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The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris (Writer and the City) [Hardcover]

Edmund White
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Feb 2001 Writer and the City
A flaneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic. Edmund White, who lived in Paris for sixteen years, wanders through the streets and avenues and along the quays, taking us into parts of Paris virtually unknown to visitors and indeed to many Parisians. Entering the Marias evokes the history of Jews in France, just a visit to the Haynes grill recalls the presence - festive, troubled - of black Americans in Paris for a century and a half. Gays, Decadents, even Royalists past and present are all subjected to the flaneur's scrutiny. Edmund White's "The Flaneur" is opinionated, personal, subjective. As he conducts us through the bookshops and boutiques, past the monuments and palaces, filling us in on the gossip and background of each site, he allows us to see through the blank walls and past the proud edifices and to glimpse the inner, human drama. Along the way he recounts everything from the latest debates among French law-makers to the juicy details of Colette's life in the Palais Royal, even summoning up the hothouse atmosphere of Gustave Moreau's atelier. Coming soon in the series are: "Ahdaf Soueif on Cairo", "Peter Carey on Sydney" and "Rubem Fonseca on Rio".

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1st edition (19 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747549575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747549574
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 11.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 212,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Edmund White's reflections on Paris form the first in a series of alternative travel guides in which a writer takes readers on a personalised tour of their city. White fashions himself into Baudelaire's passionate observer, The Flâneur--"that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps"--threaded with a Proustian sensibility, connecting personal and historical memories with locations. His chosen routes are the cracks that run through Haussmann's imperialist Paris, "the traces left by people living in the margin--Jews, blacks, gays, Arabs--or mementoes of an earlier, more chaotic and medieval France".

But even caprice is never entirely random. White retreats into the privatised public spaces of writers, artists and collectors: from the Hôtel de Lauzun where arty denizens including Balzac, Gautier, Manet and the ubiquitous Baudelaire attended exotic dinners parties fuelled by powerful hashish, to the Musée Camondo, built by a prominent banking family who were wiped out in the Holocaust. He maintains that the contemporary vitality of the city lies in the teeming quartiers where Arabs and blacks live, but, tellingly, rather than lead into a discussion of France's postcolonial history, White uses these areas to peer into the jazz-soundtracked encounter between Parisians and American blacks between the wars, the stage taken by Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. White is quintessentially an American in Paris and his struggle with the tensions between US identity politics and the universalist citizenship of France sometimes reveals more about the walker than the streets he walks, most especially in his discussion of AIDS in France.

White's Flâneur is the city guide as story-teller, rather than inventory-taker--a guidebook of which Walter Benjamin would have approved. The Flâneur is a jewel-box of a book offering rich rewards, which, while not serving up Paris as a list of sights for us to check, certainly conveys some of the city's aura in a beautifully compact format.--Fiona Buckland


'Edmund White is one of the most virtuosic living writers of sentences in the English language' Dave Eggers 'White's genius as a flaneur is revealed in his affinity for unexpected pleasures, and he includes many for our delectation' New Yorker 'One has the impression of having fallen into the hands of a highly distractible, somewhat eccentric poet and professor who is determined to show you a Paris you wouldn't otherwise see ... White tells such a good story that I'm ready to listen to anything he wants to talk about' New York Times Book Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An affectionate and telling portrait 16 Feb 2001
By A Customer
The tone of this lovely book is set from the start. I laughed when I read the first sentence, I smiled at the second, and by the end of the first chapter I was already packing my bags (metaphorically), boarding the train, and longing to be in Paris.
Edmund White is an accomplished writer who lived in Paris for fifteen years, from about 1983, before returning to his native USA. If he was in love with the French (which seems likely) it was never to the extent to being blinded to their flaws. Taking the notion of the Flaneur, the attentive urban ambler, as his inspiration he takes a gentle and informative stroll through some of the lesser known byways of the French capital, and French history, pausing to point out curious features and to cast light along the way.
Somehow, without ever forcing the pace, he manages to explore art, politics, and sex. He discusses the paradoxical attitudes of the French to race discrimination and the appallingly inadequate response of the state to AIDs in the 1980s. He examines the contrasts between the American and French attitudes to fashion. He ponders on flirtatiousness - how it cannot be avoided in Paris and how it cannot be attempted in New York. He muses upon the creation and endless re-invention of cities, . He writes perceptively about jazz music between the wars, including the danse sauvage of Josephine Baker and its effect upon (amongst others) Marshall Tito, and he struggles (as must we all) with the precise distinction between monarchist and royalist that so exercised the proprietor of his local café. There are many reasons for reading this book. One is that it is beautifully written (it helps). Another is that, without ever losing the objectivity of the foreigner, the author manages to empathise with his subject.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like Paris, take this and fall in love! 14 Aug 2002
By S. Yogendra VINE VOICE
Highly recommended. Despite the heading, I did not really like Paris. When I visited Paris first, I lived in Zurich and from the Swiss orderliness to the bohemian French territory was a systemic shock to me. But over time I have read a few books about Paris and am now eagerly waiting for my next trip.
The Flaneur literally means a loiterer but purposeless this book is not. Loitering is also a slower description of the pace of this book. The visually driven descriptions of Paris intersperse beautifully with the history of how Paris came to be like it is. Through centuries of music, art and literature. The author is not just well-researched, he also has the qualification of being in love with Paris. So read it, I say and fall in love with Paris.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Wander Through Paris 22 Mar 2009
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
With The Flaneur what Edmund White gives us is essentially his guide through the city of Paris. By actual definition a flaneur is someone who walks the streets and observes life as it passes, watching the world go by in all its wonderment. Now if this (like it does with me) describes you and you are indeed someone who loves to stroll and people watch this is a book for you.

What Edmund White has as an edge is the perspective of someone who has lived in Paris for years and knows the ins and outs of its history backstreets and where those who know Paris like the back of their hands go to. It's like a much more personal and interesting Rough Guide in some ways, not that I am saying rough guides aren't well written. I just think this has an edge in terms of being a much more personal stroll through the streets.

Not only are you told the hotspots to go and where to visit for history that isn't in the Louvre or on the tour guides, you are given various histories of Paris. The book is quite short (I wish I had had this when I went to Paris last year) so is perfect to take with you should you go away but is also incredibly easy to read and wonderfully written. There are only six chapters in the book and each one seems to be an essay on a specific side to Paris. If the word `essay' makes it sound like its boring then ignore the word because it is far from it.

The first subject rightly so is simply just Paris and a kind of love letter to it. There are also chapters on the immigration of all different nationalities coming into Paris and making it the racial and cultured mix that it now is where as once it was a predominantly white city.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a hack job done for the money 11 July 2008
By Mykool
This is a very disappointing book. It is subtitled "a stroll through the paradoxes" of Paris but there is very little of the contemporary city in it. Nor is there much strolling. For example, Edmund White starts a chapter on the Marais district but quickly digresses to the Jewish figures who lived near the Bois de Bologne in the 19th century then a long explication of the Dreyfus case. All of this can be read in any French history book and none of it is particularly Parisien. Likewise, his chapter on gay cruising has limited appeal - why do homosexual writers think they have to tell us the details of their sex lives which White himself admits most people will find "pathetic and sordid"? He gives a detailed bibliography at the end which confesses that he has plundered most of this from other people's books which makes it seem very like a hack job done without much care. There is little, if anything, here for anyone wanting to research before a trip to Paris. An up-to-date guidebook would be far more useful.
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