own dissatisfaction with this era.

I suppose the idea of le flâneur politique gives me a steampunk approach to academe and the political - I get to enjoy the best of both worlds. And that, I think, completes my four-part contemplation of my research philosophy and six months of thinking about it.

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Le Flâneur
Paul Gavarni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons