A question I am often asked is, ‘What is a flâneur?’ As I explain in today’s video, a flâneur is a kind of ‘Parisian idler’.
Flâner (the French verbal infinitive from which the noun is derived) means both to stroll, saunter, walk or wander more or less aimlessly, and to loaf, laze, or lounge about. The ambulatory motion of the former would seem to preclude the stasis of the latter:—how does one walk and sit at the same time?
This paradox is merely the foundation of a complex structure of irreconcilable logical paradoxes which comprise the ludic enterprise of flânerie and constitute the characteristics of the flâneur.
The question then follows, what is it like to be a Melbourne flâneur? If to be a flâneur is to be a Parisian idler, then to be a Parisian idler in Melbourne would seem to add one paradox de trop to the complex character of the flâneur.
Pas du tout.
I find a lot of similarities between Melbourne and Paris. People often ask if Melbourne is like Europe. The answer is yes. Of all the Australian capitals, Melbourne has the strongest ties to Europe, and despite its fraternal links to Greece and Italy, there seems to me to be an unmistakable soupçon parisien to its arcades and laneways, its bars and cafés, such that I sometimes think of Melbourne as being ‘Paris-on-the-Yarra’.
Key to Melbourne’s Parisian flavour is its walkability. It is, like Paris, a remarkably ‘walkable’ city: you can go very far on foot, and to be a flâneur you must be prepared to travel Melbourne without a car.
Fortunately, its famous tram network (the most extensive in the world) serves roughly an analogous rôle to the Paris Métro, being thoroughly integrated into the peculiar character of the city and the fabric of its streets.
This means that if you get tired of walking in Melbourne, you don’t have to go too far to find the nearest tram stop!
The reason why the flâneur is necessarily a pedestrian is because the pace of idle observation is measured by the foot. In his essay Le peintre de la vie moderne (1863), Charles Baudelaire defines the flâneur as a ‘passionate observer’ whose home lies in the crowd; as a ‘mirror’ large as the crowd itself; as ‘a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness’ which reflects its movements.
In fine, the flâneur is an instrument of observation which reflects the colourful spectacles it observes in two ways: both matter-of-factly, as a mirror reflects actuality, and interpretatively, as a thoughtful subject who reflects upon what it sees.
You can see why the observational avocation of the flâneur might be an amusing exercise for someone whose vocation it is to be a writer: the writer’s desire to transcribe the external details of reality with the rigorous exactitude of a piece of recording equipment finds its playful analogue in his detectival attempts to divine the hidden causes and motivations behind the riddle of events observed obliquely, en passant.
The art of writing is essentially the art of thinking, and there must necessarily be objects upon which the writer may reflect if he is to express his thoughts articulately. To wander dreamily through a beautiful city like Paris or Melbourne is, for a writer, both physical and mental exercise: it allows him scope to play with objects in the landscape, practising his powers of observation and description as he reflects them and reflects upon them in articulations he makes to himself.
‘To feel and to think’, to satisfy the desires associated with such abstract work, to cultivate the ideal of masculine beauty about their persons, this, for Baudelaire, is the sole profession of the dandy, whom he conflates with the flâneur, that ‘prince who revels in his incognito everywhere he goes.’
Indeed, there must always be something of the dandy about the flâneur. Among his many paradoxes, this slumming spy who loves ‘to be in the midst of the crowd and yet hidden from it’ is very much a ‘man of fashion’ in the classic sense, like an heir-apparent travelling in a foreign country under an assumed name, with nothing but the unmistakable marks of his elegance to betray his royal birth.
You cannot be a flâneur pur sang and not have more than a soupçon of the dandy about you. Precision of observation does not extend to external objects before it takes account of the correctness of one’s own comportment.
It is perhaps surprising to notice how many great writers, whose idle profession of feeling and thinking takes place in the ‘backstage’ of life, away from the observation of others, such that these spies are rarely the cynosure of all eyes, have nevertheless a touch of the dandy about them, a concern for dapper deportment.
An orderly mind is best expressed by orderly dress. And it is rare to find a writer who expresses himself on the page with unusual stylistic panache and who does not also possess some exquisite sprezzatura in his personal style.
Elegant writing, like elegant suiting, is the mastery of convention and the transcendence of strict limitations which define the correctness of expression.
