Urban Meanderthals and the City of “Desire Lines”
Posted by Canto Rodado on April 25, 2012
The avoidance of pedlock and gridlock, then, induces another breed of flâneur, with an alternative form of desire path, one resulting not from the pedestrian’s unselfconscious obliviousness to the environment, but from a precipitously induced hyper-awareness. The resulting secondary desire paths adopted by those who are suddenly diverted from their trajectories are, indeed, not aimless but forced re-adjustments; the intentions of the pedestrian are redirected as a result of their objectives being obstructed. What results, I’d like to suggest, is yet another breed of flâneur. This one we might call: Flâneur 2.0.
For this new breed of Flâneur the hustle and bustle of the crowd is not to be observed at leisure, but to be avoided. The goal is not to aestheticize urban life while absorbing it, but to instrumentalize it while attempting to direct it in the name of efficiency and speed. The crowd is not to be followed but to be deliberately avoided, the urban grid of everyday life is not to be re-inscribed but to be exceeded.
Flâneur 2.0, no longer self-consciously critical of the techno-urban imperatives that morph around him, no longer taking a derive or deviation for its own sake, finds herself unwillingly and unwittingly having to smooth out the striated grid. Driven by invisible economic imperatives (imperatives that constitute the fish-bowl he swims in), Flâneur 2.0 is thrust kicking and screaming — sometimes literally — out of his habitual orbit by the Meanderthal. Nonetheless, though briefly discombobulated, Flâneur 2.0 quickly gets re-oriented, re-doubling his/her efforts for the sake of efficiency, mobility, speed, and capital. The phrase quoted at the beginning of this paper — “Down with Dawdling!” — undoubtedly had a certain currency in Walter Benjamin’s day. But the man who first uttered it could not have imagined that it would persist, nor what it would come to mean in the age of the Meanderthal.