Thursday, September 29, 2011

Le Flaneur Noir

The Flaneur appreciated this excerpt from "Pseudonymously Yours,"a consideration of the Irish writer John Banville writing as Benjamin Black. It was written by Johanna Kavenna and published in a July 2011 issue of the New Yorker.

Banville's exploratory monologues owe much to the modernist idea of the disaffiliated flaneur, Poe's "man of the crowd," who creeps through the teeming city, or through dreamscapes of his own mind, trying to "understand and appreciate everything that happens," as Baudelaire put it. The "mainspring of his genius is his curiosity," Baudelaire added, and this description could also describe the average noir detective. Indeed, the meandering flaneur and the solitary noir detective have so much in common that they could even be dark brothers. [They] creep through their own lives, and the lives of other people, amassing fragments, shards of experience, trying to understand something--anything--of death, disappearance, the past, or why we live and perish, or the bizarreness of what we call ordinary life. They share a refusal of the world of "other people," a sense that exclusion is the only option. To be an insider is to be an enemy or a fool.

le Flaneur noir

Monday, September 12, 2011


Early in August the Flaneur made the scene at Berkeley Art Museum to dig the freshly-installed Merzbau replica.

It was a club house for reading and performance created by collage-artist extraordinaire Kurt Schwitters. The occasion for this reconstruction from photographs is a Schwitters retrospective show. Although associated with the Dada movement he was more or less kindred and concurrent. He made association with Dada Zurich only after not doing so with Dada Berlin. His work is constructivist, cubist, and it fits into a broader avant garde as much as it does with the raw provocation of Dada.

Yet if Dada can be considered as design or style--the disordering of the typographical senses is there, the endless chance juxtapositions available to an artist's eye in mass produced printed matter. Assaults on figurative elements, leading to the illustrated dreams of Surrealism, are very rarely present in the works by Schwitters on display. One in which a traditional religious image is lost in his patchwork collage is as close as it gets and you must look hard to notice it as possibly somewhat scandalous or transgressive.
But so gorgeous are his collage tapestries -- tickets tearings and scraps all over-colored by pigment mixed with glue that dried to appear so timelessly old yet with a frisson of the new--simultaneity intact. His weaves of rich old papers are virtuosic works of pure color and pattern as profound as a great Persian rug.

The Merzbau united Schwitters life and art in a living space. Despite whatever inhibitions of movement in space it creates, like a cave, a tepee, a lean-to, the cathedral ceiling effect is in play. The lights change every few minutes inside and outside the chamber. Outside the windows an artificial verisimilitude prevails. Inside it's slow to recognize familiar enough objects in the Doctor Caligari-like expressionistic architecture --only it's white and chapel-like instead of a noir underworld nightmare. It would make a fine bedroom for a child. Did I dream that there was a transporting soundscape going on as well? Was there a glacier scouring a moraine of the mind? I can vouchsafe that it is a nice place to be inside a wee bit stoned.

Kurt Schwitters created the original Merzbau on property owned by his parents. Fleeing the fascists he relocated to Norway and attempted to replicate a merzbau there. He later dwelled in a rustic version while living in the rough. A smattering of remnants exist from these latter structures and only photo-documentation exists of the original work.

After a few digital image-capture sound effects had emanated from the Merzbau while I was the only occupant, a demure museum guide came in to tell me that sort of thing was not in fact encouraged.

Here's the Merzbau as seen from outside and above (at right).

Before I left I was gauche enough to take another photo of this Tibetan Buddha who forgave me.

P.S. If you are on facebook you can see more photographs of the BAM  Merzbau here:


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The Flaneur considers one of the the central tenants of American society that are "off the table"and may never even be discussed by elected officials. We must never expect fair taxes on the rich, meaningful reduction in military spending, regulation of firearms, or any real remedy to the relentless destruction and death caused by automobiles.

In Berkeley, there is no more appalling manifestation of hypocrisy than the pompous pronouncements by municipal or university officials regarding "getting people out of their cars." It is always obvious that they mean getting rid of the other cars not their own. They long for an end to excessive traffic, the competition for roadways and parking spots that other people represent. They never intend to suggest that they themselves would forego driving. They are after all the elite conducting important business. In short, what they are thinking is "If only we could get people out of their cars, we'd have the roads to ourselves."