With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I can help you to write elegant business documentation which is bespoke to your needs. If you want your documentation to reflect a bespoke image, to possess that æsthetic difference, the piquant je-ne-sais-quoi of exotic quality, why not collaborate with a writer who brings the keen perception and care for detail of the flâneur to your concerns?
I invite you to contact me to arrange a measure. And if you enjoyed this article, or if it aroused ideas of your own you would like to share with me, I would love to hear your thoughts on the flâneur in the comments below.
Do you crave the personal, intimate experience of curling up with a good book? How much does the tactility of a book, the pleasure you get from turning its pages, wafting their peculiar perfume, add to the intimacy of hearing its author’s voice whispering in your ear?
How much more connected do you feel to the author when you see his signature on the flyleaf and a personalised message to you in his handwriting? This book—your personal copy—has passed directly from his hands to yours.
Suppose you knew, moreover, that, in addition to all this, not just the words you are savouring, but the very book you are holding—right down to the choice of the fonts, format and layout—was the effort of one mind and one pair of hands:—How much more intimate and authentic would the experience of enjoying that book be?
Well, when you purchase a book by Dean Kyte, you experience this additional frisson—the delicious knowledge that you are purchasing an ‘artisanal book’ directly from its author, one that comes with an implicit guarantee of ‘artistic authenticity’.
As a writer, my approach has always been to work by hand: as I explain in the video above, I not only write my books by hand, but in my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I transform the self-publishing process into a handcrafted one—the craft of making books.
It’s as close as you can get to owning a ‘bespoke’ book, since I do all the work by hand, and there is only one imagination, one pair of eyes, and one pair of hands doing all the work associated with writing, illustrating, designing and publishing the book you hold in yours.
When something is ‘bespoke’, it’s made for one person alone. Our richest reading experiences feel like this:—it’s as though the writer is crafting a bespoke experience for you alone, fashioning a rich article which clothes your vision to such an extent that when you look up from the page, for a moment you seem to see the world within yourself draped over the world without.
Why is the artisanal approach so important for me as a writer? Books have always been luxury items. For centuries, bookcraft was artisanal production, whether the book was a Medieval manuscript illuminated by monks or a Japanese scroll calligraphed by a scholar.
Writers are the noblest mastercraftsmen in that they fashion two objects simultaneously: an abstract æsthetic object, such as a novel or a poem, which also has a tangible, æsthetically pleasing form which human beings have enjoyed for centuries. Books are perfectly designed to hold words the way a vase holds water.
If you’re a Melbourne writer who wants to know how to publish your own book in an æsthetically pleasing way, I can give you the benefit of my experience, bespoke to your needs, with my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service.
A few months ago in Brisbane, I shared an extract with you from the book I am writing. This week on The Melbourne Flâneur, I flâne around Docklands, taking advantage of the warmer weather to sit by the Yarra and read you a new extract.
At this stage, I am approximately 60 per cent of the way through the second draft of the book—which is where the ‘real writing’ occurs. I don’t write so much as rewrite.
I use a lot of metaphors to describe my approach to writing. Sometimes I think of it as ‘architectural’, other times as ‘musical’, or even ‘painterly’. But oftentimes when I think about my process of writing and publishing a book, I compare it to ‘sculpting’.
As demonstrated in the video above, ultimately I am writing thought. The action of the scene is simple enough: walking downhill at night. The thoughts that take place on that flânerie, however, are not simple to describe or make intelligible to the reader.
Michelangelo (some of whose sonnets I have translated), said that ‘every block of stone has a statue inside itself’, and that ‘to free the captive / Is all the hand which obeys the intellect may do.’
It is as though I am ‘hewing’ my thoughts out of a block of dense fog in my mind, and it takes several passes with the chisel and the file over successive drafts to sculpt those thoughts into their final, perfect form in words.
If you work from a plan or outline for your book (and you always should), this is like a sculptor’s maquette: it is a skeletal, bare bones structure which represents all the parts of your book and their relations to each other.
Writing your first draft is like modelling in clay: it’s a time to get your hands dirty and play. I always write the first draft by hand because it allows me to explore the lineaments of my thought, probing and shaping its first vague outlines.
The second draft, as I said, is where the ‘real writing’ takes place. It is the longest and most difficult part of the process because you have to ‘carve out’ what is vague and implicit in the first draft.
