flaneur in Thylstrup 2019

cal problematics of the spatial
imaginaries of knowledge in relation to a set of prevalent cultural spatial
tropes that have gained new life in digital theory and that have informed the
construction and development of mass digitization projects: the flaneur, the
labyrinth, and the platform. Cultural reports, policy papers, and digital
design strategies often use these three tropes to elicit images of pleasure
and playfulness in mass digitization projects; yet, as the following sections
show, they also r

on how best to organize information in mass digitization. If the scale of mass
digitization projects is potentially limitless, how should they be organized?
And how will we feel when moving about in their gargantuan archives?

## The Ambivalent flaneur

In an article on cultures of archiving, sociologist Mike Featherstone asked
whether “the expansion of culture available at our fingertips” could be
“subjected to a meaningful ordering,” or whether the very “desire to remedy

gital realm.26 These theorized and conceptualized
the web as a new form of architectural infrastructure, not only in material
terms (such as cables and servers) but also as a new experiential space.27 And
in this spatialized logic, the figure of the flaneur became a central
character. Thus, we saw in the 1990s the rise of a digital interpretation of
the flaneur, originally an emblematic figure of modern urban culture at the
turn of the twentieth century, in the form of the virtual flaneur or the
cyberflaneur. In 1994, German net artists Heiko Idensen and Matthias Krohn
paid homage to the urban figure, noting in a text that “the screen winks at
the flaneur” and locating the central tenets of computer culture with the
“intoxication of the flânerie. Screens as streets and homes … of the crowd?”28
Later, artist Steven Goldate provided a simple equation between online and
offline spaces, noting among other things that “What the city and the street
was to the flaneur, the Internet and the Superhighway have become to the

Scholars, too, explored the potentials and limits of thinking about the user
of the Internet in flaneurian terms. Thus, Mike Featherstone drew parallels
between the nineteenth-century flaneur and the virtual flaneur, exploring the
similarities and differences between navigational strategies, affects, and
agencies in the early urban metropolis and the emergent digital realm of the

Although the discourse on the digital flaneur was most prevalent in the 1990s,
it still lingers on in contemporary writings about digitized cultural heritage
collections and their design. A much-cited article by computer scientists
Marian Dörk, Sheelagh Carpendale, and Carey Williamson, for instance, notes
the striking similarity between the “growing cities of the 19th century and
today’s information spaces” and the relationship between “the individual and
the whole.”31 Dörk, Carpendale, and Williamson use the figure of the flaneur
to emphasize the importance of supporting not only utilitarian information
needs through grand systems but also leisurely information surfing behaviors
on an individual level. Dörk, Carpendale, and Willliamson’s reflections relate
to the experienc

we say or know that the past two hours we spent
rummaging about in the archives of Google Books, digging deeper in Europeana,
or following hyperlinks in Monoskop made sense, and by whose standards? And
what are the cultural implications of using the flaneur as a cultural
reference point for these ideals? We find few answers to these questions in
Dörk, Carpendale, and Williamson’s article, or in related articles that invoke
the flaneur as a figure of inspiration for new search strategies. Thus, the
figure of the flaneur is predominantly used to express the pleasurable and
productive aspect of archival navigation. But in its emphasis on pleasure and
leisure, the figure neglects the much more ambivalent atmosphere that
enshrouds the flaneur as he navigates the modern metropolis. Nor does it
problematize the privileged viewpoint of the flaneur.

The character of the flaneur, both in its original instantiations in French
literature and in Walter Benjamin’s early twentieth-century writings, was
certainly driven by pleasure; yet, on a more fundamental level, his existence
was also, as Elizabeth Wilson points out in her f

he enormous, unfulfilled promise of the urban spectacle, the
consumption, the lure of pleasure and joy which somehow seem destined to be
disappointed.”32 Far from an optimistic and unproblematic engagement with
information, then, the figure of the flaneur also evokes deeper anxieties
arising from commodification processes and the accompanying melancholic
realization that no matter how much one strolls and scrolls, nothing one
encounters can ever fully satisfy one’s desires. Benjamin even strikingly

s, Benjamin suggests, “the home
of the hesitant. The path of someone shy of arrival at a goal easily takes the
form of a labyrinth. This is the way of the (sexual) drive in those episodes
which precede its satisfaction.”33

Benjamin’s hesitant flaneur caught in an unending maze of desire stands in
contrast to the uncomplicated flaneur invoked in celebratory theories on the
digital flaneur. Yet, recent literature on the design of digital realms
suggests that the hesitant man caught in a drive for more information is a
much more accurate image of the digital flaneur than the man-in-the-know.34
Perhaps, then, the allegorical figure of the flaneur in digital design should
be used less to address pleasurable wandering and more to invoke “the most
characteristic response of all to the wholly new forms of life that seemed to
be developing: ambivalence.”35 Caught up in the commodified labyrinth of the
modern digitized archive, the digital flaneur of mass digitization might just
as easily get stuck in a repetitive, monotonous routine of scrolling and
downloading new things, forever suspended in a state of unfulfilled desire,
than move about in meaningful and pleasurable ways.36

