Monday, February 14, 2011

The Flâneur

I always tell my children never to say they hate someone or something, the preferred alternative being to say, "it's not my favorite." Hate is really much too strong a word to describe their feelings about classmates, teachers, and certain things that appear before them at the dinner table.  As far as hating intolerance, injustice, environmental degradation, war, and cleaning the bathroom, I'm good with that.

My point is that I'll try to set a good example for them and tell you that The Flâneur by Edmund White was not my favorite.  I decided recently that I'd better go ahead and read some of the books about Paris that folks keep asking me if I've read.  So off to the library I went, list in hand.  I was kind of relieved to find that The Flâneur is a slim volume, a good thing after the 400 plus pages about Catherine de Medici.

But I only got to page 3 before I was chafing at the pretentiousness of the whole thing.   I stuck with it and happily found some redeemable sections on the French author Colette, the experience of African Americans in Paris, and the history of anti-semitism in France.  And since I don't know anything about French views on homosexuality either now or in the past, I have to give him his due on that.  But the rest is nothing but his proclamations about the real Paris (an issue worthy of a post all in itself), plenty of name dropping, and general superciliousness.

Well, you may be thinking, it's a memoir.  Shouldn't you expect it to be self absorbed?  Fair enough except....the name of this book is not My Life as a Flâneur, but The Flâneur.  And while there are personal anecdotes here, White works pretty hard to gussy them up to be more prescriptive (how one should think about and experience Paris) than reflective (what happened to me and what I take away from that.)  

I do agree with White's statement that "Paris, land of novelty and distraction, is the great city of the flâneur -- that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination, and goes where caprice or curiousity directs his or her steps.'  I'm just happy that he doesn't get to come along with me for the ride.

5 comments:

Lost In Cheeseland said...

I'm so glad you decided to write a review - there's nothing I dislike more in novels, particularly about France, than unwarranted pretention. I'll be skipping this read but do agree with your/his closing remarks about Paris as a city for flâning - clearly the word was created for Paris.

samovar said...

i never read it, now i never will! so many books, so little time.. thank you!

Sweet Freak said...

I agree with Lindsey & Samovar... thanks for saving us the time and annoyance!

Starman said...

If you didn't like this one, you certainly won't like his others.

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You might find this thing I wrote, also very recently, rather interesting, to say the least...

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