Most of the images in the Adelaide section of The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia come from city strolling with a camera in the company of Fichte, my cream coloured, standard poodle. City strolling is a translation of the French term flânerie, and it is an aimless rambling and drifting in the labyrinth of the big city of modernity that involves a ludic engagement with the city.
Strolling has no goal, and it involves poeticizing what we come across in our aimless drifting. We invest in our power of imagination and attribute meaning to the changing phenomena around us as in the shops in Rundle Mall.
My city strolling through the city crowd was not just a moving through the industrial city, but rather a concentration on the displays exhibited in the store fronts. These form a dreamscape–a mythic, re-enchantmen of the banal city. City strolling is not just a practice of walking and watching but also a way of theorizing and photographing. It is a cultural activity. There is a European tradition of strolling as a cultural activity–eg., Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Franz Hessel, Siegfried Kracauer, and Virginia Woolf (a flaneuse?). Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil (1868), for instance, was a book of poems about urban life. City strolling finds its telos in understanding and producing works of art.
The modern city is a city of strangers, and it integrates people with completely diverse backgrounds and completely different intentions and it is the site of our encounter with the other. Moving though the city is to move through strangers.
The freedom and pleasure in strolling is undercut by the way that encountering strangers implies a latent threat, and possible danger and violence. There is a unpredictable weirdness to the city, dark undercurrents, unstable strangers, drunken violent males.
Outside the celebratory character of the festival time that was situated outside the everyday, the urban streets incipient violence simmers beneath the surface of the city like an undertow. There is a sense of fear due to the potential for the eruptions of unconscious energies. With such eruptions the sociality of urban life cracks, the acceptance of social difference breaks down and there is a sense of feeling powerless amidst the swarming crowd.