Moreover, and just as importantly, the figure of the flaneur is also entangled
in a cultural matrix of assumptions about gender, capabilities, and colonial
implications. In short: the flaneur is a white, able-bodied male. As feminist
theory attests to, the concept of the flaneur is male by definition. Some
feminists such as Griselda Pollock and Janet Wolff have denied the possibility
of a female variant altogether, because of women’s status as (often absent)
objects rather than subjects in the nineteenth-century urban environment.37
Others, such as Elizabeth Wilson, Deborah Epstein Nord, and Mica Nava have
complicated the issue by alluding the opportunities and limitations of
thinking about a female variant of the flaneur, for instance a flâneuse.38
These discussions have also reverberated in the digital sphere in new
variations.39 Whatever position one assumes, it is clear that the concept of
the flaneur, even in its female variant, is a complicated figure that has
problematic allusions to a universal privileged figure.

In similar terms, the flaneur also has problematic colonial and racial
connotations. As James Smalls points out in his essay “'Race As Spectacle in
Late-Nineteenth-Century French Art and Popular Culture,” the racial dimension
of the flaneur is “conspicuously absent” from most critical engagements with
the concept.40 Yet, as Smalls notes, the question of race is crucial, since
“the black man … is not privileged to lose himself in the Parisian crowd, for
he is constantly reminded

of nineteenth-century Paris, but still remains relevant
today. Thus, as Garnette Cadogan notes in his essay “Walking While Black,”
non-white people are offered none of the freedoms of blending into the crowd
that Baudelaire’s and Benjamin’s flaneurs enjoyed. “Walking while black
restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic
experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with
others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to

Lastly, the classic figure of the flaneur also assumes a body with no
disabilities. As Marian Ryan notes in an essay in the _New York Times_ , “The
art of flânerie entails blending into the crowd. The disabled flaneur can’t
achieve that kind of invisibility.”43 What might we take from these critical
interventions into the uncomplicated discourse of the flaneur? Importantly,
they counterbalance the dominant seductive image of the empowered user, and
remind us of the colonial male gaze inherent in any invocation of the metaphor
of the flaneur, which for the majority of users is a subject position that is
simply not available (nor perhaps desirable).

The limitations of the figure of the flaneur raise questions not only about
the metaphor itself, but also about the topography of knowledge production it
invokes. As already noted, Walter Benjamin placed the flaneur within a larger
labyrinthine topology of knowledge production, where the flaneur could read
the spectacle in front of him without being read himself. Walter Benjamin
himself put the flaneur to rest with an analysis of an Edgar Allen Poe story,
where he analyzed the demise of the flaneur in an increasingly capitalist
topography, noting in melancholy terms that, “The bazaar is the last hangout
of the flaneur. If in the beginning the street had become an interieur for
him, now this interieur turned into a street, and he roamed through the
labyrinth of merchandise as he had once roamed through the labyrinth of the
city. It is a magnificent touch in Poe’s story that it includes along with the
earliest description of the flaneur the figuration of his end.”44 In 2012,
Evgeny Morozov in similar terms declared the death of the cyberflaneur.
Linking the commodification of urban spaces in nineteenth-century Paris to the
commodification of the Internet, Morozov noted that “it

ything that
makes cyberflânerie possible—solitude and individuality, anonymity and
opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking—is under
assault.”45 These two death sentences, separated by a century, link the
environment of the flaneur to significant questions about the commodification
of space and its infrapolitical implications.

Exploring the implications of this topography, the following section suggests,
will help us understand the infrapolitics of the spatial imaginaries of m

lex politics of mass digitization as it metamorphoses
from analog buildings, shelves, and cabinets to the circulatory networks of
digital platforms.

## Labyrinthine Imaginaries: Infrastructural Perspectives of Power and
Knowledge Production

If the flaneur is a central early figure in the cultural imaginary of the
observer of cultural texts, the labyrinth has long served as a cultural
imaginary of the library, and, in larger terms, the spatialized
infrastructural conditions of knowledge and power. Thus

ome out” 46; or consider the
haunting images of being lost in Jose Luis Borges’s tales about labyrinthine
libraries.47 This section therefore turns to the infrastructural space of the
labyrinth, to show that this spatial imaginary, much like the flaneur, is
loaded with cultural ambivalence, and to explore the ways in which the
labyrinthine infrastructural imaginary emphasizes and crystallizes the
infrapolitical tension in mass digitization projects between power and
perspective, agency and environme

ion projects often present a wide array of motivations for why
digitization should happen on a massive scale, with knowledge production and
cultural enlightenment usually featuring as the strongest arguments. But as
the spatialized heuristics of the flaneur and the labyrinth show, knowledge
production and navigation is anything but a simple concept. Rather, the
political dimensions of mass digitization discussed in previous chapters—such
as standardization, late sovereignty, and network power—are ti

