Posts Tagged ‘J. Elliot’

An American flâneur, and the world in a garage

Saturday, June 10th, 2023
Self-portrait of an American flâneur

Artist/painter J. Elliot (his Twitter handle is @j_elliot_art) is an East Coast artist working primarily in oil, as well as charcoal, watercolor, and pastels.

But he’s also one of a dying breed. A flâneur. Charles Baudelaire established the flâneur as a literary figure, referring to him as the “gentleman stroller of city streets.”

The thought started a sort of conversation on Twitter. Littérateur and pianist Koczalski’s ghost responded: “It isn’t possible to be a flâneur in America, for all of the obvious reasons.” Elliot, however, gave the concept an American spin: In the New World vernacular, flâneuring is “driving aimlessly around looking at yard sales and stuff.”

Is the day of the flâneur a thing of the past? In a 2013 article, “In Praise of the Flâneur,” in The Paris Review, Bijan Stephen writes: “The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. When Walter Benjamin brought Baudelaire’s conception of the flâneur into the academy, he marked the idea as an essential part of our ideas of modernism and urbanism. For Benjamin, in his critical examinations of Baudelaire’s work, the flâneur heralded an incisive analysis of modernity, perhaps because of his connotations: ‘[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism,’ as a 2004 article in the American Historical Review put it. Since Benjamin, the academic establishment has used the flâneur as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity—urban life, alienation, class tensions, and the like. …

He goes on to assert the continued role of flâneuring in our times: “Real life hasn’t changed, and twentieth-century France was no different. Though Baron Haussmann’s avenues made flânerie more difficult, and though the rise of street traffic may have endangered those brave flâneurs who walked their turtles, the flâneur’s raison d’etre—to participate fully through observation—has always remained the same. Now that we’re comfortably into the era of the postmodern, perhaps it’s time to take a brief stroll into the past, to sample its sights and its sounds.”

Elliot took the photos below during his flâneuring excursion in Machias, Maine, where he discovered “Jim’s Books,” located in Jim’s very own garage. Elliot tweeted this a day or two ago from his East Coast digs: “Today’s flâneuring: this bookshop a guy keeps in his garage.”

Elliot’s Twitter bio includes this: “Józef Czapski frequently advised me: when you’re having a bad day, paint a still life.” For some of us, maybe. Did he actually know the legendary painter, writer, diplomat? Tell us more… (I wrote about Czapski for the Wall Street Journal. Article here.

More praise: “Miłosz’s deeply fertile relationship with the United States, and the landscape and culture of California in particular, has not been fully appreciated.”

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022

From J. Elliot’s August substack newsletter: an excellent paragraph of praise for Czesław Miłosz: A California Life:

Cynthia L. HavenCzesław Miłosz: A California Life. Having already read Andrzej Franaszek’s excellent Miłosz biography, the broad outlines of the poet’s time at U.C. Berkeley—where he lived for four decades before returning to Poland in his final years—were familiar to me. But Haven argues, persuasively, that Miłosz’s conflicted but deeply fertile relationship with the United States, and the landscape and culture of California in particular, has not been fully appreciated. There, he saw his original naive view of the American continent as a realm of pure natura, in contrast with the Sisyphean nightmare of Europe trapped in History, slowly unravel as he grappled with his adopted home’s complexities and contradictions. Seemingly providentially, the Californian anti-humanist poet Robinson Jeffers appeared then as a near-perfect interlocutor and foil for Miłosz’s particular fixations: his constant wrestling with the source of evil in the world and in himself; his alternating worship of and suspicion of Nature; his ambivalence over the redeemability of humanity; his hunger to locate a synthesis of change and eternity in art; and his exile from his native tongue and the political struggles of his homeland, which all at once isolated him, filled him with resentment and shame, challenged and deepened his spirituality, and ultimately elevated his work to the world stage.