Invisible / Visible : Benjamin / Elkins

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I didn’t choose this set of quotes to be posted together, intentionally. These initial three are simply among the first I came across in the dog-eared, pink highlighted pages of two of the books I’ve been most invested in as I began this project – Walter Benjamin’s, The Arcades Project and (Dr) Lauren Elkin’s book, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London. 

There are many, many more quotes that I could include here in this post that refer to the spectacle of the woman from the viewpoint of the male flâneur. There are many examples from Baudelaire, himself, in which he refers to the temptresses, seductresses, and whores that he or Mr G have seen on their walks. I’ll include more elsewhere, as I go on. For now I re-read these two quotes within ten minutes and they struck me, together, particularly in regard to the idea of in/visibility.

* I only put “Dr” in quotes when mentioning the author of Flâneuse because she is listed without the title as the author of her book however her proper, academic and work title is Dr. Lauren Elkin.


Dialectic of flânerie: on one side, the man who feels himself viewed by all and sundry as a true suspect and, on the other side, the man who is utterly undiscoverable, the hidden man. Presumably, it is this dialectic that is developed in “The Man of the Crowd” [M2, 8] – The Arcades Project, p 420 by Walter Benjamin [white male]



I have constructed other, similar images in my mind’s eye, moments that lacked a photographer, recorded in diaries or novels. There’s one of George Sand, who dressed like a boy to walk through the streets, lost in the city, an ‘atom’ in the crowd. Or Jean Rhys, whose female characters walk past cafe terraces and cringe as the clientele follow them with their eyes, knowing they’re outsiders. Breslauer’s photograph, and the others I have in mind, set out the key problem at the heart of the urban experience: are we individuals or are we part of the crowd? Do we want to stand out or do we – no matter what our gender – want to be seen in public? Do we want to attract or escape the gaze? Be independent and invisible? Remarkable or unremarked-upon?” – Flâneuse, p2 by Dr Lauren Elkin [white female]

The argument against the flâneuse sometimes has to do with questions of visibility – ‘It is crucial for the flâneur to be functionally invisible,’ writes Luc Sante, defending his own gendering of the flâneur as male and not female. This remark is at the same time unfair and cruelly accurate. We would love to be invisible the way a man is. We’re not the ones who make ourselves visible, in the sense that Sante means, in terms of the stir a woman alone in public can create; it’s the gaze of the flâneur that makes the woman who would join his ranks too visible to slip by unnoticed. But if we’re so conspicuous, why have we been written out of the history of cities? – also from Flâneuse, p2 by Dr Lauren Elkin [white female]


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