In his 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life”, Charles Baudelaire describes the figure of the flâneur as the archetypal observer of Modernity, strolling the streets of Paris to transmute experience into art. Walter Benjamin later describes the flâneur as a modern artist-poet, keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the city and of capitalism. For Baudelaire and Benjamin, the flâneur is not only a literary figure, but one that is distinctly French, male, and associated with a burgeoning Parisian urban culture. Yet by the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was London, not Paris, that was the largest urban centre within Europe, counting over one million citizens by 1801 and expanding to one and a half million within the first decade of the century. It is no surprise, therefore, that London writers also explored the changing shape of the city and its burgeoning consumer cultures through the figure of the stroller, who explores the streets of London to reflect on the changing shape of the city and its relationship to the emerging British Empire. Using Benjamin’s concept of the flâneur, Chakrabarty’s concept of adda, and Ranciére’s concept of ‘the shop of history’, this course will examine writings by early-nineteenth-century urban peripatetics who took to the streets of London as observers of everyday life. Students will be asked to consider the ways in which strolling, walking and loitering can be seen in these texts as disruptions and/or refigurations of the space-time of the burgeoning British nation and its consolidation of national and imperial identity, inscriptions and/or destabilisations of urban space in terms of gender and class, as well as negotiations of emerging forms of commodity capitalism.
Charles Dickens, Night Walks
Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia
A Course Reader will be made available on Moodle prior to the beginning of semester.