Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Dreams, Drugs and Balconies: A reflection on Convolute M – The Flaneur

In Arcades, reading on August 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

 “An intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly rough the streets.  With each step, the walk takes on greater momentum; ever weaker grow the temptation of shops, of bistros, of smiling women, ever more irresistible the magnetism of the next street corner, of a mass of distant foliage, of a street name.  Then comes hunger.  Our man wants nothing to do with the myriad possibilities offered to sate his appetite.  Like an ascetic animal, he flits through unknown districts – until, utterly exhausted, he stumbles into his room, which received him oddly and wears a strange air” (Benjamin AP M1,3)

The intoxication of flanerie is linked explicitly in this convolute to the intoxication produced by Hashish, a drug that Benjamin experimented with in the 1920s.  He makes frequent references to it throughout the Arcades Project and links the hesitant, doubt-filled meanderings of flanerie explicitly to the feelings of “hashish intoxication” (M4a,1), explaining the experiences of walking through crowded streets in these terms too:

“The masses are the newest drug for the solitary.” (Benjamin AP M16,3)

“We know that, in the course of flanerie, far-off times and places interpenetrate the landscape and the present moment.  When the authentically intoxicated phase of this condition announces itself, the blood is pumping in the veins of the happy flaneur, his heart ticks like a clock, and inwardly as well as outwardly things go on as we would imagine them to do in one of those ‘mechanical pictures’ which in the nineteenth century (and of course earlier, too) enjoyed great popularity, and which depicts in the foreground a shepherd playing on a pipe, by his side two children swaying in time to the music, further back a pair of hunters in pursuit of a lion, and very much in the background a train crossing over a trestle bridge…” (Benjamin AP M2,4)

Hashish has dissociative properties as well as hallucinatory ones, and although the preceding quotation emphasises the phantasmagorical, optimistic visions offered by flanerie, Benjamin reports in the first that the flaneur suffers from an inability to settle and finds his own environment suddenly strange on his return.  This process of othering and of the breaking of ties is an characteristic of flanerie that is underdeveloped in contemporary appropraitions of the term. Flanerie involves connections being made in a process that can never be fully grasped in its entirity, as the edifice of the Arcades Projects makes clear.  A mode of flanerie in reading is demanded by the Arcades Project in which the reader must enter into the concept to understand it.  This intoxicated mode is another altered state offered by Benjamin in an attempt to provide a framework for understanding the paradoxes of urban life.  Elsewhere it is the language of dreams that gives us the toolkit for understanding the methods that Benjamin is using (convolute N) or the fantastic architectural and cultural forms of modernity (Convolute K).  Influenced by the surrealists and in turn influencing the situationsists, Benjamin is attempting to bend the logic of dreams and drugs to confront a world of fantasy and excess.  The concept he bequeaths most obviously to later urban thinkers is that of the flaneur.

An illustration of the fantastic landscape of the flaneur is given by reference to a guidebook description of a restaurant menu from 1867, described as “Flanerie through the bill of fare” by Benjamin, but also, uncomfortably, reflecting the labyrinthine construction of the Arcades Project itself:

“’Thirty-six pages for food, four ages for drink – but very long pages, in small folio, with closely packed text and numerous annotations in fine print.’ The booklet is bound in velvet.  Twenty hors d’oeurves and thirty-three soups. ‘Forty-six beef dishes, among which are seven different beefsteaks and eight fillets.’ ‘Thirty-four preparations of game, forty-seven dishes of vegetables, and seventy-one varieties of compote’” (AP M3a,1)

This excess of choice offers no logical path through, no rational decision making process for the consumer.  It invites you to soak up is luxury, marvel at its generosity and, ultimately, to open your wallet in a delirium.  This a dreamscape designed to extract profit, a Disneyworld bound in velvet.

Sharon Zukin (1993) summarises the landscapes created by Disney world as ‘The power of facade / the facade of power’ , noting that the production of a constantly evolving, interactive, fantasy landscape that can meet the physical, emotional and social needs of its visors relies on “the centralization of economic power typical of modern society” (224).  Disney create dreams as landscapes, supported by an infrastructure of convenience that means that dream, and the landscape, are unbroken for miles, and for days at a time.

“Landscape – that, in fact, is what Paris becomes for the flaneur.  Or, more precisely:  the city splits for him into its dialectical poles.  It opens up to him as a landscape, even as it closes around him as a room” (Benjamin AP M1,4)

This is the personalisation of landscape, the creation of an architectural form that is both expansive and inspiring on the one hand, and personal and inviting on the other.  Benjamin folds the internal and external together by emphasising the way in which the streets of the city become the living space of ‘the masses’.

