‘Eye-swiping London: Iain Sinclair, photography and the flâneur’, by Kirsten Seale
“Taking shape like the spectral imprint of a developing photographic image, an apparition emerges from the streets of London to haunt Iain Sinclair’s walks. It is the spectre of the flâneur. This spectral figure in Lights Out for the Territory and London Orbital, Sinclair’s non-fictional accounts of London, signifies a spatio-temporal disruption. In Sinclair’s texts the flâneur, tracing Jacques Derrida’s thought, is a paradox, a presence that is comprehensible only by acknowledging an absence. This spatio-temporal illogic admits the possibility of a line of flight for the flâneur from his historical and cultural origins in 19th century Paris. He metamorphoses, palimpsest-like, into contemporary incarnations — ragpicker, stalker, photographer — by adding and/or erasing layers, while retaining the ghostly residue of the original archetype. Adaptation implies a teleology but the contemporary embodiment of the flâneur rejects a telos of evolution or enlightenment, in particular one produced through developments in technology. He reminds us of Walter Benjamin’s angel who finds himself driven by the storm of progress ‘irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned.’ The flâneur’s movement creates anachrony: he travels urban space, the space of modernity, but is forever looking to the past. He reverts to his memory of the city and rejects the self-enunciative authority of any technically reproduced image. The photographer’s engagement with visual technology is similarly ambivalent. The photographer reiterates the trajectory of technological advance through his or her acculturation to new technologies, yet the authority of this trajectory is challenged by photography’s product: the photograph, a material memory which is only understood by looking away from the future, by reading retrospectively.”
Read the rest of this essay by Kirsten Seale here.