The Memory Flâneur in Teju Cole’s Open City

Monday, 20 February, 2023 - 16:00

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In this paper, I engage with Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin’s idea of the flâneur in order to articulate my own concept of the memory flâneur. I argue that while wandering through a city’s memorial sites may have been implied in Baudelaire and Benjamin’s formulations, memorialization is a crucial aspect of global city-making that deserves to be critically and categorically examined through the lens of flânerie. I define the memory flâneur as a mnemophile and a connoisseur of a city’s memory culture. I explain that the memory flâneur (who is very different from a tourist) frequently visits museums and monuments, takes notes of urban epitaphs, and observes all kinds of heritage sites within the city. Walking, for the memory flâneur, carries the potential for uncovering memories hidden in plain sight in urban public spheres. Flânerie, in essence, becomes a tool for interpreting and understanding a city’s memory economy. In the last part of the paper, I turn to Teju Cole’s Open City because it illuminates –– and is, in turn, illuminated by –– the idea of memory flânerie. I explore what Julius’ (the novel’s main character) leisurely walks through New York City reveal about the relationship between America’s capitalist urbanism and its memory culture. I also point out the limits of reading Julius as a memory flâneur while at the same time conceding that the novel offers enough resources for thinking through and with the idea of the memory flâneur.

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