Add to this the fierce depredations continually mounting against those of us unfortunate or principled enough to be pedestrians. In recent years the city of Berkeley has lowered fines for riding bikes on sidewalks. The excuse was that police were never writing tickets because they did not want to impose such a penalty on poor bike-riders. Now even with the lower fine they still don't. These bike-riders too often are people wearing helmets as they endanger those walking without helmets by zipping past them from behind, callously gambling that this person won't turn into their path. They routinely rob you of your right of way by driving at you on the sidewalk. They are moving at a rapid clip on a steel frame while wearing a helmet. When they get where they are going they almost always block pedestrian traffic by locking their vehicles to racks thoughtlessly installed right in everyone's way. Or if racks are not handy they lock their bikes to benches preventing their intended use, or to wheelchair ramps, handrails or any other fixture. Let those not as nimble as themselves "go around." Frequently you see bike users parading the fact that they are not using cars at that moment as evidence of their nobility. They are largely also not using the street as the law mandates vehicles must.

But we know the cops don't care about bikes. It is also glaringly apparent that they don't much care about pedestrian endangerment by automobile either. Once every few years they make a show of pulling over drivers who don't stop for people in crosswalks but this is just for show. Day-in and day-out cars drive into crowded crosswalks right under the noses of the cops and the cops ignore it. A great deal of housing has been built downtown and the denizens whip around the blocks like maniacs unimpeded by law enforcement, scattering like pigeons the people who have just waited to cross. You wait for cars and the traffic signal then you wait again for cars who roll at you to menace you out of your right-of-way. A right-of -way only granted at most intersections if you press a button to request permission to continue down the street.

Cars park on sidewalks, crash onto sidewalks from driveways, drive up on sidewalks all with an impunity born of scant protest or consequences. Many other encroachments are commonplace often on the busiest sidewalks. Some hustlers with more nerve than brains set up a huge obstacle course right on the access to the central Berkeley BART station, peddling shoddy earrings and other junk jewelry. They create a choke point on the sidewalk in front of Tully's coffee, one made worse by the mob of often rowdy street people who congregate there and panhandle. Next to them is a florist stand who puts his plastic urns twenty feet out into the apron of the busiest spot in town. Sidewalk cafe tables are equally bold in their privatization of public space--"Thank you for letting me traverse your restaurants, all you surly hash-slingers on Center street."

Now if we could only get people out of their cars.

Last week I had a brutal reminder of the mindless aggression that automobile users represent. I was walking North on Adeline between Alcatraz and Ashby. A middle-aged black man had ventured into the traffic lanes in an attempt to halt traffic. I looked where he was and there was a small dog flopping around like a fish out of water as he attempted to find his legs again after having been struck by a car. The guy a little worse-for-wear perhaps, poor perhaps, was having a difficult time getting the incessant flow of cars to stop and was nearly being hit himself. After reconnoitering the situation I joined him in the roadway then returned to the sidewalk to get a wooden palette to use as a stretcher to move the dog to the grassy median strip.
The dog had a tire mark on his hide quarters and blood and saliva was issuing from his mouth. Just the sweetest little lap dog with a furry face, he seemed somewhat relieved by our attentions. I placed my hand on his back and intoned "poor little guy" in a deep and calming voice. A young couple had showed up and attempted to give him water.
A Berkeley meter maid was also present but did absolutely nothing to help. Even when we moved him onto the palette to carry him she made no attempt to hold the traffic at bay despite her uniform-- the black guy and I had to do it. As I lifted him I dropped my shoulder bag in the street and after setting him down I turned to see the traffic driving over it. I had to fearlessly halt them again to retrieve it --luckily it hadn't been hit and my phone and reading glasses were still intact.

Another girl started calling animal hospitals and before long a cop arrived. He said the usual animal rescue was occupied and was not coming. A dog & cat hospital was reached and they agreed to take him. So we determined that the cop would carry him to his car and drop him off there. I crossed the street with a uniformed policeman holding a wounded dog and it was just hellish trying to get the cars to stop to let us cross. One Chinese lady scowled an angry look at us and would not stop, playing chicken with us until I had to yell at her to stop and stay stopped.

But after all she had the green light, why should she have to stop? Get out of her way! The traffic mandate is the law of the land!