“Streets are the dwelling place of the collective.  The collective is an eternally unquiet, agitated being that – in the space between the building fronts – experiences, learns, understands, and invents as much as individuals do within the privacy of their own four walls.  For this collective, glossy enamelled shop signs are a wall decoration as good as, if not better than, an oil painting in the drawing room of a bourgeois; walls with their ‘post no bills’ are its writing desk, newspaper stands its libraries, mailboxes its bronze busts, benches its bedroom furniture, and the cafe terrace is the balcony from which it looks down on its household.  The section of railing where road workers hang their jackets is the vestibule, and the gateway which leads from the row of courtyards out into the open is the long corridor that daunts the bourgeois, being for the courtyards the entry to the chambers of the city.  Among these latter, the arcade was the drawing room.  More than anywhere else, the street reveals itself in the arcade as the furnished and familiar interior of the masses.” (Benjamin AP M3a,4)

But we shouldn’t solely understand this as an emancipatory perspective on the reclamation of urban space by the oppressed, a common tendency in urban theory, but instead look at what Benjamin is pointing us to here.  This section of writing is structured around a series of oppositions between the possessions of the wealthy and the possessions of the masses:

Oil paintings vs. Shop signs

Writing desks vs. Street walls

Libraries vs. Newspaper stands

Bronze busts vs. Mailboxes

Bedroom furniture vs. Benches

Balconies vs. Cafe terraces

Vestibules vs. Railings

Drawing rooms vs. Arcades

This list, drawn out here to emphasise its absurdity, highlights the different material positions of the two classes.  To be outside is, in this case, to be kept outside, barricaded off from a world that is as fantastic as the velvet wrapped menu.  The creative possibilities offered by the street are a substitution for the material advantages of wealth, but in no way emancipation from the logic of capital.   The flaneur, taking in this ‘division’ (AP M5,8) as if in a dream, and entering into it with a jouissant  attitude, coasts along on the crest of commodification and offers no challenge to an order which appears as if in a dream:

“Empathy with the commodity is fundamentally empathy with exchange value itself.  The flaneur is the virtuoso of empathy.  He takes the concept of marketability itself for a stroll.  Just as his final ambit is the department store, his last incarnation is the sandwich man.” (Benjamin AP M17a,2)

Wish You Were Here!

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2010 at 10:25 am

 By Tina Richardson

On August 4th 2010 I bought a postcard from the Beach Cafe in Old Hunstanton and sent it to myself at my university address. I chose a ‘typical’ seaside image: a sunny day with people enjoying themselves on the beach. It turns out the image was from the 1970s at the latest, as the photographer had to have been standing on the pier. The pier was originally built in 1870 and destroyed by a storm in 1978.


The Wish You Were Here Concept

While wikipedia has a whole section on the Pink Floyd album of the same name, it doesn’t have a section on the concept. This might be because it is obvious or because it merits its very own thesis. However, Jacques Derrida has written about  the postcard in The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, and other philosophical texts seem to be available on discussions of the postcard, but not much on wish-you-were-here.


The Postcard as Sign

In Britain the seaside postcard is synonymous with the rise of the Victorian seaside resort. According to the OED a postcard is “A card designed to be carried by post without an envelope“. However, the holiday postcard is much more than that. Amongst other things it is a sign of remembering and a recognition of absence. While this could also be applied to a letter, I think the holiday postcard has a different kind of significance: it is celebrating the pleasure of the sender in the absence of the receiver.

For information on my other work, please go to: particulations

A Strange Psychogeography: A Walk Around Le Strange Arms Hotel in Old Hunstanton

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2010 at 10:40 am

By Tina Richardson

On August 4th 2010 my original plan to research the elderly mobility issue in the seaside resort of Hunstanton was aborted due to bad weather. I had been planning on taking out my father’s buggy for a test run, a sort of ‘star in a reasonably priced car’ but with no star and only something vaguely resembling a car. It rained that morning and looked like it was going to rain on and off all day. So instead I decided to do a walk around Le Strange Arms; an area in Old Hunstanton that has a hotel, pub, golf course, arts and crafts centre, beach cafe and a plethora of signs which are always of interest to the psychogeographer.


The Le Strange Family

I am not going to provide an in depth history of the Le Strange family here, as this exists in abundance elsewhere, but I would just like to situate the area historically. The Le Strange family were responsible for developing the new beach area of New Hunsatnton (now Hunstanton) in 1846. Investors were persuaded by Henry Styleman Le Strange to fund the new railway line, and Hunstanton became the first seaside resort of the railway age. There was practically nothing in what is now Hunstanton prior to this period. Le Strange built the town: he moved the old village cross to the new area, built its first hotel (what is now the Golden Lion) and Hunstanton soon became a popular resort for the Victorians. I have heard that there were 16 trains a day in 1911. The line was sadly decommissioned in 1969. There are proposals to have it reopened.