s Platforms

Serendipity has for long been a cherished word in archival studies, used to
describe a magical moment of “Eureka!” A fickle and fabulating concept, it
belongs to the world of discovery, capturing the moment when a meandering
soul, a flaneur, accidentally stumbles upon a valuable find. As such, the
moment of serendipity is almost always a happy circumstance of chance, and
never an unfortunate moment of risk. Serendipity also embodies the word in its
own origins. This section outlines the

cross the whole range of arts and sciences, centuries and civilizations, so
that the unusual juxtapositions they arrived at summoned up new lines of
thought and possibilities to radically re-think and reclassify received
wisdom. Here we think of the flaneur who wanders the archival textual city in
a half-dreamlike state in order to be open to the half-formed possibilities of
the material and sensitive to unusual juxtapositions and novel perceptions.70

English scholar Nancy Schultz in similar terms note

rivacy policies.

How then might we characterize the infrapolitics of the spatial imaginaries of
mass digitization? As this chapter has sought to convey, writings about mass
digitization projects are shot through with spatialized metaphors, from the
flaneur to the labyrinth and the platform, either in literal terms or in the
imaginaries they draw on. While this section has analyzed these imaginaries in
a somewhat chronological fashion, with the interactivity of the platform
increasingly replacing the mo

uck-Morss 2006. See
also Bjelić 2016. 37. Wolff 1985; Pollock 1998. 38. Wilson 1992; Nord 1995;
Nava and O’Shea 1996, 38–76. 39. Hartmann 1999. 40. Smalls 2003, 356. 41.
Ibid., 357. 42. Cadogan 2016. 43. Marian Ryan, “The Disabled flaneur,” _New
York Times_ , December 12, 2017, /the-disabled-flaneur.html>. 44. Benjamin. 1985b, 54. 45. Evgeny Morozov, “The
Death of the Cyberflaneur,” _New York Times_ , February 4, 2012. 46. Eco

uropean Union & Indonesia_, eds. M. de Cock Buning, R. W. Bruin, and Lucky Belder, 157–196. Amsterdam: DeLex.
23. Benjamin, Walter. 1985a. “Central Park.” _New German Critique, NGC_ 34 (Winter): 32–58.
24. Benjamin, Walter. 1985b. “The flaneur.” In _Charles Baudelaire: a Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism_. Translated by Harry Zohn. London: Verso.
25. Benjamin, Walter. 1999. _The Arcades Project_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
26. Béquet, Gaëlle. 2009. _Digital Lib

6. “New Ideas for Financing American Infrastructure: A Conversation with Henry Petroski.” _World Bank Group, Public-Private Partnerships Blog_ , March 29.
50. Buck-Morss, Susan. 2006. “The flaneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering.” _New German Critique_ (39): 99–140.
51. Budds, Diana. 2016. “Rem Koolhaas: ‘Architecture Has a Serious Problem Today.’” _CoDesign_ 21 (May).

ity Press.
94. Doob, Penelope Reed. 1994. _The Idea of the Labyrinth: From Classical Antiquity Through the Middle Ages_. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
95. Dörk, Marian, Sheelagh Carpendale, and Carey Williamson. 2011. “The Information flaneur: A Fresh Look at Information Seeking.” _Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems—Proceedings_ , 1215–1224.
96. Doward, Jamie. 2009. “Angela Merkel Attacks Google’s Plans to Create a Global Online Library.” _Guardian_ , October 1

er: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise_. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
106. Eyal, Nir. 2014. _Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products_. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
107. Featherstone, Mike. 1998. “The flaneur, the City and Virtual Public Life.” _Urban Studies (Edinburgh, Scotland)_ 35 (5–6): 909–925.
108. Featherstone, Mike. 2000. “Archiving Cultures.” _British Journal of Sociology_ 51 (1): 161–184.
109. Fiske, John. 1987. _Television Cult

icult Process of Creation or Destruction.” In _Next Cyberfeminist International_ , ed. Cornelia Sollfrank. Hamburg, Germany: obn. .
147. Hartmann, Maren. 2004. _Technologies and Utopias: The Cyberflaneur and the Experience of “Being Online.”_ Munich: Fischer.
148. Hayles, N. Katherine. 1993. “Seductions of Cyberspace.” In _Lost in Cyberspace: Essays and Far-Fetched Tales_ , ed. Val Schaffner. Bridgehampton, NY: Bridge Works Pub. Co.

overage of Hawai’i and Pacific Books.” _Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology_ 49 (1): 1–3.
309. Weizman, Eyal. 2006. “Lethal Theory.” _Log_ 7:53–77.
310. Wilson, Elizabeth. 1992. “The Invisible flaneur.” _New Left Review_ 191 (January–February): 90–110.
311. Wolf, Gary. 2003. “The Great Library of Amazonia.” _Wired_ , November.
312. Wolff, Janet. 1985. “The Invisible Flâneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity.” _Theory, Cult


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