Living in Los Angeles, walking somewhere is something of an eccentric act. To walk with no purpose, or perhaps, to walk when you could drive, is something that is not only unorthodox in this city, but perhaps even threatening (to something). Much like New York or San Francisco, Los Angeles is a place where people have to be places, or, get to places, all of the time. Unlike those cities, however, the enemy that drives the clock against you is not the subway schedule or the crowds of people you can’t get around. Instead, it’s the car in front of you, or more specifically, anything that is in front of your car as you are trying to pass.
To be flânuer in this city is to be something strangely deviant. The flânuer, the idler, the observer, is one that has its history in the romantic gestures of Baudelaire and Poe, and its theoretical underpinnings in Benjamin and Barthes. And yet, the modern definition of the term could not have been predicted by these thinkers. There is no way the city of Los Angeles could have ever crossed the imagination of Poe’s Man in the Crowd. This is something different.
To walk in Los Angeles carries with it a sense of evading responsibility. To walk through Los Angeles is to essentially announce to the world that you are not concerned about getting there, nor are you satisfied with staying in your home. To walk is to have a sense of presence that is antithetical to the anxieties of the capitalist modes of accumulation and scarcity. To be present, but moving; to be a part of the life of the city, yet precariously existing within its liminal ghostly confines of anonymity; this is where we find life all around and within us.
Lauren Elkin, in her Flâneuse, describes Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne as observing what comes between want and desire when getting lost in the labyrinth of the city. Calle calls this experience a submission, and yet, I can’t help but to believe that walking through Los Angeles is anything but the opposite of this feeling. Los Angeles(being more or less the opposite conceptual framework of a city like Venice) inspires a sense of cultivation in multi-striped patterns. Furthermore, following the metaphor of the labyrinth, I don’t think there is some Minotaur looming heavy over the center of a maze that needs to be defeated; I don’t think the city of Los Angeles inspires a narrative of conquest and combat. Instead, I see a garden that needs to be tended to and life that needs to be cared for. I see the invisible boundaries of the city space, of what can and can’t happen, of who is allowed to be in the present and take space and who cannot; I see these walls that get mistaken to be real and unmovable as that which should be revealed for the ghastly and sickly character they are; I see solace in the interventional nature of the walking gate.