Le Strange Arms Hotel

Old Hunstanton, where the hotel is located, is a short walk from Hunstanton town centre. When you approach it from the coast road, you actually come to the back of the hotel, rather than the original front which faces the beach. This photo shows what is now the rear of the hotel, facing onto its own car park, gardens and then the coastline:

This image shows the staircase winding up the side of it on a more recently built modern section of the hotel:

The gardens were pleasant with a conservatory/sun lounge at the bottom: really nice but not modern, obviously…

…but what I did really like was this play centre for the children which I thought was almost sculpture-like:

The garden just borders the coastal grass area, just prior to the sand. I managed to get a good photo of the beach huts from there:

This red wall post box was on the periphery of the hotel ground:


Seaside Paraphernalia and Imagery

Just prior to heading down towards the beach I saw a memorial bench dedicated to John ‘Grouch’ Chapman. It seems he was a freemason, as the bench is placed by the Martin Folkes Lodge who meet in the Le Strange Arms Hotel.


The beach car park is on the left of the path that leads down to the beach.


The public car park has a lovely frieze. While there are barely any people depicted (only one in a deck chair), the animals seem to be having a great time:


The Beach Cafe is only a few yards from the hotel. I walked down the slope and came upon two friendly people with dogs who let me take their photo – which I thought was extremely kind in these surveillance-paranoid times. The woman had a nice sunhat on and practical wellies. The dogs took a while to calm down in order for me to take the photo, they probably thought they were stopping for ice cream rather than the whims of a blogger. The owners were patient and gave me excellent seaside smiles, as you can see:


This picture was taken outside the Beach Cafe which was like an Aladdin’s cave and sold everything. I like beach paraphernalia. It is always hyper-colourful and there is something transient about it. I’m not sure if this is because of the cheap plastic of which most of it is made, or rather because summer is always fleeting, especially in Britain. I guess there is also some nostalgic childhood notion attached to it.


I don’t think the cafe ever sold many postcards. They were quite dusty and very old. I bought one that has a photo on it that was probably originally taken before 1978. The final section of the previously burned down pier was pulled down at that time, and it looks like the photographer was standing on the remaining section of the pier when the photo was shot. I have posted this postcard to myself at my university address. I will see if it arrives and shall include a mini blog on it later if it does.

I had a cappuccino and some ice cream at the cafe. My second ice cream of the summer.


The Royal National Lifeboat Institution

The RNLI was situated opposite the cafe:


Here is a link to the RNLI site at Hunstanton:

Hunstanton Lifeboat Station

Unfortunately the ‘video’ section of the website does not have any films uploaded yet. Instead I have included a film of a Skegness/Hunstanton RNLI exercise session below. They appear to have a Christmas tree on the back of the boat. They look to be having fun and I’m thinking this may be a ‘jolly’ disguised as an exercise.

Hunstanton/Skegness RNLI Exercise


Prohibitive Signs

If I didn’t include a section on the signs that are instructing you to do and not do things, I wouldn’t be carrying out my psychogeographic duties properly. My favourite one is the first one, which was on the fence of a property.

The Ancient Mariner

While the Ancient Mariner is actually a pub in Old Hunstanton it is also an epic poem by Coleridge. So I have included a couple of lines here:

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

I chose these lines as I found out that the sea in this area was so cold that it froze in 1940. I didn’t know what a ‘swound’ was so looked it up on google. According to wikipedia they are a band from Nottingham who made up the word themselves – ooops, sorry boys, Samuel Taylor got there first! A ‘swound’ also appears to be a ‘swoon’.


You reach the Ancient Mariner Inn before you get to Le Strange Arms Hotel. The pub faces the arts and crafts centre opposite.



Leaving the Strangeness Behind

I walked back via the lighthouse and St Edmunds arch. I didn’t take a photo of the lighthouse but a video instead, which I’ve struggled to upload. This is St Edmund’s arch, which I am showing as a taster to a possible future blog on the area which is currently under conservation:

Here is a link to a great photo of the lighthouse:

Hunstanton Lighthouse

Of course, I don’t see Hunstanton as really being strange. The seaside, however, has a unique topography suggesting concepts such as liminality (it is a threshold of uncertainty and a blurred boundary between the land and sea); and historically, otherness, in the sense that the sea always had (has) the potential for bringing an unexpected other to the shores of the homeland.

For information on my other work, please go to: particulations