A Flâneur on campus
The original understanding of a ‘flâneur’ was an upperclass 19th century Parisian man who sought to wander the streets of Haussmann’s new Paris relishing in its rhythms.
Being a 17 year old work experience student I am neither male, upperclass or even Parisian, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still relish. As, to my understanding, to ‘flâneur’ (or should that be flânerie? Or fleurinate?) is to people watch, basically. Earwig. Good old fashioned ‘nosy parkering’.
I’m here visiting Exeter University French Department for the week. I had never been to this university before, didn’t know the history, didn’t know the geography, didn’t know anybody. Or anything. I was clueless. A nosey country girl in the city.
But, boy did I learn! In one lecture I was taught about Francois Mauriac’s novel Thérèse Desqueroux which follows the smothering married life of a woman in the 1920s. A wife trapped by the bars of rain, bars of pine and bars of stubborn traditional etiquette.
In many ways, for this week, I was that wife. Similarly grappling with the bars of stubborn university etiquette. I, the visitor. The newcomer.
The complex language of student etiquette is more foreign to me than the degree level french in which I was to be taught.
For example, I’ve never seen so many gender neutral toilets, and let alone use one! And what is this place Timepiece everyone was talking about…?
My first lecture ‘experience’ was by Fiona Cox. I learnt about the way in which Patrick Modiano is haunted by the spectral atmosphere of Paris in his novel Dora Bruder. This biography is an enigmatic blend of the past and the present, a confrontation of trauma – defined by two isolated concepts; one related to place, the other, observation. Nobel laureate, Modiano suggests that some places, some streets are imbued with the legacy of those who had been there before. In his words, “On se dit qu’au moins les lieux gardent une légère empreinte des personnes qui les ont
These words resonate most on analysing the ‘Reflected Vision’ art installation on the Streatham campus. It’s a multidimensional sculpture that reflects the rich multicultural past, and present of Exeter University.
Which got me thinking about its future. It’s a profound notion that no matter how transient a student’s life may be at Exeter, somehow somewhere, someplace, they leave a legacy or even just merely a mark. A shadow of themselves here.
But then what does that mean for me? I am after all just, what Virginia Woolf described as, the ‘street haunter’, a ‘flâneuse’, an outside observer, desperate to know more. Without a shadow of a doubt I can see the enjoyment, the education, and the pleasure that can be gained from within these hallowed Exeter walls. So all I can say is, thank you for letting this 19th century Parisian in. You’ve opened my mind to how learning should be done. Inspired.
Kitty Fisher – Colyton Grammar School