Miserable Method: flâneur & clochard in the study of the social

In reading on February 8, 2012 at 9:14 am

In Susan Buck-Morss’ article on the sandwichman (Buck-Morss 1986) there is this comment on the flaneur:

The flaneur records the merely apparent reality of the market place behind which the social relations of class remained concealed. The empathic relationships he establishes in their place make not only human misery, but “the [class] struggle against misery into an object of consumption.”

Which referes to Benjamin’s arguments in The Author as Producer about the commodification of misery & of the struggle against misery itself:

I spoke of the operation of a certain type of fashionable photography, which makes misery into a consumer good. When I turn to the ‘new objectivity’ as a literary movement, I must go a step further and say that it has made the struggle against misery into a consumer good. In fact, in many cases its political meaning has been exhausted with the transposition of revolutionary reflexes, in so far as they appeared in the bourgeoisie, into objects of distraction and amusement which were integrated without difficulty into the cabaret business of the big cities. The metamorphosis of the political struggle from a drive to make a political commitment into an object of contemplative pleasure, from a means of production into an article of consumption, is characteristic of this literature.

This contemplative relation to misery is of course the mark of academic analysis and is built into the framework of assumptions of all orders of discipline such that the flâneur is already the standard form of the academic.  Methods of study that acknowledge this and are open & honest about this flânerie of study itself are necessary starting points for overcoming this comfortable orientation to misery.  Ethically we must be concerned with our position as flâneurs if we are to start developing means for being more than just perceptive.

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