I was tickled pink to learn a new concept from one of my writing clients this week. (A common byproduct and perk of my work as a consultant to talented writers!)
The concept I came across was that of the flâneur (which arises from nineteenth-century French literary culture), and I immediately felt that it was such a fitting description of most writers I know.
You see, if you are a writer, it’s likely that you are a stroller, a passionate wanderer, an intense observer of life. You are one who removes yourself from the physical, everyday world while you take the time to observe the heart and soul of life pulsing through and around humanity.
Unfortunately, in today’s world flânerie has lost a lot of credence, due to the insane pace we live our lives, as if there were no tomorrow. Many cannot seem to afford such a leisurely stroll through life, meandering through the many engaging and absorbing moments that relationships, nature and situations present. But not the flâneur writer! He/she cannot afford not to! It’s a case of the “aha” moments that matter most and that most miss.
The concept of the flâneur was originally conceived by Walter Benjamin, at the turn of the 19th Century, and described “one who wanders without destination” – so aimlessly wandering in a timely and leisurely manner through the neighbourhood.
Is this why writers love coffee shops, I wondered? Flâneuring in and around coffee shops where one can idle away hours whilst eavesdropping on kaffee klatsch — yes, that sounds just about right. That’s my excuse for such odd behaviour – what’s yours?
The intense curiosity that writers have when their Muse calls, is a habit they indulge in frequently and that habit of curiosity becomes more than useful in the absolute stillness of contemplation. Many meditate, many play background music to write to, whilst others require absolute silence. Others again are struck by inspiration whilst walking their dog, or taking a shower or slumbering. We are all different in some respects. But all of us, with few exceptions, are driven by curiosity and the deeper observations of life and, especially people. These are common traits. As is the tendency to flâneur through our lives!
Let’s all indulge in this and not feel guilty, after all, it’s a 19th Century literary tradition that deserves to be returned to popularity and acceptance. We need this more than ever before.
Along with the “slow” movement (you know, “slow food” etc), deep curiosity and an air of abandonment, of flânerie, this could well be the very thing to increase our productivity as writers, and at the very least, it can enhance and sharpen the depth and quality of our writing.
Not to mention, what an absolute joy to become a self-indulgent flâneur writer. So, I say: “Vive la flânerie!”.