I raised my hand, with hesitation. “You’ve been talking about reading the texture of a place. Is facebook, a place where people in the digital world orient themselves? Karl Schlogel did not attempt to answer the question. Mark Mazower said he doesn’t use facebook. They are both over 50. Tuesday night was a conversation between Karl Schlogel and Mark Mazower to celebrate the publication of Karl Schlogel’s book In Space We Read Time: On The History of Civilization and Geopolitics published by the Bard Graduate Center.
Normally I would never go to any talk with such a heady title. I got caught up in blurb on the Bard website: “Here is both a model for thinking about history within physical space and a stimulating history of thought about space. Schlogel reads historical periods and events within the context of their geographical location.” I am interested in place. So I pushed myself out the door and walked up the block.
One example Schlogel gave was looking closely at an apartment during Stalinist Russia. A living space denuded of all personality. The communist dogma played out in the interior design. For Schlogel reading space, was reading history. This unadorned plain apartment was about the destruction of privacy – you are never alone.
Schlogel’s model for his tome about the Volga River, was Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. A book I have never read. Schlogel continued with literary references. William Carlos Williams poem, Patterson. “That a man himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding life in ways which the various aspects of city may embody – if imaginatively conceived – any city, all details of which may be made to voice his most intimate convictions.”
Mark Mazower is a Professor of History at Columbia, he specializes in modern Greece, 20th century Europe and international history. Mazower had a different take on this idea of where being as important as when. Mazower, who is British, realized his father had died 100 yards from where he had been born. He found this remarkable. His father understood his place by walking. Mazower began a conversation about being a flaneur.
It was like someone had suddenly thrown cold water on my face. I was in the moment again. One of my favorite books is by Rebecca Solnit, wanderlust: a history of walking. As Solnit says, flaneur is defined as a primeval slacker or a silent poet. The word only came into common usage in the early nineteenth century. Some claim the word flaneur is from “old Scandinavian (flana, courir etourdiment ca et la (to run giddily here and there) and others claim the word comes from the Irish word for libertine. Walter Benjamin wrote about flaneur as one who “goes botanizing on the asphalt…” I was the last person to ask a question on Tuesday night at Bard. As I stated in the beginning of this blog. Mazower did not answer my question at first, but paused. And added “it’s all about feet and walking.” I couldn’t agree more.