The second draft is about maximal amplification and clarification, so I rewrite my entire book, carving out every detail that I passed over lightly and summarily in the first draft until I’m satisfied that my thought is fully explicated.
In the extract I share with you in the video above, this is the point you find me at with regards to that walk downhill: all the implicit thoughts in back of that simple action are now explicit.
It’s perfectly acceptable to ‘overwrite’ in your second draft: as Michelangelo said, sculpture is the art of subtraction, of ‘taking away’—but you can’t take away words you haven’t written to begin with.
The third draft is about subtracting the inessential, and if you are writing a book for the first time, this is the point where you may consider engaging a professional editor to help you decide what to take away.
All editors have different methodologies, but as you might imagine, with my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I tend to regard your words as though they formed an object in space, something I can see ‘in the round’, like a sculpture, and I’m very good at discerning what is inessential and what is core to the structure of your book.
If you enjoy this video and would to see more ‘episodes’ in the future, as I update you on the progress of my next book, taking you inside my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process, I’d appreciate it if you like the video on Vimeo or leave an encouraging comment. You can also share your own steps to writing a book with me in the comments below.
As someone not unskilled at picking up las chicas en la calle, I appreciated the direct way in which Melbourne photographer Tommy Backus (@writes_with_light) approached me in Frankston and asked if he could take my photograph.
I was surprised, moreover, at what his camera saw.
Are you surprised at how others see you? I confess I often am. To see yourself in a photograph is like seeing yourself reflected in a mirror which is angled away from you: you catch an unexpected vision of yourself—side-on, as it were.
I didn’t altogether recognize the dapper gloved gent staring back at me from Tommy’s photographs with such steely confidence. Was this really the vision that others had of me as I took my dreamy flâneries down Melbourne’s laneways?
The hard-eyed, no-nonsense gent in these photographs looked more like a dandy Don Draper than Dean Kyte.
As I studied the stranger in the photographs, I was reminded of something which a girl had said to me once. I picked her up in Chinatown, approaching her with the same sort of humble directness with which Tommy had approached me in the Shannon street mall.
It was our second rendez-vous. As we departed the Treasury Gardens and wended our way down the Paris end of Collins street, she told me of some of the manipulative and socially unintelligent manœuvres which other men had pulled on her in the past. I violently expressed my disgust with what I considered to be ‘weak’ behaviours because (as I had learned to my cost) they are ultimately unnecessary.
She gave a kind of ‘verbal shrug’, as if to say, ‘But of course!’ It was natural, to her mind, that I should regard such behaviours as weak and unnecessary.
‘You are a confident man,’ she told me, quite matter-of-factly, as though the intelligence was already well-known to me and she was not, in fact, giving me a revelatory clue to the mystery (which always preoccupies me) of who the hell I am.
I was as surprised by that observation of myself by another as I was looking at this confident gentleman I hardly recognized as me in Tommy’s photographs. I didn’t ‘feel’ especially confident. Perhaps truly confident men never do, because they never think about it.
In Daygame, we used to say that confidence was nothing more than ‘situational competence’: you gain competence (and thus confidence) as a man by consistently throwing yourself into situations where you are not yet confident (such as approaching women in the street) and mastering that domain until it enters into your economy of habits as an ‘unconscious competency’.
The truly confident man is, I think, as much a man of thought as of action. To act decisively, with confidence, demands that we first of all consider the complexity of problems at a very deep level. This takes time and does not preclude the potential for self-doubt: confidence is not something you ‘have’ even when you are competent in a given situation; it is a reserve you call upon to inspire action.
Certainly I did not ‘feel’ especially confident when I picked up the girl who alerted me to my innate confidence. I had no intimation of what would transpire between us in a very few hours’ time, and I almost let her walk past before the reserve of unconscious competence commanded me to approach.
Indeed, I sensed a similar ‘summoning of courage’ in Tommy when he stopped me in Frankston, which made me appreciate his direct yet humble approach. If you want to see Melbourne like a local, I recommend that you take a look at other of his portraits of Melburnians on Instagram.
I want to thank all my friends who have accepted the invitation to follow my adventures on The Melbourne Flâneur vlog. As I commence my enterprise, offering a bespoke, artisanal approach to document preparation, it means a lot to me to have your support.
It’s also an honour and responsibility to produce online content for an audience who has committed to watch it.
