This stance, simultaneously part of and apart from, combines sociological, anthropological, literary, and historical notions of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace. Highly self-aware, and to a certain degree flamboyant and theatrical, dandies of the mid-nineteenth century created scenes through self-consciously outrageous acts like walking turtles on leashes down the streets of Paris. In his essay " The Metropolis and Mental Life ", Simmel theorized that the complexities of the modern city create new social bonds and new attitudes towards others. The fight with nature which primitive man has to wage for his bodily existence attains in this modern form its latest transformation. The eighteenth century called upon man to free himself of all the historical bonds in the state and in religion, in morals and in economics. In addition to more liberty, the nineteenth century demanded the functional specialization of man and his work; this specialization makes one individual incomparable to another, and each of them indispensable to the highest possible extent.
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However, Lauster does accept the importance of The Arcades Project in assembling excerpts from nineteenth-century sources dealing with the phenomena of novelty — in particular the arcades and department stores, panoramas, exhibitions, fashion, and gaslight. One could describe this figure as the viewing-device through which Benjamin formulates his own theoretical assumptions concerning modernity, converging in a Marxist critique of commodity fetishism.
This means that a common type is, as it were, superimposed upon their illustrious type. Benjamin focuses on the margins of the modern city, scavenging amongst the texts and oral histories that have been omitted or neglected.
Literary ragpicking resurrects discarded texts, forming them into new texts. Benjamin was interested not just in what is, but in what was and what might be. He is looking for where the imagined city meets the material one. Ancient peoples had access to numerous rites of passage, transition points and triggers for being jolted from one state of consciousness to another; from reason to myth.
In the same regard, Benjamin also referred to the power of advertising and its dreamlike quality; its capacity to link commodities with the human imagination. Thus, in entering the world created by advertising, one passes through a threshold, thereby achieving a form of transcendence: Modern idlers attempt a kind of partial transcendence — imitating the gods — that temporarily overcomes the shock experience of modernity.
Hence his belief in the importance of the arcades; he believed they were able to bring together all manner of consumer commodities in an environment of mixed interiors and exteriors. This interior unites all epochs, all parts of the world and all phenomena of contemporary society.
Cafes, cinemas and shops in which one is invited to browse, such as bookshops, all have in common that they can be seen as an extension of the street. Benjamin enjoyed such ambiguity. On the one hand it is clearly a short-sighted and self-destructive occupation. But on the other, it gives the promise and anticipation of a utopian dream with many options and possibilities, and an aura pregnant with notions of superstition and fate. He is the observer, the witness, the stroller of the commodity-obsessed marketplace.
He synchronises himself with the shock experience of modern life. He does not, however, challenge that system. These are used, asserts Deborah Parsons, as vehicles for his speculations on urban modernity: Both are itinerant metaphors that register the city as a text to be inscribed, read, rewritten and reread. The rag-picker too moves across the urban landscape, but as a scavenger, collecting, rereading and rewriting its history.
The loiterer refuses to submit to thee social controls of modern industry: Boredom in the production process originates with its speed-up through machines. The flaneur with his ostentatious composure protests against the production process. Phantasmagoric experiences, therefore, are created by humans, but have the appearance of seeming to possess a life of their own. It is, therefore, clear that Baudelaire established a tradition that moved through the early modernists, to the Surrealists and on to the Situationists.
Such projects may, in fact, be easier than they were for previous generations of flaneur; the modern subject is comfortable with the presence and the use of photographic equipment. The camera is no longer exotic; it belongs to the sphere of the familiar. In commodity society all of us are prostitutes, selling ourselves to strangers; all of us are collectors of things.
Baudelaire, Benjamin and the Birth of the Flâneur