In thinking about how to produce online content that is meaningful, engaging and valuable without bombarding or overwhelming you, I was influenced by Jasmine B. Ulmer’s article, “Writing Slow Ontology” (2017).
In the spirit of the ‘Slow’ movement (as in Slow Food, Slow Cities, etc.), I want to propose a ‘Slow’ approach to producing online content, one that does not bombard you with volume or overwhelm you with fast pace, one that is, as Ulmer says, ‘not unproductive’ but ‘differently productive’.
As opposed to the consumptive and disposable model of online content production that predominates, I won’t spam your inbox with clickbait. You won’t hear from me often, but I hope that when you do receive notification of a new post, you will look forward to the content I offer.
To my mind, online video should open a space in which to breathe for the viewer, not fill a hole hungry to consume. In line with the bespoke, artisanal value promise of my enterprise, I want whatever leaves my hand to be the best that I can make it.
I called my vlog The Melbourne Flâneur because I wanted to bring a more ‘pedestrian’ pace to producing online content, introducing Paul Schrader’s notion of the transcendental style in film to online video.
In the video above, you’ll notice my love of ‘leveraging boredom’—holding on shots of ‘nothing’ at the beginning and end, moments of ‘ventilation’ which encourage you to pause, breathe and observe with me in my flânerie.
The fast-paced, high-volume approach to content generation is opposed to the bespoke æsthetic of the handcrafted, artisanal products and services I promote. To write and publish even a slender volume like Brazen Gifts for Gold took more than a year of my life.
Writing is a true ‘manual labour’, but, as Ulmer observes, it is also a labour of time and being in which we don’t just ‘do’ writing but ‘live’ writing. To be a writer is to live an artisanal lifestyle.
Value emerges from this condition of artisanship: all the being and ‘life/time’ of the writer is imbued in the bespoke, handcrafted book, not merely in the words he sweats over to make perfect, but in the total ‘livery’ of his libello.
Likewise, in the video content I offer you on this vlog, in which places are allowed to be and breathe, I hope you enjoy a vicarious oasis of valuable respite from the overwhelming pace of our amped-up existence.
How does a ‘Slow’ approach to creating online content resonate with you? Do you agree that we could benefit from a more thoughtful, deliberative pace to online video production? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As an emerging writer, you gain valuable experience by networking with other writers. Their fresh ways of seeing the world open exciting new directions for your own writing.
As he demonstrates in this prose poem based on the ‘flânograph’ above, Dean Kyte doesn’t just see the world differently, he hears it differently too. And the poetic way in which he describes his personal experiences is idiosyncratic to say the least.
For the Melbourne Flâneur, even moments of banality, loitering in Melbourne at night, waiting for the perfect shot, are freighted with epiphanic mystery…
If you want to take your writing to a new level of mastery, it pays to network with an editor rich in literary experience, one who shares your passion for le seul mot juste because he happens to be a fellow Melbourne author.
And if you’re a writer in French seeking to make yourself perfectly compris dans la langue de Shakespeare, Dean Kyte can provide editorial assistance bespoke to your needs with his Bespoke Document Tailoring service.
Enjoy the augmented experience of this ‘amplified flânograph’. To connect with Dean and experience his bespoke approach to your editing needs, drop him a line via the Contact form.
Is Melbourne too cold for you right now? Are you sick of shivering at your desk in Kensington, or feeling uninspired in Flemington?
If writing is your hobby, you may often feel uninspired by the everyday. A useful habit is to take your notebook to an art gallery and describe what you see and the thoughts that works of art inspire in you.
What you are practising here is the discipline of writing. The trick is to be less concerned with writing sparkling prose than with describing as precisely as possible not merely what the artwork looks like, but the thoughts, feelings and associations it inspires in you.
When it comes to publishing a book for the first time, it’s developing and maintaining this discipline of writing over the long haul that matters—even when you feel uninspired. A skilful and sensitive editor can always help you to shape the prose, but there must first of all be words on the page to work with.
Like the indefinable frisson you feel before a work of art which inspires you, the experience of working in real life with another writer to shape your words into their perfect form inspires you with the confidence that your book will look its best.
Through his Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, Dean Kyte offers you an authentic artisanal experience, the feeling of confidence that comes from collaborating with a craftsman who cares as much about the perfect presentation of your words as you do.
To experience the real deal and discover how Dean can help you to publish your own book, get in touch with him via the Contact form.